Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild, and Free” celebrates the hedonism of youth. Its pace is so mellow—which corresponds to its stoner ethos—that you can’t quite call it an anthem. Nonetheless it contains a distinctly anthemic quality: this is a song that will be sung out loud by buzzed young people and embarrassingly drunk older people at parties for some time, I imagine. But even as it celebrates irresponsible celebrating, the song is weighed down by a sad undercurrent that it can’t quite smoke away.
Inconsistency in popular music, as in any art, is not a problem. We live in a contradictory world so we should expect our representational forms, if they are going to be faithful to life, to embody its contradictoriness. Art is not identical with politics or philosophy. We should not expect ideological purity or logical consistency from it. Indeed, what makes art so compelling sometimes are its contradictions.
Take Black Sabbath’s “Lord of this World,” for example. The song is supposed to make you repent your evil ways and rethink your relationship to God. “Your world was made for you by someone above/But you choose evil ways instead of love,” the song warns us. But of course the song has the exact opposite effect. Its menacing and abstract heaviness and Ozzy’s almost demonic voice make most listeners want to embrace the darkness that the song ostensibly rejects. The song, like Black Sabbath as a whole, aestheticizes darkness, makes it desirable in its sinister beauty. Thus rather than turning its listeners more godly, “Lord of this World” has instead created legions of Satanists.
There are similar contradictions in “Young, Wild, and Free.” The song’s philosophy as a whole is contained in its chorus: “So what we get drunk/So what we smoke weed/We’re just having fun/We don’t care who sees.” Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa then take turns delivering verses that deal mostly with different manner of getting high and enjoying being high. The song revels in the spontaneity and liberty of youth. Youthful dissipation is transformed by it into the only product of a good life. But everything is not so simple. First of all, Snoop Dogg is older than I am. So his take on youth is delivered in the key of nostalgia. “It’s like I’m 17 again,” he raps. But as William S. Burroughs once observed, “in order to feel something, you have to be there. You have to be 18.” Snoop Dogg might be wild and free, who knows, but he is certainly not young so there is something insincere about his lauding of youth. And as for Wiz Khalifa, he sings repeatedly in quieter voice near the end of the song “When you live like this you’re supposed to party.” So instead of the affirmation of freedom, partying becomes at the song’s conclusion a necessary convention. That is, he parties not because he wants to party but because he is supposed to party. So this joyful song about spontaneous youthful excess is also about old men missing their youth and about young men who feel obligated to party. Enjoy!