A song rampant on the radio recently caught my ear for its troubling thematics. Its lyrics perfectly encapsulate the mindset of today’s Me Culture of Entitlement. The pop number currently clogs up the FM channels, exposing radio listeners to a misguided take-home message about “self-love”. We all know about the deficiencies of modern music, but this tune tapped into something specifically wrong about this generation.
The piece is called “Scars To Your Beautiful” and is performed by Canadian pop singer Alessia Cara. In it, the 20 year-old wunderkind intones an anthem ostensibly about self-love and acceptance and the importance of rejecting the haters who criticize you. On the surface, this sounds like a perfectly healthy message for her listeners, which I would speculate are mostly adolescent females (and single women in their late twenties-early thirties).
The song encourages young girls entering womanhood and insecure about their social identity to accept that it is okay to be different and to realize that the bubble you presently live in and how you fit in to it is only temporary and not indicative of the larger world out there.
Fair enough. Building your self-esteem and having “big picture” thinking is important when you become an independent adult and are trying to seek out a job, a new-and-improved social circle, or even your own family. But as “Scars To Your Beautiful” continues and Cara’s voice starts to assert itself, the underlying message twists into one—intended or not—that actually does a disservice to both jaded Millennials and their juniors.
The devolution of “Scars To Your Beautiful” from hopeful anthem to toxic screed interestingly resembles the regressiveness of left-wing political buzzwords. “Refugees Welcome”, “Love Trumps Hate”, “Black Lives Matter” all seem just at first glance because they appeal to your emotions and make you feel like a morally good person for believing in them. However, once put into context and scrutinized for what they stand for, these mantras reveal themselves as harmful and vapid.
Similarly, “Scars To Your Beautiful” overcompensates with its You-Go-Girl™ message and feel-good platitudes meant to placate self-centred and overly sensitive youth. Beginning with the reasonable belief that beauty can be skin-deep or, as sung, “deeper than the eyes can find it”, the song’s chorus then leaps to the assumption that all things that go unnoticed about you are inherently beautiful:
“You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are
And you don’t have to change a thing
The world could change its heart”
While these lyrics may resonate with an everyday ingenue, those out in the real world who have broken out of their respective bubbles, are trying to make a name for themselves, and gaining incremental victories against regular crushing setbacks, will know immediately that the above is a complete sham. A mere idyll for the idle-minded.
In reality, “the world” has its own natural laws and modus operandi that only people in the highest positions of wealth and power are capable of tweaking to the nth of a degree. As an aspiring individual and one of seven billion participating in the human experiment that is life, your source of power is in your ability to change, to adapt to your environment, improve your flaws, and recalibrate your errors to attain success and happiness. “You don’t have to change”, you need to change. Your body’s evolutionary instincts demand you do.
This much is true: if you are a genuine individual (not a nameless follower) with unique talents and have an eccentric or shy personality, you will likely be criticized, mistreated or excluded by others. Cliques and echo chambers reject individuals because they threaten their means of existence—enforcing uniformity of appearance and thought within the group. Real individuals resist that, which is why they get targeted.
The problem with “Scars To Your Beautiful” is it pushes life advice akin to cultural relativism—this fallacious idea that all “different” people (or cultures) are inherently unique in a good and healthy way and, therefore, it is “the world” that is wrong and needs to change if it treats them unfairly.
This notion fuels our ‘me, me, me’ entitlement culture by insisting that regardless of what others say or think or how the world treats you, you are a super special snowflake and do not have to improve yourself one teensy bit…because you’re special (“we’re stars and we’re beautiful”). And if the world rejects you or judges you or seems to discriminate against you, congratulations here is your certified Victim Card, you special person.
All you have to do is watch the music video (see above) to grasp the inherent flaws and contradictions in Cara’s lyrics. The video plays up diversity™ by profiling various women and men (the question of why men are included when the song is addressed to a young girl goes unanswered) of different colour, age, size, and…gender. The problem with this type of diversity™ is it assumes these different groups to have separate but equal values, virtues, and hardships.
Suddenly, the woes of eyelashes and hair extensions hold a candle to a child suffering from cancer. A fat woman passively looking for acceptance is now equal to a woman who goes to the gym and gets ripped. But cancer is a real struggle; cosmetic concerns are not. Committing to getting in shape is not the equal to being obese, but the solution.
Further, the music video glorifies a man with gender identity disorder embracing his delusion, even though the song later advises against giving in to eating disorders:
“She has dreams to be an envy,
so she’s starving […]
She don’t see her perfect,
she don’t understand she’s worth it”
So, what is the consistent philosophy to “Scars To Your Beautiful”? There is none, just so long as you feel good about yourself no matter what, you special person.
The woefully misguided will watch this video and shriek, “Harry, are you trying to say a little girl fighting cancer isn’t brave?”. To spare informed readers of the obvious, I will answer that question by adding that I am not criticizing the individuals Cara’s video exhibits. Some of them, like the children with cancer, are real victims with real struggles. I am criticizing the underlying message of the video and how it misleads impressionable listeners into abandoning personal responsibility and shifting their sense of dislocation onto the fault of society alone.
I am sure Cara is a decent and talented young person worthy of her success. Some of her music is catchy, too, and some of its lyrics I can agree with. It is clear from her music that, like Lady Gaga, she was picked on for her appearances, but embraced her true self, broke free of her bubble, and went on to achieve international recognition and success for her musical abilities. Kudos to her. All of us at Return of Kings can respect that resilience and fortitude.
Unfortunately, it appears Cara has misinterpreted her own virtues and projected that misinterpretation on many of Western culture’s vices. The butt-hurt tone in her music conveys a tone of bitterness reflective of an entitled teenager who just had her iPhone taken away for overuse.
Generally, female-oriented pop music tends to be highly idealistic and feel-good (maternal). It nurtures the listener and reassures her without the force of paternalistic tough love. While uplifting in a superficial, in-the-moment kind of way, “Scars To Your Beautiful” is another example of how popular culture’s subliminal messages are grooming a next generation of spoiled, jobless, victimized narcissists incapable of self-reflection and obsessed with “self-expression”.