“We Are Young”—Anthem Without a Cause?
Posted by May 17, 2012on
The catchy chart topper seems to be about changing the world—and our world definitely needs changing! But a closer look reveals more of the same old sins that have made the world what it is today. Isn’t it time to fight for true values?
“We are young,” declares the song. It speaks of young people who plan to set the world on fire. The words are simple, and the music is very catchy, with a heavy beat and an unadorned rock-and-roll appeal.
I first heard it on the radio, as I lazily let the NPR culture feature pour out of the car radio. I’d not heard the song before, but I quickly learned that it was No. 1 on the Billboard charts at the time (as I write, it’s dropped to No. 2), that the band was simply named “fun.,” and that the success of the song had caused quite a stir since the artists were virtually unheard of prior to their early March arrival.
Boom-boom-boom. “We are young.” Like so many heavily rhythmic pieces of music, it reverberated in my head. Top of the charts! Rock and roll 2012 style! Simple vocals, and apparently not even any guitar!
I kept turning over the lyrics in my mind. Young people who want to set the world on fire. Young people whose youthful energy would be turned to making the world a better place. Pretty idealistic. Admirable, in a way.
Or so I thought. Silly me! When I dug a little deeper, I discovered the song wasn’t about reforming the world at all. It wasn’t even about setting the world on fire by climbing the corporate ladder in the business world or by making lots of money like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Via the Internet, I read and reread the lyrics, and then read a perceptive analysis by Andrew Unterberger of the meaning behind the words. Whoa! Or perhaps woe! I was soon disabused of my idealistic fantasyland assumptions.
Sex, drugs and violence
The song includes references to heavy drug usage, as the singer’s friends are in the bathroom “getting high.” Domestic abuse is hinted at, with reference to a scar inflicted maybe months earlier.
Perhaps the farthest it goes in exploring the deeper things of life is the reciprocal request that someone would drive the singer home that night, as he gets too inebriated to function, or that he would drive home his potentially very drunken companion.
Add in a good streak of sexual innuendo, and you come up with a pretty disappointing mix—not at all the world-reforming ambition I first imagined.
Thankfully, the words present a stereotype, not a “one size fits all.” Not all of our youth limit their goals to getting as high as the Empire State Building or filling their system with so much alcohol that someone has to carry them home. Not all. But some. Too many.
A song like this is a sad reflection of influential currents in North American and Western youth culture.
What is happening to our value system? How have so many (not just the young) become cut loose from traditional Judeo-Christian values that were once accepted by the culture?
As we question and pick apart values such as rejection of narcotic drugs, shame associated with drunkenness, and the sanctity, centrality and value of healthy families, our popular culture has come to reflect the confusion.
Fighting for true values
Thankfully, there are kudos for some brave souls who are pushing back:
- Families that educate their children in true values, in spite of the winds in the culture and the pressures of 21st-century living.
- Educational institutions that still make a place for true values, based on the inspired Source of those values.
- Peers, young people, true friends who stand up for what they know to be right.
They’re still there; yet at times they seem to be fighting a losing battle.
Destroyed for lack of knowledge
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children,” God said many centuries ago (Hosea 4:6).
It sounds prescient, doesn’t it? Fitting for this 21st century.
To be young. To plan to set the world on fire. It’s a fine goal to change the world—with right values. It’s a particularly excellent goal for young people, who have their lives ahead of them. It needs doing. Urgently!
Ralph Levy is a minister of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and instructor at Foundation Institute, who grew up in England and now lives in the United States. Dr. Levy enjoys reading, travel and foreign languages. He has a Ph.D. in biblical studies and has worked in foreign language and religious education for much of his life.
For more about music and about true values, see: