They say if you have something to say, say it in song, so given that we all have plenty to say online, why don’t we carry this over into musical form?
Unsurprisingly, many musicians have. The website SongFacts.com has a comprehensive list of songs about computers or technology, spanning artists as diverse as Kate Bush, Green Day, Gary Numan and Jamiroquai.
I’ve taken five songs (some from the list, some not) that I think are particularly relevant to our use of the web and digital technology in 2017, and make for a great listen as well:
1. Kraftwerk – Computer Love (1981)
A generation before the internet was introduced to us, German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk were already envisioning the role computers, technology and connectivity would play on our lives.
With lyrics like “I call this number for a data date”, some have observed that this song could be an early premonition of online dating, or something even more advanced such as romantic relationships with computers that, who knows, might one day become possible through artificial intelligence advances. Then again, it could be taken less literally and just be seen as a song about a love, fascination and dependence upon technology.
The album ‘Computer World’ from which the song is taken also contains an ode to a pocket calculator and a track called ‘It’s More Fun to Compute’. It’s generally a utopian view of the role of computers in our lives – a stance not really reflected by my other four choices!
2. Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
Just three years after the wild, critically acclaimed success that was ‘OK Computer’, Radiohead daringly released an album that completely shunned the mainstream, where the songs had no videos and received minimal airplay.
‘Kid A’, and its title track, are very much open to interpretation, but it’s certainly a darker take on the possibilities of technological developments. One commenter on SongFacts.com notes that the song and album:
“…questions what it means to be a human being in the context in which every relationship is mediated by technology and technical rationality.”
Meanwhile, Radiohead vocalist Thom Yorke has said that the lyrics are so brutal, he would not have been able to sing them without the distortion of the vocoder.
3. Does It Offend You, Yeah? – We Are Rockstars (2008)
One of those mid ‘00s British bands that turned up at a lot of festivals for a bit and then seemed to vanish, DIOYY? had a name that both attracted interest and probably didn’t help them with its unwieldiness.
This effort is pretty chaotic dance-punk and it doesn’t have a lot of lyrics, but those it has talk of self-absorption and digital isolation, and the possibility of friendships breaking down due to internet addiction (You’re all rock stars now in a network town, there’s no place to go).
4. Parquet Courts – Content Nausea (2014)
This band are half from New York and half from Texas, and their sound is a bit of a mixture of New York garage and Southern twang that makes them sound about as American as it’s possible to be.
The relentless, quick-fire lyrics of ‘Content Nausea’ throw ideas at you from all angles, and could be seen more as a poem than a song, but they certainly seem to refer to digital information overload and the confusion and mental strain it can cause. “Do my thoughts belong to me?” is a lyric that really stands out.
5. Arcade Fire – Everything Now (2017)
Released just this year, Arcade Fire’s fifth album also seems to deal with the concept of too much content being hurled at us, and even its marketing played on the idea of ‘fake news’, featuring a social media account in the style of a Russian spambot.
The album includes a track called ‘Infinite Content’, which, along with the above title track, discusses the on-demand nature of our lives and questions whether it’s truly making us happy.
Music reflects what we talk about, what we love and what we fear, so it’s inevitable that the internet, which has changed how we listen to it too, will continue to be a theme in what our favourite artists produce.