Perform “Funny” with your class using Modern Band Charts provided by Little Kids Rock.
“Funny,” a song from the debut album of singer, guitarist, and composer Tori Kelly, explores the potential negatives of mass recognition and success. In the lyrics, Kelly questions the impetus that drives many who attempt to “make it”:
It’s so easy to lose all the meaning of who you are
What is your definition of a true superstar?
Is it beauty? Is it money? Is it power? Is it fame?
Are you in it for the glory? What’s the purpose? What’s the gain?
Tori Kelly was 22 when “Funny” was released on her debut Unbreakable Smile album. While her search for identity might be a natural part of young adulthood, Kelly’s exploration of the underbelly of mainstream recognition seems quite mature, and perhaps reflects her distinctly 21st-century path to success.
Before she was a teen, Kelly had competed in a host of televised singing competitions, from Star Search to America’s Most Talented Kids to American Idol, where judge Simon Cowell described her voice as, “almost annoying.” Kelly advanced toward the finish line but never emerged the final victor in any of the contests. Undeterred, at 14 she began posting homemade YouTube videos, and soon found a receptive online audience. By the time Kelly signed with Capitol Records in 2013, she was a seasoned 21-year-old musician who had navigated a path toward success, mostly on her own. With nearly a decade of experience of participation in an often unforgiving music industry, one can understand how Kelly, barely an adult, could pen a song that asks “What’s the purpose? What’s the gain?”
But Kelly is not alone in interrogating the price of “stardom.” Her questions in fact reflect a trope in popular music that dates at least as far back as the 1920s, when the word “stardom” first appeared.
In this lesson, students will consider how Kelly’s “Funny” reflects her present-day experience while still speaking to the broader issues of success and stardom. Students will view a clip of Kelly being harshly judged by an American Idol panel, and discuss how the experience might be reflected in her current work. Students will then watch a clip of The Beatles at the height of “Beatlemania,” and consider how Kelly’s lyrics might express what The Beatles were experiencing a half-century earlier. Finally, students will compare “Funny” with David Bowie’s “Fame,” exploring the similarities and differences between their critiques of pop culture success. An included extension activity encourages students to create their own lyrics about fame and judgement.