The Six Stages of Pop Song Addiction

by: Todd Andrew Clayton

Stage One: The Highbrow Scoff

This is the first — and most self-congratulatory — stage of the process toward full-fledged, seemingly irreversible addiction. A song comes on the radio, and — almost impulsively — you make that god awful scratching noise with the back of your throat — the same one Becky made in tenth grade when that new girl from Menlo sat next to Steven in fifth period and “had her boobs hanging out all over. I mean, seriously, is she that desperate?” The first encounter generally lasts no longer than 30 seconds, during which remarks are made about how the artist “sounds so processed,” and “probably sucks live,” and “has the trashiest lyrics.” If possible, the iPod is turned on, or a CD is played, and once Bon Iver or The National are on again you’re reminded that you’re a socially aware, farmer’s-market-shopping 20-something who reads good literature and only buys fair trade.

Stage Two: The Crank-It-Up-Two-Notches

The strangest part about the second stage is that you don’t really know it even happened until it’s over. What you’ll remember — in retrospect — is that the same song came on the radio, only this time you forgot to scoff. Actually, you turned the volume knob up two notches, and — in some cases — began tapping your foot or bouncing your shoulders. It’s the commercial for career colleges that runs after the song is over that snaps you out of the trance. You shake your head because you’re disappointed in yourself, and turn the radio off — parking the car in silence.

Stage Three: The Unexpected Hum

This usually happens at work or at school or — most embarrassingly — when you’re making dinner with your super indie friends in their dimly lit craftsman kitchen.  Under your breath, you hum the chorus to “Teenage Dream” while chopping asparagus to go with the quinoa patties, and, unfortunately, he hears. “Are you singing Katy Perry?” You look intently at the bamboo cutting board, and feel the same way you did when you still liked Pokémon in middle school. You deny it, feeling a bit shaken.

Stage Four: The Wait

After the Unexpected Hum, you start to embrace the fact that the song is catchy, at least, even if it is vapid and McDonald’s-esque. You start to sing it regularly — in the shower, in the canned food aisle, in your cubicle, and it doesn’t take long for the notes to weave their way into your hopes and dreams. When the woman at Subway mentions the new Rihanna single, you hear yourself say, “I love that song,” which feels both weird, and right. So, so right. You suddenly cannot wait to hear it again.

Stage Five: The Sing-A-Long

Depending on the duration of the anticipatory period, this can be the most awkward of the stages.

Scenario 1: If you’re fortunate, you won’t have waited long; when the song comes on the radio, you casually turn the volume up and sing the words you know, which are — at this point — the chorus, and the verse lines that cuss.

Scenario 2: If you’ve waited significantly, the introductory notes are like auditory X and you frantically increase the volume to hazardous levels. You may scream, which makes the guy in the silver Corolla next to you at the stoplight stare. You still don’t know the words, but — because of the excitement — produce these loud, guttural, (sometimes) melodious noises in lieu of lyrics. When the base line of the chorus drops, you hit the top of your steering wheel with your closed fist, and hammer out the rhythm. If you’re musical, you’re singing harmony, which surprises even you, and you internally remark about your ability to blend with Nicki Minaj. “Boom ba doom boom, boom ba doom boom, baby,” makes you smile and laugh when it rolls over your lips, and if someone’s in the car with you, you push her shoulder in that we-just-won-the-little-league-championship kind of way. When the song is over, you’re breathing heavily.

Stage Six: The Telltale Quote

At this point, the lyrics have imperceptibly finagled their way into your speech, and, in rare cases, have become part of your moral compass. You’re sitting at a table, about to eat the lunch you brought from home: three-cheese pepperoni pizza, Dr. Pepper, and M&M’s. Your co-worker, concerned, remarks about your eating habits having taken an unsettling turn. Looking up from your plate, you respond instinctually: “Baby, I was born this way,” after which you bite into your slice, semi-growling. When fighting with your boyfriend, you actually consider calling him “Shawty,” and reminding him that he is, indeed, your e’erthang. Two months ago, you didn’t even know what a “she-wolf” was, but now you’re convinced you’re harboring one that just needs to breathe. You think Katy might be right: that he is an alien and that you’re definitely ready for abduction. Unfortunately, the addiction is nearly irreversible.

Todd Andrew Clayton wishes he were good at soccer.  He lives in San Diego & writes at coffee shops & in his living room.  Someday, he hopes that he can write & get paid for it.  Until then, he’s going to grad school.  He likes Thai food & wants to go to Ireland before he dies.

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