The modern world is dizzying. Mass communication floods our senses with an overwhelming torrent of new ideas and there are countless influencers - celebrities, intellectuals, politicians, business leaders and spiritual charlatans - proposing the path to navigate it all. Indie.Arie's Rollercoaster is a modern take on the immortal Sixties graffiti gag "stop the world - I want to get off", but rather than just escaping from the madness, it's an entreaty for all of us to better ourselves and "make love, peace and respect the priority".
Beginning with a keyboard melody that recalls the opening of The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever, layered with overlapping mock news soundbites hinting at senseless racial violence in American streets, Rollercoaster quickly launches into an irresistible beat and the opening couplet succinctly sums up the bewildering experience of living in the 21st Century: "Every time I turn on the news, I can't seem to tell a lie from the truth".
Some of the lyrics to Rollercoaster could be interpreted as rambling and reactionary. In a roll call of tangential examples of modern culture, from "mumble rap" to "genetically modified broccoli" (not a phrase you'll find in many pop songs), parts of the song come dangerously close to the ravings of right-wing Conservatives complaining that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Are these her own views? Or is she satirising the Trump-voting, border-wall-building so-called moral majority, ignorant of the facts but suspicious of everything and everyone?
"They're clonin' animals, we're eating' the meat," she sings [Er, who are "they"? And by the way, they might be, but we aren't]. "The next thing they turn around, they clonin' you and me" [Really? That's the next thing "they" are going to do?]. There's a bit of a reactionary in all of us, but even if some of these disjointed ideas are her own, at least India.Arie has a sense of humour. Referring to 2018's NFL "take a knee" protests, Arie asks us to take another look at the chaos that surrounds us and then, in a spoken comic aside, she asks: "And Colin Kaepernick's knee got y'all losin' y'all minds? Come on!"
Rollercoaster comes from Arie's eighth album, Worthy, the title track of which posits the controversial view that worthiness is not earned but is innately human. It's a theme that dates all the way back to her very first hit single in 2001, Video, in which she dared to distance herself from the pursuit of bling, singing: "My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes, no matter what I'm wearing I will always be India.Arie".
For Arie, accepting her own worth has become a symbol of defiance against an uncaring and materialistic world. In a blog post earlier this year, Arie recalled how she broke down in tears way back in 2002 when she saw how easily R. Kelly's sex crimes were being swept under the carpet.
"I sobbed, because it was a graphic illustration that I lived in a world that didn't value people like me," she wrote. "And I had to learn to take care of myself in the face of a society and industry that doesn’t love me."
"My favourite definition of the word worthy," she says in her Songversation podcast "is deserving of regard and respect. And what I know is we all are worthy and deserving of regard and respect. And we're born worthy. It’s not about anything that you do or anything you have or how you look or what you accomplish. You're born worthy but we live in a world that teaches us that we have to do something to deserve it. And what I am learning is that although the world may send that message to me, I’m choosing to send a message back to the world that I was born worthy. That I am worthy and I am significant and I matter because I exist."
One thing has changed since the days of Video, though. Where the younger Arie once sang "don't be offended this is all my opinion" she is now more strident, confident in her convictions, but always with a sly sense of humour. "I'm-a stand up for what I believe in," she sings on Rollercoaster. "And I don't care who thinks I'm preachin', pay attention to the way you're spendin' your time, 'cause keepin' up with the Kardashians is fallin' behind".
Thanks to Brent Faulkner from Music to Atone To for this week's track recommendation.
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About the curator: Jon Ewing
After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.