There is an interesting undercurrent in pop music towards songs about the common man that are written and performed by people who consider themselves part of that group. Unlike their counterparts in the rap world they aren’t posturing about having “come up”. Their success aside, in their music they seem to be rejecting the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake. Lorde is the first popular artist in some time who sings convincingly about the proletariat in songs like Team and Royals while at the same time presumably being from the proletariat — both her parents are basically working class. Jake Bugg is another popular musician (his first album reached #1 in the UK) that uses his experience growing up on the bottom side of middle-class as fodder for his songs.
These artists weren’t born into abject poverty but they were raised in the spiritual malaise of working-class suburbia and reached adolescence at the height of the global financial crisis that began in 2007 and which despite appearances has never entirely abated for most of the first world’s wage-earners. While the irony can’t be ignored that these artists are now making millions while occasionally singing about their roots, it is worth noting that the tone of their lyrics feels new, as if finally there is at least a hint of a reflection of the fear and alienation that is at the heart of what’s going on in youth culture.
This was evidenced by the first song from Jake Bugg’s new album that he chose to sing at a recent private live recording session for about 100 music-industry insiders thrown by Los Angeles public radio station KCRW. In There’s a Beast and We All Feed It Bugg sings, “There’s a beast eating every bit of beauty and yes we feed it.” For kids looking for music that has a little more meaning than Beyonce’s latest iTunes marketing gimmick, this might be a good place to start looking.
PopMatters was invited to the taping by KCRW to help spread the word that it will be aired on Monday morning, December 23rd, as a prelude to Christmas eve (you can stream it here). During the recording Jake Bugg ran through several songs from his new Rick Rubin-produced album Shangri-La and the hits from his 2012 eponymous debut. He even played several Chuck Berry-esque guitar solos that revealed him to be a surprisingly solid musician, which was a little shocking for someone who’s been labeled a folkie but seems to show the direction he will be moving in the future.
So why do you want to spend 45 minutes watching or listening to a recording of Jake Bugg if you’re not already a fan? He doesn’t dress like Justin Bieber, for one, but the songs are also just plain good. Even the well-heeled, designer-brand wearing attendees at the show were bobbing their heads and stomping their feet to the beat of Trouble Town. Perhaps some of them were also secretly identifying with the lyrics. As Bugg sang the chorus, “Sitting on the pavement, boy you missed your payment, and they’re going to find you soon,” it was hard to ignore the lurking feeling of impending doom waiting outside. That they were gaining, whoever they were, and that they would find us wanting.