"Pop Song '89" by R.E.M.
Green, Warner Bros., 1988. (1 C!)

Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you
I think I can remember your name...name
Hello I'm sorry, I lost myself
I think I thought you were someone else

CHORUS:
Should we talk about the weather?
Hi...hi, hi, hi
Should we talk about the government?
Hi...hi, hi, hi

Hello, how are you? I know you, I knew you
I think I can remember your name...name
Hello, I'm sorry I lost myself
I think I thought you were someone else

chorus

Hello my friend, are you visible today?
You know I never knew that it could be so strange...strange
Hello, I'm sorry, I lost myself
I think I thought you were someone else

Should we talk about the weather?
Hi...hi, hi, hi
Should we talk about the government?
Hi...hi, hi, hi


Kicking off R.E.M.'s major-label debut, "Pop Song '89" is a fairly simple song making fun of pop songs.1 Its lyrics are an example of reductio ad absurdum, with the singer seemingly trying to come on to or talk to some person. More than that, it's a parody (!) of The Doors' "Hello, I Love You," which has similar lyrics.

The chorus, with it's question "Should we talk about the government?" was relevant in that the album was released on election day in the United States. R.E.M., being a politically minded band, wanted to draw attention to that fact for their fans. Moreover, the reference to "Should we talk abou the weather" echoes the title of the album--Green--contrasted with the album's cover, a sort of dirty orange, a sign of pollution. The weather might certainly be global warming. As such, the lyrics subvert the implied simplicity of the typical pop song by quietly--imperceptively--introducing weightier topics.

The lyric about the invisible friend, however, echoes the later song "The Wrong Child." It is not unusal to find songs on an R.E.M. album echoing each other in their lyrical content. (It can be seen all over Fables of the Reconstruction.)

The music video was intentionally provocative: four topless dancers bop to the song in black & white footage. Three of the dancers are women, one of whom was Michael Stipe's girlfriend in his hetero days, and who was the woman from "The One I Love" video. The fourth dancer is Stipe, who actually has the longest hair of all of them, back in his hair days.2 All of the dancers--who, as I said are topless and wearing only what look like harlequin-checked pants. On the promotional video Pop Screen (a collection of R.E.M. videos), the shot shows them topless. On the televised version, all four dancers have black bars over their nipples, including Stipe. Adds Chris-O: "the bars over all four dancers was a conscious choice made to ridicule the censoring of the female breast, as MTV presumably asked before they showed the video."

This was meant as some sort of über-commentary, on the silliness of pop songs, the sexism of videos, the sexually uptight American television industry, where titilation means more than actual eroticism, and the over-emphasis of nipples in our minds.3 Now--whether the video succeeds at this, or is just a silly, cheap-looking clip made to get attention for a band which is just breaking into the mainstream on their first album for a major label...


1. Though it was released in 1988, the song is "'89" due to the fact that the band knew it would be released late in '88--November. Moreover, naming it for the coming year gave it a (false) sense that "this is the new modern pop song."

2. When I first saw the video, I thought he was a woman. I was also ten at the time, and not paying attention. I do remember being fascinated and turned on* by seeing half-naked people on tv, even women, and later realized this was yet another indicator of my bisexuality.

3. Oh, I don't know--I think nipples are fairly important sexually. But then, one could argue that I have been indoctrinated to feel this way. In China, I've been told, breasts are not considered erotic. But I could be wrong. And frankly, I don't care. Nipples of both genders are great.


*I was precocious and sexually aware pretty quickly.
(Look--a footnote for a footnote! How ridiculous!)

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.