Essential Question

Who is the ‘us’ in P!nk’s song “What About Us?”

Overview

Perform “What About Us” with your class using Modern Band Charts provided by Little Kids Rock. Both Intermediate and Beginner charts available.  

When Alecia Moore, who most know as “P!nk,” entered public consciousness in 2000, she was one amongst a collection of female pop singers including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, and Jessica Simpson. As a female pop singer, conventional wisdom might suggest P!NK’s popularity would be here today, gone tomorrow. The truth, however, is quite the opposite–while many of the other stars have waned, P!nk continues to shine.

Part of P!nk’s success may be the spirit of rebellion that has marked much of her post-debut work. P!nk has leveraged her starpower to release songs that celebrate her nonconformity, and challenge what many consider mainstream norms. For instance, on “Stupid Girl”, the first single from the 2006 album I’m Not Dead, P!nk suggests women are often encouraged to behave as male accessories rather than independent beings, asking “What happened to the dream of a female President? / She’s dancing in a video next to 50 Cent.” Since, P!nk has tackled the right-to-marry debate, wage inequality, and other social issues, all while remaining a near permanent fixture on the Billboard charts.

The first single from P!nk’s 2017 Beautiful Disaster album, “What About Us?,” casts a broader net, one large enough to embrace nearly anyone who feels left behind, be it by a partner, a parent, or their country. In this lesson, students will listen to the song and share their own thoughts about its meaning. They will then complete an activity using the top 50 New York Times headlines of 2017, and explore how the tone of media might make some celebrate a song with no overt political lyrics as a “response” to the politics of the era. Finally, students will read an interview in which P!nk explains her perspective on the song’s meaning, and respond to her suggestions.

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Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The relationship between music and current events
    • Historical events that occurred in the year 2017
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will analyze how musicians respond to current events through group discussion and research.

Activities

Motivational Activity:

  1. Tell students they will be discussing P!nk’s song, “What About Us?” Using a whiparound and keeping track of their answers on the board, ask students:
    • Who do you think the “us” in the song’s title might refer to?
  2. Show students the music video for “What About Us?” (Note to teacher: this link will open to the official video on Vevo, we recommend preloading the content to avoid showing advertising in the classroom), have students focus on both the songs and the visual cues in the video, then ask:
    • Having watched the video, who do you think P!nk might be discussing when she sings, “What About Us?” Why?

Procedure:

  1. Break students into groups and distribute Handout 1 – New York Times Headlines.  Have each group read the headlines together and then respond to the questions included on the handout. Then discuss their answers as a class.
  2. Have students return to their seats and distribute Handout 2 – P!nk in the Huffington Post. After students have read the interview excerpt, ask:
    • Who does P!nk suggest “Us” is in her song?
    • Do you think the lyrics of “What About Us?” leave space for anyone to be “us” in the song? Why or why not?
    • P!nk suggests that she’s “disappointed in government”? What do you think has disappointed her? What do you think she might expect from government? Are her expectations realistic?
    • Thinking back to the New York Times headline discussion you had earlier, in what ways might P!nk’s question “What About Us?” relate to the national news? How might her statement about sheltering her 6-year-old daughter relate to the news? (Encourage students to consider the news’ primary focus on politics and traumatic events–is there room for the individual in the headlines? Even for someone like P!nk?)

Summary Activity:

  1. Ask students:
    • Do you think a statement as broad as that which P!nk makes in “What About Us” is useful for starting conversations about change? Why or why not?
    • Can you think of any other popular songs that have addressed social issues? Have they done so obtusely, like P!nk, or with a focus on particular issues? Which method to you find more effective, and why?

Extension Activity:

Song writing activity: Pick an issue that you find meaningful–anything from saving the whales to adding an item to the menu in the school cafeteria–and write two songs about it.

  • Song 1 – Address the issue directly in the lyrics. Say exactly what you think needs to happen in your words.
  • Song 2 – Zoom out from the issue and write broadly. Can you write a song that can mean what you’re thinking, but also be able to mean something to someone else?

Standards

Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

  • Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Writing 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

  • Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.

Core Music Standard: Connecting

  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.