I am listening to LMFAO as I work today. Featuring the unlikely uncle and nephew tag team of Skyblu and DJ Redfoo (collective age 62), their dance rap is very jokey and light-hearted. They apologize for “party rocking” and chant things like “We Came Here To Party.” It’s a guilty pleasure. I had a colleague, also in his forties, who wanted to see them rap live when they recently visited Manchester. Unfortunately the gig sold out before we could get tickets.
Listening to LMFAO I feel strangely released and at play along with them. It got me thinking about the work of Eric Berne. Berne was the inventor of Transactional Analysis, a form of therapy that consists of acknolwedging three different sides of the Self: the child, the parent and the adult. The child is rebellious and fun-loving, shameful and mischievious. Meanwhile the parent is strict, judgemental, persecuting and punishing – as much an extension of the child’s world as its polar opposite. The adult, finally, is distinct from the push-pull of the first two identities. It is rational, goal-orientated, responsible and non-judgemental. For Berne, these different aspects of self jostle for control inside us and are inevitably exercized at different times. It is not simply the case that a mature person is always in their adult state, but rather that they know when and where to let their child indulge in play.
So what has all this got to do with music? Well, through their hilarious comedy rap antics LMFAO reflect and evoke a child state. It therefore makes sense that when I’m working (in adult mode) I might want a sound track that allows me to express the suppressed child side of myself. Serious critics might question euphoric pop musicians for never growing up (after all, rock stardom can be construed an archetypal state of narcississm), but they forget the functions that this might serve for listeners.
We cannot simply say that the whole audience consists of permanently playful children, but perhaps we can say that certain music offers a licensed space of play where the performers and listeners can explore child-like states. That might also begin to explain some of the associations between “fun” music and youth. Where it has social implications is that performers of certain social identities are associated with the jester roles that are central to defining those moments. It also raises the question of whether we can have “parent” or “adult” music which evokes and reflects other sides of our selves. Kraftwerk spring to mind as potential candidates.
As long as the theory is not used to create anything too deterministic, I think that Transactional Analysis requires more investigation as a potential model of music listening that helps to explain our use of sound in a world where music is increasing turning to sonic “stuff” – something that reflects use much more than production or meaning.