‘#Selfie’ makes laughable attempt at cultural critique

The song “#Selfie” by the Chainsmokers has been securely in the top 20 most downloaded songs on iTunes for the past few weeks, and the accompanying music video has been viewed more than 40 million times on Youtube. It’s been quite an impressive run for a song that isn’t really a song at all. The music video, in particular, could more accurately be described as an extended internet meme. And as internet memes go, it serves its purpose quite well. It directly and humorously represents a cultural phenomenon: Selfies. But as with so many aspects of contemporary culture (particularly those that tend toward the nihilistic), it can be difficult to determine whether “#Selfie” critiques or celebrates the themes it represents.

The video depicts a young woman and her friend staring into a bathroom mirror (a popular selfie spot) at a hip nightclub. Fleeting scenes of the club are interspersed with her incredibly obnoxious and superficial internal monologue over a rhythmic baseline. Each spoken “verse” ends with the phrase, “Let me take a selfie” The subsequent “chorus” consists of a fast-paced onslaught of Instagram photos with the tag #selfie that automatically refreshes upon each viewing.

The nature of the young woman’s narration suggests that the song is indeed parodying selfies and what they represent in the contemporary youth experience. The Chainsmokers certainly must have been aware of the extent to which selfies have become a part of the cultural discourse, particularly since the Oxford English Dictionary declared “selfie” the word of the year in 2013. Just as in the video, most of the conversation about selfies centers on the role of young women.

Recent posts on Jezebel and Slate debate the value of selfies with regard to female empowerment. On Jezebel, Erin Gloria Ryan argues, “selfies aren’t empowering; they’re a high tech reflection of the f-cked up way society teaches women that their most important quality is their physical attractiveness.” Rachel Simmons of Slate, on the other hand, sees the selfie as a form of female empowerment; a “shout-out to the self.”

“#Selfie” embodies elements of both arguments, minus any notion of female empowerment. In fact, the song and video bring the discourse on selfies to a different level by suggesting that it is not the act of taking a selfie that is superficial and obnoxious, but that these qualities characterize the person taking the selfie. It is the selfie taker who is “f-cked up,” not the selfie itself. “#Selfie’s” portrayal of the selfie-taker, in this case a young woman, as petty and superficial can certainly be read as sexist, and may very well be analyzed as such by a site like Jezebel in the near future.

Yet, despite the apparent stupidity of the selfie taker as she is portrayed in the video, The Chainsmokers encourage their fans to participate in the silliness by posting their own #selfies on Instagram in the hopes of appearing in the video. “#Selfie,” it appears, isn’t sexist so much as it is nihilistic in the way it encourages such evidently flawed behavior.

The absurdity of “#Selfie’s” message (or lack thereof) is put into stark relief by a recent parody video by USC alumnus Jon Rudnitsky entitled, “#DICKPIC.” Even though it’s technically a parody, it’s not that much more ridiculous than the original. Rudnitsky and The Chainsmokers seem to share a certain artistic vision: Why participate in the cultural discourse when the issues being parsed out are so laughable to begin with?

Ben Schneider is a freshman majoring in international relations and English. His blog, “The Way We Live Now,” runs Tuesdays.