This article originally appeared in the November issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in the App Store.
December 21st, 2012. That’s the date that “transformative events” are prophesied to take place, based on the end of a 5000+ year cycle of the Mayan calendar. The 2012 phenomenon has been well documented in pop culture, to the point that we’re convinced we couldn’t possibly survive an apocalypse without a John Cusack-type hero character.
In reality, an end-of-the-world scenario this year is about as likely as Justin Timberlake releasing a dozen albums of brand new music next year. But what’s most interesting about the influence of the 2012 phenomenon in pop culture is the way it is represented in pop music. In recent years, pop songwriting has been drawing on apocalyptic themes, with a strong emphasis on #YOLO, suggesting that the hypothetical end of the world is a cause for musical celebration. At their base level, the songs are saying “yes, you only live once, but also, life as you know it could end tonight.” Suddenly, you have three minutes to live, and you have to make the most of it.
It’s not as if the apocalypse has never been broached in popular music before. In 1969, The Rolling Stones released “Gimme Shelter,” painting a picture of what the end of the world might look like with war “just a shot away.” In 1994, Soundgarden invited the warm embrace of a “Black Hole Sun,” beckoning its kiss in the hopes that such an embrace might “wash it all away.” One of the first instances of an end-of-days reference as a cause for celebration comes from Prince’s “1999” (released in 1982). In it Prince describes a scene where the year 2000 is the end of the world, so he wants to party like it’s 1999.
In her new single, Ke$ha glamourizes what it is to “Die Young,” suggesting that she should “make the most of the night” as if at any moment, the world might swallow itself whole. Adele’s new Bond theme (“Skyfall”) promotes solidarity “when it crumbles.” These songs do express a frustration within the confines of mortality, but some songs take it further in referencing the apocalypse as an emotional motivator.
Here are five recent pop songs that romanticize the end of the world. Start calling yourself Popstradamus, and declare these lyrics as apocalyptic prophecies. If the world does end on December 21st, you’ll have so much fortune-teller credibility.
Jay Sean – “2012 (It Ain’t The End)” featuring Nicki Minaj
Key apocalyptic lyric: “We gonna party like, party like it’s the end of the world / We gonna party like, like it’s 2012 / You know that it doesn’t matter as long as we got each other / Turn it up, turn it up, mash it up, it ain’t the end of the world, oh!”
Usher – “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love Again”
Key apocalyptic lyric: “Dance, dance, like it’s the last, last night of your life, life, gon’ get you right.”
Pitbull – “Give Me Everything Tonight” featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack, & Nayer
Key apocalyptic lyric: “For all we know, we might not get tomorrow. Let’s do it tonight.”
Britney Spears – “Till The World Ends”
Key apocalyptic lyric: “If you feel it, let it happen / Keep on dancing ‘til the world ends.”
Chris Brown – “2012”
Key apocalyptic lyric: “We gon’ do it like it’s ’bout to be the end of the world / And they depended on us to make earth shaking love.”