Let’s get something out of the way really quick: pop culture can be … weird. Really weird. Extra weird. But pop culture is just that, popular. And chances are that your teen engages in pop culture in some form or another. Therefore it’s important to be in the know of what your teen is engaged in so that you can understand them better.
Before we do that though, we have to throw judgment out the window. Everyone reading this was a teen and engaged in pop culture (in some way or another) and our elders scoffed or rolled their eyes at that culture as we are tempted to do now.
I know someone is reading this who wore acid-washed jeans with a “member’s only” jacket in the 80s and listened to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” on their Walkman as they walked down the street. If you were a teen in the 90s, don’t laugh. You have nothing to brag about. I know you remember wearing your Kurt Cobain inspired flannel with cargo pants as you danced at a house party while the Macarena bumped in the background.
I can literally hear some of you saying, “oomph.” Again, no judgment.
Old Town Road
Pop culture can be weird, and teens contribute to pop culture in a continuous feedback loop. That is most certainly the case for the biggest song to take over the airwaves this year: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Initially released in December of 2018, it gained notoriety as teens created funny videos with the song using the TikTok app. The song continued to pick up steam in March 2019 as it achieved the rare feat of being the only song to chart simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot Country Songs, and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Incredibly, this made the song heard not just by one particular music genre audience, but nearly every teen across the nation.
In an age where the fads of pop culture change seemingly on the daily, Lil Nas X wished to make his impact on us with something that would be lasting. He succeeded. He created a song that would be the number one song on the Billboard charts for 19 consecutive weeks. That is the longest any song has been the number one record in the country since Billboard starting tracking singles in 1952. That is astonishing. That is “Whitney Houston, Elton John, Black Eyed Peas, and whoever-the-Heaven-sings-Despacito” numbers.
Beyond being a song that teens are into, this cross-generational hit has been the number one song in 18 countries! I’ll admit, I’m certainly and shamelessly a member of the masses of people that have blasted that song in the car. It is an absolute banger (aka a song that is awesome). From adults to teens, even to young elementary school kids, Lil Nas X’s song strikes a chord with everyone. The song is upbeat, holds swagger, and has easy, repetitive lyrics. I mean, see for yourself how this song made a crowd of elementary children go absolutely crazy. I am not quite sure that The Beatles got this kind of reaction.
Lil Nas X
But what of the man behind the song itself? Montero Lamar Hill, otherwise known as Lil Nas X, is from a small town outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He began to make his presence known online at a young age as he created countless memes in an attempt to go viral.
Lil Nas X confirms that he spent much of his adolescence in solitary to focus on developing his blooming creativity. After graduating from high school in 2017, he spent one year in college before dropping out to pursue a career as an internet personality.
I know. I know. For some of us — myself included — reading the phrase “internet personality” can make us cringe /roll our eyes to the point of blindness. The internet personality /influencer “culture” that is prevalent throughout social media has essentially bogged down the original premise and use of the platform(s). It is less about capturing an image to share with the masses and, unfortunately, more about maintaining an image for the masses.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. Why would Lil Nas X want to pursue this goal? Why would he be compelled to purposely live a reclusive life in the same vein of a mad scientist? It can be easy for us to sit back and say that he wished to achieve the things that the world defines as valuable: fame, money, material goods — the cliche “Big Three.”
However, I am not sure that that was the case for Lil Nas X. Usually, when one has that type of reckless ambition, their attitude can come off as smug and pompous. Wherein, a person can only think of themselves and their personal endgame regardless of the cost. However, when I read about Nas X describing himself as being mostly alone during his creative sabbatical, it does not scream of a self-important Apollo Creed, so much as it describes a modest Rocky Balboa.
The success of “Old Town Road” is all on the back of a young man who just wanted to be seen and known. However, this success did not come immediately. He spent years trying to perfect his creativity across multiple genres, not necessarily just music. He initially began with comedy videos on Facebook and Instagram, which even he would describe as not being the best things ever. His wit and humor on Twitter were not necessarily recognized until well after the success of “Old Town Road.” But his determination never failed him in his pursuit of personal creativity.
In all honesty, I aspire to have that kind of determination in pursuit of my personal creativity. By understanding the story of Lil Nas X as one of your teen’s pop culture icons, there is a valuable lesson to learn. The first fruits of our creativity might not be perfect, but the determination in our hearts to continue in our pursuit can and will be well worth it. Imagine that kind of depth in a conversation with your teen. What could you learn about them? How much more could you connect with them when you take the time to learn about what they value? There may be a whole world of creativity brewing.
And, your teen might talk to you until they, in the words of Lil Nas X, “can’t no more.”