Pop music is escapism, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t artists contemplating what the digital age is doing to civilization. Here are seven songs that dig into how new and emerging technologies are shaping our world — with great melodies and infectious hooks to move to.
On her sophomore album The Future’s Void, Erika M. Anderson (a.k.a EMA) audaciously confronts the consequences of how technology is changing us, and how we ought to respond. She’s wearing an Oculus Rift headset on the cover, for crying out loud. Although EMA has a sharp talent for shaping intense noise into melodies, “3Jane” is softer and slower, with an ethereal force that’s more powerful than any of the the distortion-filled songs on the album. The song title comes from the cyberpunk novel Neuromancer by William Gibson, in which the character Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool is a clone of the original Jane. The video for “3Jane,” directed by Y2K, takes viewers down the Uncanny Valley, and has Anderson meeting her own cyborg clone.
St. Vincent: “Digital Witness”
The second single from St. Vincent’s eponymous album is like a smart Facebook comment put to a tune. In the age of the selfie, we are all compelled to fill up the internet with the noise and blather of our day-to-day minutiae. Annie Clark is no longer having it, and she sings her disgust through brilliant satire. “What’s the point of even sleeping / If I can’t show it/if you can’t see me,” she asks. “What’s the point of doing anything?” And to boot, the song is catchy as hell.
Rick Ross: “Phone Tap”
Of all the rappers who might be expected to vocalize post-Edward Snowden fears and concerns about government surveillance and wiretapping, Rick Ross was probably nowhere near the top of that list. And yet, here we are with “Phone Tap,” a song that actually has Ross doing a good job in capturing the paranoid feeling that the Feds are listening in on everything you’re saying. Your friends are close, but your enemies are closer — whether you want them to be or not.
The Flaming Lips: “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21”
Given how fast technology moves, this cut from 2002 probably qualifies as an oldie. But a concept album about robots taking over the world will never get old — especially when scientists keep making these kinds of death machines. On “One More Robot…” frontman Wayne Coyne croons on and on about a robot that’s had its heart broken. Underneath the cold metal and spinning motors, even robots have feelings, too.
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds: “Higgs Boson Blues”
Leave it to Nick Cave to write a blues song for the 21st century. The existence of the The Higgs Boson — also known as the “God Particle” — was (sort of) proven to exist just a month after the band’s newest album dropped. Cave spends seven amazing minutes brooding on about God-knows-what, dropping references that stretch from Lucifer to Hannah Montana. Nothing sums up modern-day existential dread like a line that goes “Everybody bleeding to that Higgs Boson Blues”.
Childish Gambino: “Crawl”
Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover) is the internet generation’s rapper. The cover to his latest album, Because the Internet, is an actual gif (and a strange, frightening one at that). His songs are always riddled in callbacks to memes viral sensations, but “Crawl” is Glover at his finest, channeling internet culture through a super sick beat. No point in searching for a better song — ain’t nobody got time for that.