If you’ve been following this series of content, you’ve probably noticed a theme. Excluding last week’s piece on Green Day’s Basket Case, each song has focused on developing the right mentality to realize your potential. I’ve picked this approach because I’m currently on that journey. Recent experiences (“recent” being the last couple of years) have challenged me emotionally because they didn’t challenge me in any other way. In that tension lies my internal conflict. How important is being challenged in life? What if you have to choose between being challenged and being financially stable? What if in being challenged, you bring ridicule and embarrassment upon yourself?
“I got no regrets no matter the outcome
Loving it’s just one of the perks
And it goes like this”
In Doing It Wrong, Malibu Shark Attack shift our perspective on these questions. Often in our culture we emphasize the “end” of things. As kids in school, the bottom line is the grades you receive. As adults at work, the bottom line is your salary (or the quantitative “value” you add to the company). As adults in social situations, the bottom line is your “place” in life (“place” being the solution to a complex non-objective formula where the variables are wealth, material possessions, and social relationships). All of these standards are end-goals. None are concerned with how you get/got to that end-goal.
Rapper Tribe One, the duo’s vocalist, recounts experiencing this phenomenon at a young age in the song’s first verse:
“A little kid with a dream to chase
Innocent with a grin you could see from space
Couldn’t have been any older than five when
The class got our very first homework assignment
‘And what do you want to be when you grow up’
I was fine ‘til the other kids showed up
With doctors and astronauts, even people cleaning out the trash can
Not me, I wanted to be Batman
Suddenly that plan didn’t quite seem so brilliant
So I changed it to be like those children”
Even at five the social pressure to focus on the end overpowered his dreams and innocence. Sure, Batman might not be a realistic thing to want to be, but the exact answer isn’t the point. He was thinking differently than everyone else and in his desire to fit in, he didn’t realize the mistake he was making by discarding that advantage. Tribe One continues the verse:
“Then it seemed like the right thing to do
Now I don’t even remember what I changed it to
Just that even then I thought that it was lame
Twenty years later and it’s not what I became
I wish I woulda let ‘em thought I was a weirdo
‘Cause I still wanna be a hero”
Again, the exact point isn’t that he wanted to be a hero. It’s that he wanted to be like Batman–heroic by doing the deeds he does. Perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, Tribe One has hit on an odd, harmful rite of passage we put our children through. Before they understand anything about the world, we make them say what they want to do with their lives.
I still remember what I said for my answer to that question. I wanted to be the first man on mars. Why did I want to be that guy? Because I loved reading science fiction. Now I know, like Tribe One, that I don’t want to literally be Batman on Mars, I want to write about an awesome guy taking his Bat-Shuttle to the red planet to figure out its mysteries. I understand that the day-to-day life of an astronaut wouldn’t be as appealing to me as the day-to-day of the life I have now. Except when I was young, I wasn’t asked to take that part of a job into consideration, and not doing so still haunts me to this day.
In the second verse, Tribe One raps about breaking free from this mentality:
“I spent a lifetime trying to be a regular guy when there’s already an endless supply
If you ever put your head to the sky and dreamt you could fly
Then you know you’re expected to set it aside
And forget it ‘cause it’ll never lead you on a safe path
And I really did quit my job to make rap
And I’m terrified
But not as much as I woulda been
Sitting in the same place wondering what coulda been
If this works, it’s because I’m good at it
I’m good at it, it’s cause I put in the work
And I’ve got no regrets no matter the outcome
Loving it’s just one of the perks”
In these lines he gets to the heart of the problem that focusing on the end goal creates–the juxtaposition of “dreams” and “safety” as opposites. If the end becomes the reason you do things, then you’re not focusing on what you’re doing. If you’re not focusing on what you’re doing, you’re not thinking about what you want to do. If you’re not thinking about what you want to do, you’re ignoring your dreams. It’s a strange transitive property of perspective that you only understand the reality of until you experience it.
(Note: Holy crap, I used a math metaphor.)
That reality is the latter half of the second verse. Tribe One had two choices: keep doing what he was doing or rap. The reason he chose to rap is because when he wasn’t rapping, he was unhappy with his life. At some point, that unhappiness began to outweigh the fear he’s experiencing now, so he quit his job to do, as he says in the hook, what he wants.
“I’m gonna do what I want
I will never put anything but the truth in a song
I choose the route that my future is on
And I don’t care if I’m doing it wrong
You can do what you want
And eventually you’ll get to where you truly belong
Where the ugly duck grew into a beautiful swan
And who cares if you’re doing it wrong?”
The third verse of this song pretty much repeats the sentiment encapsulated in this hook–pride in expressing your individuality. You see, that long line of transition of traits above continues further. If you’re ignoring your dreams, you’re ignoring yourself because you are your dreams. You’re what you think, value, want, admire, celebrate, etc. By focusing on the end, on being safe, you’re ignoring your mind in favor of social acceptance. It’s why in the first verse Tribe One changed his answer from Batman. It’s why in the second verse people expected him to set his dreams aside. Those expectations and the tactics that accompany them are what makes the hook the most important piece of this song.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
I can’t tell you how many projects or ideas I’ve abandoned simply out of the fear of being laughed at, ridiculed, hated, embarrassed, mocked, or insulted for having created it. It’s certainly not one of my best qualities, but it is one of my qualities. Why do I hold this fear? On some level I privilege what other people think over what I think because I have a very hard time finding people who agree with me. I like stuff that no one really likes. I approach things in a way that no one really does. Because of these facts, I’m continually met with push back and it wears me down. How often can you stand in opposition to the crowd and still believe you’re right?
The answer this song provides to that question is what makes it so powerful. “Who cares if you’re doing it wrong?” The point is you shouldn’t care because you’re doing what you want, what your mind thinks is best. It’s not about the crowd, it’s about you, trying your hardest to do what you want, not focused on the end but on the doing.
“What are you doing you?” you ask.
You mean, besides writing these analytical essays on songs that inspire me? Good question! I’ve been working on some songs of my own, and starting next week, the next five Track Tales will be about those songs.
“Where can I hear those songs?”
You’re just full of great questions today. I’ll be officially releasing my first music next Tuesday–a Nerdcore rap EP called The Launchpad EP.
Yup, I have no idea if I’m doing it right. I’m just doing it (thanks, Nike). Let’s see if this is the start of a crazy journey or just another excuse for people to call me names.
OK, they’re going to call me names anyway. That’s what the internet is for, right? Oh well, to them I say:
See you next Tuesday.
(See what I did there?)