Another Graceless Night: Party Pop and the Bitter Realities of Going Out
Various failures to find glamorous nights in the year’s best singles from IU, Lorde, DADARAY and more
No one did I envy more in a pop song in 2017 than Hikari Mitsushima in Mondo Grosso’s “Labyrinth.” She slips deep in a state of bliss as she gets pulled closer and closer to another’s gaze. “Let’s close our eyes and kiss / a sweetly melting melody,” she offers to mend a sad look. And the latter half of that lyric best describes the euphoric moonlit dance beat. The bridge brings about the most precious moment when lips finally touch. “Don’t say anything, just kiss me,” she sings, and the beat breaks down as she mentions a dive from the heavens. It’s a feeling one can only dream to experience.
This year brought great pop singles romanticizing nightly outings as a time and place for emotional comfort or fulfillment. Another favorite of mine is EXID’s “Night Rather Than Day,” where they yearn to escape daylight so they can rendezvous under the moon. Yet more songs resonated with me from people who looked up to the romance behind records like “Labyrinth” or “Night Rather Than Day” but failed to find any glamor during the late hours themselves. The most memorable records found artists checking out of their own self-delusion to reveal a burning listlessness that they all then struggle to relieve through whatever means.
IU in her music video for “Last Night Story” more properly reflects the reality. She reflects impressions upon impressions. The cover song re-works SoBangCha’s 1988 new wave hit into a ’60s pop-rock single. The video then places the music as a record for the 1970s discotheque. And between the collage of nostalgia aesthetics lies layers of performed sadness. Atop her interpretation of someone else’s heartbreak, IU acts out a slightly removed loneliness as she goes out for the night. Visual gags soften the glum scenes like how one might add “lol” at the end of a text to deflect the depressing issue actually at hand.
Jazz-rock trio Dadaray also join the club with IU of people who blindly throw themselves into the night in hopes of a good escape. The narrators in “Woman Woman” fix their make-up before heading out the door for dinner like IU going out to the disco. The women in Dadaray in particular applies the stuff to hide the banality of their lifestyle as well as their public personality. “This is all just made up / I can’t be good nor bad,” one voice tells of her companion’s intentions as if she’s giving a voice to the subconscious of the narrator.
Nice lipstick and a fancy dress are much more than a mask for the kids in Lana Del Rey’s “Love.” The chorus of her sultry ballad celebrates the teenage fantasy where outfits and make-up become tokens of a promise for a memorable night. She admires their innocence, but she also knows the vanity behind all that effort all too well: “You get ready, and you get all dressed up to go nowhere in particular.”
Del Rey may peacefully accept herself aging out of her prime, but the others rush to catch up to fulfill their potential before it’s too late. The women of Dadaray still hang on to the fantasies of a fancy nightly outing so they won’t have to face their cold truth: “My days end without anything happening.” And throughout “Woman Woman,” an intense jealousy of a much more exciting life fills their gaze. “You get so into the moment/ I envy you so much,” the higher-voiced singer Reis spills it all in the chorus. Checking on other’s successes and adopting their behaviors consume their time so much, they make nothing out of their own realities.
The defeated conclusions reached by each artists call to mind a certain millennial, albeit years younger than all of them. “It’s just another graceless night,” Lorde concludes her verses in “Perfect Places,” where she throws herself upon dance parties and other thrills to run away from issues personal or otherwise. She sings about these nightly escapes as euphoric experiences but also only ephemeral: “All the nights spent off our faces/ Trying to find these perfect places/ What the fuck are perfect places anyway?”
For the artists, the ideas of those perfect places partly come from the stars displayed on the screen enjoying the music. They try to recreate the setting and circumstance of romantic cornerstones of pop to disproportionate results. “At the party last night, I was so lonely,” IU sings to the beat and lyrics of someone else as she shows up glumly to the disco by her lonesome after seeing an ad on TV. The SoBangCha sang “Last Night Story” from the perspective of a heartbroken dancer who’s crushed to see an ex-partner on the dance floor. IU’s video broadens that lyric to frame her source of loneliness as basically anyone in the crowded room who seems to be having more fun than her.
Lorde blames her place at the party at no one but herself: “All of the things we’re taking / because we are young and we are ashamed / sends us to perfect places.” The tragic chorus of “Perfect Places” adds a crack to Lana Del Rey’s dreamy “young and in love” impression of the new generation in “Love.” The troubled reality also deflates Dadaray’s envy toward the seemingly more well-off women around them. No matter which vantage point, the one sitting in the corner or the dancers she looks from afar, no one seems to find full personal satisfaction. Hayley Williams of Paramore perhaps put it best: “I bet everyone here is fake happy, too.”
The amount of experience sets Lorde apart from everyone else. She barely started her twenties while others begin the latter half of the midpoint. While she only began her descent, time has weighed down the others for some time. The shrug of a tone from IU, Dadaray and Lana Del Rey in their respective songs say enough that they’ve given up. They yearn, though no longer urgent to actually attempt to get whatever they desire. It’s easier to instead experience it secondhand despite it not being the full deal. At least it hurts less when they fail.
No matter how much they try to soften the fall, small disappointments eventually compound to a terrifying descent. Life passes by in a blur for another millennial Molm’o’mol in her song, “Lie Night,” and encounters become a faceless routine. During the span her cracked iPhone gets replaced by a new one, she constantly ends up in the same lonely bed no matter how much she tries to experience different nights with different people. Her rap chases its own tail like the unfolding narrative, and the scary detail within is her vice of an alcohol binge intense as Lorde’s consumption of drugs.
Like “Labyrinth,” Molm’o’mol chases a high over a warm house groove in “Lie Night.” Except, her trusted beat sounds like an exhausted comedown from Mondo Grosso and Hikari Mitsushima’s dream world. The song puts a nightmarish reality into picture: time flashes by faster than ever, though she somehow doesn’t move an inch.
But perhaps no one’s sighs of a millennial dilemma rang more chilly than a voice from Mondo Grosso’s own album. “Join me to the world / we are fuel being used up / an expanding energy,” Asuka Saito of Nogizaka46 flatly reduces existence on the producer’s equally barren “Planet Tantra.” If “Labyinth” is an isolated second of beauty, “Planet Tantra” is the cold reality stretched out into infinite: an endless search for that perfect place.