In what ways does Alessia Cara’s “Here” defy popular music conventions, and what does the song say about peer pressure in youth culture?
Perform “Here” with your class using Modern Band Charts provided by Little Kids Rock.
From surf rock beach parties in the 1960s to present day rappers “in the club,” popular music has long been associated with socialization activities like dancing and drinking, usually amongst a large crowd of people. But for those who are more comfortable spending their time at home or with a small group of friends, the glorification of parties and dancing in popular music may provoke anxiety. For many such people, Alessia Cara’s “Here” is an anthem.
“I’m used to being alone. I enjoy it,” Cara writes on Genius.com, “I think you get a lot done when you’re alone. It’s easier to get your feelings out when you’re alone. You don’t have to worry about how you look. You can do whatever, look however. It’s just the best time to do whatever you want.” Cara began her music career largely alone in 2010, posting YouTube videos of her popular music covers and celebrity impressions, mostly filmed in the comfort of her own bedroom. Soon Cara’s videos began attracting attention and her viewership increased dramatically. In 2015, Cara, a self-made star, signed with Def Jam Recordings.
“Here” was Cara’s first single with Def Jam, and its lyrics are inspired by lived experience. Cara recalls that on the day she wrote the song, “all I kept thinking about was this party I’d gone to the night before, which was like the most uncomfortable party I’d ever gone to. I realized how uncomfortable I was and I called my mom, and I was like ‘mom I have to come home early, please pick me up.’” By relating her feelings of discomfort towards parties, Cara hoped the song would appeal to “all the antisocial, awkward, and miserable party-goers of the world.”
“Here” peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts, and secured positions in many “Best Songs of 2015” lists as well. The success of “Here” is likely due in part to its appeal to those who do not feel represented by the images popular music culture often promotes. In the song, Cara makes it clear she has no interest in the gossip, drug use, alcohol consumption, and flirtation that she associates with parties, and that she’d prefer socializing with a small group of “real” friends. Cara’s admission of social discomfort sends a message of acceptance to other people that may experience similar feelings. “Here” encourages her audience to be themselves in the face of peer pressure, a message she has continued to advocate in other songs, such as “Scars to Your Beautiful.”
In this lesson, students compare lyrics to historical content to determine how Alessia Cara’s song “Here” defies popular music conventions. Then, they consider their own experiences with peer pressure, and imagine what their own “unconventional” pop song might be about.
Upon completion of this lesson, students will:
- Know (knowledge):
- The motivation and background behind the song “Here”
- The historic association between popular music and socialization activities such as parties and dancing
- Mastery Objective:
- Through textual and historical analysis, students will be able to analyze how Alessia Cara’s song “Here” confronts pop music conventions and discuss how it might inspire people to be comfortable with themselves.
- Ask students:
- What do you think life is like for a modern day pop star?
- How do music videos portray the lifestyles of famous musicians? Do you think they are honest depictions?
- What aspects of a pop star’s life or feelings might not be featured in a music video?
- Could someone be shy and still be a pop star? Why or why not?
- Play the video to Alessia Cara’s “Here” for students. (Note: this link will open to the official video on Youtube).
- Play Clips 1-4 (Clip 1, Gene Vincent, “I Got a Baby,” Clip 2, The Beach Boys, “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” Clip 3, Peaches and Herb, “Shake Your Groove Thing,” and Clip 4, “Don’t Knock the Rock.”)(Teachers may choose to play all or some of the videos, or substitute other music videos that feature partying and dancing). Ask students:
- What are the musicians and listeners doing in these videos?
- Watching these videos, what might someone conclude is one of the purposes of popular music?
- Can you think of more recent examples of songs that promote dancing, partying, and having a good time, either in the lyrics or the music video?
- How is Cara’s song “Here” different from the videos you just saw?
- What kinds of activities are promoted as being fun in the popular music in your life? Are those activities a realistic part of your life?
- How do the activities you see in popular music affect your social decisions? (Encourage students to consider peer pressure, or the pressure to behave a certain way, etc.)
- Split students into groups, and pass out Handout 1 – The 5 W’s of “Here” to each group. Have students complete the worksheet as a group, then discuss their answers as a class.
- Ask students:
- Has there ever been a time in your life when you wished you were somewhere else? Where was it, and why did you go? Did anyone pressure you to go?
- What didn’t you like about that place? Where would you have rather been?
- Looking back, would you make the same decision to go? Why or why not?
- Have each student compose song lyrics based on the following prompt:
- Think of something you enjoy doing that may not be an activity commonly addressed in popular music (for example: being with your family, playing board games, reading books, cooking, etc.) and write a poem or song lyrics about it.
- Have students present their lyrics to class. (If time permits, set some of the lyrics to music).
- Ask students:
- Do you think Alessia Cara’s “Here” says something new or different, compared to other popular songs? Why or why not? Can you think of other songs that might have a similar message to “Here”? (Lorde’s “Royals,” for example).
- What kinds of people do you think “Here” speaks to most directly?
- What sort of inspiration might someone get from Cara’s song? What might be the message of this song in regards to peer pressure?
New Jersey State Standards
New Jersey State Learning Standards for English Language Arts: Reading
- NJSLSA.R4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
- NJSLSA.R6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
New Jersey State Learning Standards for English Language Arts: Speaking and Listening
- NJSLSA.SL1: 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.
New Jersey State Learning Standards for English Language Arts: Language
- NJSLSA.L4: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
Common Core State Standards
National Core Arts Standards
- Anchor Standard #1: Generate and conceptualize: artistic ideas and work.
- Anchor Standard #7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
- Anchor Standard #8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
- Anchor Standard #9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.
- Anchor Standard #10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
- Anchor Standard #11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.
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 6: Power, Authority, and Governance
- Theme 9: Global Connections
National Standards for Music Education
Core Music Standard: Responding
- Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
- 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.
Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards
Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)
- A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
A1.5 Research and analyze the work of an artist or designer and how the artist’s distinctive style contributes to their industry production.
A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
A4.4 Analyze the relationship between the artist, artistic product and audience in both an existing and self-generated project.
A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.
Performing Arts (B)
- B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
B5.0 Apply vocal and/or instrumental skill and knowledge to perform a varied repertoire of music appropriate to music industry application.
B5.4 Employ a variety of music technology to record, integrate, or modify a live or recorded performance to produce a new artistic product.
B5.7 Create melodic and rhythmic improvisations in a style or genre within a musical culture (gamelan, jazz, and mariachi).
B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.