I recently had an opportunity to discuss music with a group of young people at church. For some unexplained reason I chose Price Tag by Jessie J (2011). The song consists of two verses by Jessie J, a chorus and a final "rap" by B.o.B that more or less restates Jessie J's two verses! Jessie J's first verse:
Seems like everybody’s got a price / I wonder how they sleep at night / When the sale comes first / And the truth comes second / Just stop for a minute and smile / Why is everybody so serious? / Acting so damn mysterious? / Got shades on your eyes / And your heels so high that you can’t even have a good time
The verse is a statement of the main problem under examination. The singer believs that "everybody's got a price”. And though her immediate target may be the music industry, her statement relates to everyone. Everyone is up for sale. In short, we have become "commodified" and for the right price we are easily morally trafficked to the highest bidder. We have enthroned money as king. It not only rules the world but it is rules us individually.
This situation worries Jessie J as rightly asks, “how do people sleep at night?”. How do we sleep knowing our whole lives exist purely on monetary relationships? What she is really asking is where is the moral conscience? She appears to recognise that this situation is not as it should. It is broken. In this she rejects the Darwinian thinking and acknowledges the notion of right and wrong. Indeed, she pointed says the situation is an attack on truth. And though she never defines truth she recognises it as pre-eminent and not something that can be bought. Truth can be shoved out of the way but its absence from the arena screams loud!
The commodification and escape from truth has also paradoxically left us robbed of “true living”. There’s no room for real happiness, so the singer calls us to stop for a minute and smile”. To take in life for a minute! She believes we are not living whole lives because we are not truthful to ourselves. We try to look cool to the outside world (“the shades”) and project expensive lifestyle. But this is absurd because it hides a different reality - one of deep unhappiness. Indeed it appears the financial search for that happiness cannot help us. As she says, “your heels so high that you can’t even have a good time”. Our living is absurd because in our pursuit to fulfil our lives by selling ourselves we have sold ourselves and only got back folly!
How is the absurdity of our living to be solved? The chorus and verse two offers the solution:
Everybody look to their left/ Everybody look to their right/ Can you feel, yeah/ We’re paying with love tonight/ It’s not about the money money money/ We don’t need your money money money/ We just wanna make the world dance/Forget about the price tag/Ain’t about the uh cha-ching cha-ching/Ain’t about the yeah b-bling b-bling/Wanna make the world dance /Forget about the price tagWe need to take it back in time/ When music made us all unite/ And it wasn’t low blows and video hoes/ Am I the only the one getting tired/ Why is everybody so obsessed?/ Money can’t buy us happiness/ Can we all slow down and enjoy right now/ Guarantee we’ll be feeling alright
Simply stated there an alternative to the absurd living, where anything things goes for the sake of personal enrichment. The solution is for us to forget about the obsession with money and instead focus on just having fun. The call is for a “free party” where our goal is to “make the world dance”. It is a call to recreate our world by focusing on things that makes us truly feel good.
Forget about the “uh cha-ching cha-ching” (the sound of the cash till). Forget about the “bling bling”. The glitter of the party life. Just start pursue a happy fun filled life with other people. And if we can just enjoying life for what it is, “we’ll be feeling alright”. Jessie J says be "true to yourself” and just enjoy life. We "should all slow down and enjoy right now”. Live for today! There’s a promise that this focus on love of the music and partying in the present will take us to better feelings. And to encourage us she reminds us of a time “when music made us all unite”. Except we can’t remember. Her musical Eden is mythological. It is designed merely to inspire us and give us a sense of hope - any hope!
So what are we to make of all this?
Like most of the secular music, Jessie J is correct in her diagnosis of the problem but wrong in her prescription. To be sure there's much to be commended in her truthful observation that life has become commodified. Michael Sandel in his book What Money Can't Buy : The Moral Limits of Markets bemoans that society has become increasingly commercialised. The triumphal encroachment of the price mechanism is corrupting all of life.
Jessie J is also remarkably correct that ultimately there’s a fundamental gap between what we really desire, essentially happiness, and what we are actually getting in return for all our efforts. Money is not making us more happy. It has left us empty and devalued. This should not surprise us because our ultimate needs are not physical. They are far deeper. This is why we see that even the richest people move from one marriage to the next. Suicides are high among the rich. The evidence goes on! In the end the material and financial things we crave can never satisfy us.
Unfortunately, Jessie J is wrong to suggest that such satisfaction can be located in merely creating the "feel good factor”. In the final analysis money can’t buy happiness and neither can music or enjoying parties together and creating our unity! As Sinclair Ferguson says, “there is never enough in this world to satisfy us”. Our needs are serious and genuine. The problem is that no only are we broken and sinful human beings but we also live in a broken universe! Hence we have needs which can only be satisfied by someone larger than ourselves and the universe. Only God can truly satisfy us. As the Preacher says in Ecclessiastes, God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" with the consequential result that nothing in this life will truly satisfy us.
King Solomon gives us a sense of the problem when he observes, "just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied". (Proverbs 27:20 NLT). Only something bigger than death itself can satisfy us. Augustine of Hippo recognised this very point when he cried to God, "You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You". There really is a God shaped hole in our hearts, despite the shameful abuse of this truth by televangelists! And that whole cannot be plugged by banding together and playing music or playing happy people. We need the inward transformation of Jesus Christ.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013