x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Words fail them - and us

A general decline in the standards of lyrics is part of a wider malaise affecting the English language.

During the mid-1990s, I and a group of equally sarcastic mates from the UK stumbled upon the music of the Europop band Scooter during a trip to mainland Europe. Now, despite being among Germany's biggest selling acts, Scooter was unlikely to trouble most country's charts (and notice I'm not including Germany in this list), being, as it was, unspeakably bad. Even to immature teenage ears, tracks such as Fire!, which included the line "1, 2, 3, Fire!", were so awful that they immediately fell into the "so bad it's good" category.

But 15 years on, and it seems Scooter's clever combination of words and numbers are almost Dylan-esque in comparison with the stuff being churned out today. Just a quick blast from a few "popular music" radio stations and a disturbingly basic level of English is revealed.

At the top of the pile sit the Black Eyed Peas, a band which was never expected to challenge Chaucer for literacy, but instead appear to have scraped the barrel of basic linguistics far more than others, as one listen to the brain-violating I Gotta Feeling will demonstrate.

With the Peas having opened the floodgates for songwriting that wouldn't challenge your average Cat in the Hat reader, things are now getting steadily worse. Just a few years ago, non-ironic use of the word "party" - especially in verb form - was considered a crime against humanity. But recent "hits" have had deadly serious "parties" flung left, right and centre. Jennifer Lopez's hideous new single On the Floor opens with an introduction to "a new generation of party people", a generation I very much doubt includes 41-year-old mothers of twins.

Then there's the new "club smash" Party Rock Anthem, in which we're politely told that "Party Rock is in the house tonight, everybody just have a good time". Just to make matters worse, the person responsible for the song is the son and grandson of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. And, of course, we've got the meme sensation Rebecca Black and her autotuned, Partyin', Partyin', Yeah!, but we can forgive her because she's 13 and has clearly suffered enough.

Conspiracy theorists will no doubt claim that the degradation of language in popular music is a plot by "The Man" to dumb down society. Whoever is to blame (and I say that looking squarely at you, will.i.am), it's time the Oxford English Dictionary stepped forward to take control, perhaps by sponsoring Lady Gaga and ensuring her next album features a veritable plethora of intellectual prose. And "party" needs to go back on the banned words list.