For all intents and purposes, it very much feels like the end of the world.
A 2016 report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program found that concern about the implications of climate change are “undermining mental health and well-being,” and more than half of young adults age 18-29 are “very worried” about its consequences on the future of the country, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
But times of great distress can also be petri dishes for poignant art, and musicians spanning genres and generations have taken a considerable role in responding to and establishing the culture of the end of the world.
Here’s how some contemporary pop artists are expressing their consternation through their music:
Radiohead - “The Numbers” (2016)
Thom Yorke has not been quiet about his stance on climate change. The Radiohead frontman has mentioned losing sleep over the issue following the birth of his second child and expressed frustration at his own “hypocrisy” for being a sustainability advocate that frequently travels by plane for his work.
In “The Numbers,” Yorke addresses the situation coolly.
“We call upon the people,” he implores in the track’s second half. “The people have this power.”
Yorke acknowledges, though, how helpless the situation seems, arguing the system is not always built in a way that fully accounts for or appreciates popular demand. But in the end, he remains unswayed.
“And you may pour us away like soup,
Like we’re pretty broken flowers
We’ll take back what is ours”
Lana Del Rey - “The greatest” (2019)
“The culture is lit
And if this is it, I had a ball”
Essentially: If the end is nigh, the least we can do is try to enjoy ourselves.
Despite this brief mention of a silver lining, Lana is retrospective and melancholic. She misses dancing and rock ‘n’ roll. She laments these losses deeply, even if they’re not really gone just yet.
But it’s these things in their summation, equating to the modern understanding of what it means to be young and human on planet Earth, that she’ll miss the most.
This experience, Lana contends, is “the greatest loss of them all.”
The 1975 - “People” (2019)
The 1975 pivot away from polished pop for a political statement better suited to full-blown punk — the revolution song.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up
It’s Monday morning and we’ve only got a thousand of them left
Well, I know it feels pointless and you don’t have any money
But we’re all just gonna try our f---ing best”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear the clock is ticking, and they’ve allotted us about a dozen years to get our climate in check before consequences become irreversible. That’s about 624 Mondays.
“We are appalling and we need to stop just watching s--- in bed
And I know it sounds boring and we like things that are funny
But we need to get this in our f---ing heads”
It’s a call to action for apathetic millennials, a plea for Gen Zers most at risk to feel the full brunt of ecological collapse.
It feels good to be comfortable, and our culture of convenience makes it easier than ever to sit in bed and convince ourselves we’re actually doing something. But The 1975 argue it is precisely this inaction that got us all into this mess in the first place.
Matthew Healy is angry, and he wants you to be, too.
Father John Misty - “Things It Would’ve Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” (2017)
Father John Misty made a name for himself initially as a romantic, crooning a lot about how much he loves his wife and not about much else.
But he’s branched out since then. In “Things It Would’ve Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution,” he frames post-apocalyptic America irreverently.
“It got too hot, so we overthrew the system,” he states simply.
“My social life is now quite a bit less hectic,
The nightlife and the protests are pretty scarce
Now I mostly spend the long days walking through the city,
Empty as a tomb
Sometimes I miss the top of the food chain
But what a perfect afternoon”
It’s a lighter take on life after the fall of industry, an optimistic look at a humanity that has returned to its primal roots. And aside from some brief griping about the sudden lack of convenience, it seems everyone’s more or less made peace with the state of things.
Even more encouraging, the new natural order has even begun to restore the planet to its original state of balance.
“And as we return to our native state
To our primal scene
The temperature, it started dropping
The ice floes began to freeze”
Billie Eilish - “all the good girls go to hell” (2019)
The Bible talks a lot about the end of the world, so it makes sense that Billie Eilish, one of pop’s youngest newcomers, would look to the Book of Revelations for inspiration.
“all the good girls go to hell” is a two-way conversation between God and the devil, one which offers little salvation for self-destructive human behavior.
It seems both have acknowledged the hopelessness of our situation — now they’re just trying to figure out what the hell to do about it.
“Man is such a fool, why are we saving him?
Poisoning themselves now
Begging for our help, wow”
Eilish references the burning hills of her native California and the relentlessly rising sea levels on its shores. “Poisoning” could allude to substance abuse or the awful things we put in our bodies, but more likely it’s a reference to the pollutants we pump into the air or the oil we dump in our oceans.
At the end of the conversation, it seems the two reluctant partners reach a simple, sobering conclusion:
“There’s nothing left to save now”
These are trying times, and in all the dread and uncertainty brewing before us, it can sometimes be difficult to take a breath and keep a good head about it all.
But at the very least, we can always find comfort in just sitting back, drowning out all the noise for a bit and jamming along to artists who feel the same way.