Billionaire: Pop Culture Aspirations & Philanthropy

Earlier this week I wrote about what web TV service Hulu tells us about changing demographic expectations around social engagement. So I thought I’d stay on the pop culture beat and talk about the hit song Billionaire.

Earlier this week, Nathaniel Whittemore wrote about the changing meaning of “being cool”. His point was that while “cool” use to mean “not caring” (think James Dean detachment), today caring about social issues has become a marker of being cool. To the extent that pop culture captures the emerging aspirations of the public, I think this trend is important.

One interesting signal of this change is the song Billionaire by Travis McCoy and Bruno Mars. Pop music often celebrates materialism with music videos showing off various trappings of wealth (think rap videos celebrating Cristal champagne). So the lyrics of Billionaire are an interesting departure.

The song starts:

I wanna be a billionaire so fricking bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen

So far, it sounds like any normal rap/rock song. But then things shift and it become clear that the “trappings” of wealth, the signals that prove to the world that you have “arrived,” are very different in a post Giving Pledge world:

Yeah I would have a show like Oprah
I would be the host of, everyday Christmas
Give Travie a wish list

I’d probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt
And adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had sh-t
Give away a few Mercedes like, here lady have this
And last but not least grant somebody their last wish…

…I’d probably visit where Katrina hit
And damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did…

…I’ll probably take whatevers left and just split it up
So everybody that I love can have a couple bucks
And not a single tummy around me would know what hungry was
Eating good sleeping soundly

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Hmmm. Is this the new pop culture aspiration? To make a ton of money so that you can give it away and help people? Maybe that’s a stretch, it is a just a song after all…

…a song that the hit TV show Glee chose to perform.

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What’s it all mean? I’m not sure. But I know that as my two young kids grow up, they are entering a pop culture world, that while still celebrating anti-authority rebels, seems to be beginning to add social engagement as a marker of the aspirational pop culture hero.