I Want to be Popular, and other life lessons from Mika

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go dancing and hear live music in a legal venue, so when my daughter asked me to go with her and see Mika at Toronto’s History club I leaped at the chance. The energy and love shared by everyone in the venue thanks to our shared experience made the excursion worth it on its own, but I got more than just a fun night out of it.

We often look for life guidance from religious texts, spiritual gurus, or licensed professionals, but my view is that we can learn from every single thing around us if we are listening -. whether it’s the bird song outside our window, or a prize winning author. So why not look for the messages beneath the surface of popular music on the radio?

I love the message I got from Mika to Relax, Take it Easy in times of pain. When we are struggling we often get fixated on the ruminations in our mind, convinced that we need to figure everything out, whether it’s ecological catastrophe or why our kids won’t listen to us. In the midst of the struggle there is usually no solution to be found, but if we allow ourselves to relax, to breathe, to stop struggling, we can get to the other side of our pain. Then we can find the path to action.

Big Girl (You Are Beautiful) was inspired by the Victoria Wood documentary on weight loss pressures women face, and the Butterfly Lounge that celebrated women who wanted to embrace their bodies as they were. I’m not immune to the body image concerns many women share so I definitely got a kick out of it, but I don’t think you need to be a particular size or gender to find joy in the song’s message that we are beautiful and can celebrate ourselves no matter how we think others categorize us.

But my favourite song of the evening was Popular Song, not only because of its super catchy beat, but because of how it connects to the widespread desire to be accepted that many of us have likely felt, either in the distant past, or still feel today. I bemoan the wasted time I spent in high school on wanting to be popular, but even more painful is the way I have continued to carry this desire to the present moment. It shows up when I compare my social life, my professional success, or the reception I get on social media to others. Even as my rational mind condemns this desire for popularity as shallow and ridiculous, it can’t make it go away. The protagonist of the song’s celebration of the downfall of their tormentor may be familiar to people who felt bullied or ostracized in the past, but what I think is important to realize is that there was likely no one we felt rejected by, especially in those painful adolescent years, who truly felt like they belonged. That wish to be better than others drives us in the wrong direction and keeps us mired in the kind of painful comparisons that caused the problem in the first place. What the song celebrates in the later verses is the part that shows us true freedom:

“Here’s the one thing that’s so amazing,
It ain’t a bad thing to be a loser, baby

All you ever need to know
You’re only ever who you were”

In reality, the only one who needs to accept us is ourselves. When we do that we have all the popularity we need.

Deep messages or not, listening to music and dancing is one of my favourite ways to feel joy in life - and if I can get a little extra guidance for life’s problems on the way, I’ll take it!

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