Pop Song 89
October 20, 2007
“Pop Song 89” may be R.E.M.’s most peppy and light-hearted song about “conversation fear,” but its straight-forward, understated lyrics absolutely nail the dull aggravation and quiet anxiety that even the most well-adjusted people can feel when to having to make small talk with people they barely know. The song is essentially a playful inversion of the aggressive extroversion displayed in the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You,” with Michael Stipe playing the passive role and doing his best to stay polite while also mildly resenting the silly social game he’s being forced to play.
The lyrics are broad enough to apply to virtually everyone, but lines like “I think I thought you were someone else” take on a slightly different meaning in the context of Stipe’s celebrity. We all have to deal with awkward moments in which people know us but we cannot remember them, but for anyone in a position of celebrity, it happens more often and the social pressure of the situation is exacerbated by their fame. The chances of hurting someone’s feelings are far greater because you’re running the risk of people reaching a bitter and somewhat unreasonable conclusion along the lines of “oh, he’s an asshole big shot rock star, he didn’t remember me from that one day from fifteen years ago.” If you’re trying to maintain a self-image based upon the notion that you’re just a normal guy, it can be extremely nerve-wracking. Thankfully, “Pop Song 89” does not sulk or pout about the nuisance of engaging in fluffy banter, but rather attempts to dismiss it all with a good-natured shrug and a few cheery power-pop hooks.