In No Direction's "That's What Makes Us Really Cool," what aspect of society does this song satirise and what satirical techniques are used to achieve its purpose?
No Direction, "That's What Makes Us Really Cool"
We run along this beach as if we’re teenagers
I’ve got great hair
I need ‘yeah yeah’
And I’m a silk shirt wearing cuddly bear
We’re all unfit and we look anaemic
But this is our present for you
Let's take a well reasoned look at the lyrics of the original and those of the satirizing parody. To start, let's define satire.
- Satire: The use of exaggerated humor to expose the folly in society or in a sub-group of society or in a prominent individual or group of individuals in order to bring about a correction to the behavior or attitudes that deviate from the agreed upon social norm, for example, the behavior of a greedy, arrogant or licentious clergy.
With satire, the trick is to pinpoint just what or whom is being satirized. To do this, one starts with pinpointing the theme. To pinpoint the theme, one examines and analyzes the words, or lyrics, of the work in hand.
In both sets of lyrics, the verses point to the theme that is stated, then repeated, in the Chorus. The theme of the original is beauty. The theme of the parody is the antithesis of beauty, which in this case is mediocre inadequacy. Let's examine the themes.
In the original beauty is equated with modesty, "smile at the ground"; simplicity and natural purity, "Don't need make up"; charm and attractiveness, "You're turning heads when you walk through the door"; and natural sincerity, "Being the way that you are is enough." This detailed definition of beauty stands in contrast to the opposing social value that distortion of self is the road to beauty, whether distortion through Gothicism, beauty spa "make-overs," or self-mutilating piercings and tattoos.
One Direction (original) "What Makes You Beautiful"
Right now I'm looking at you and I can't believe
You don't know...
You don't know you're beautiful...
That what makes you beautiful.
In the parody the antithetical concept of mediocre inadequacy is equated with aging, "as if we’re teenagers"; ill-health, "We’re all unfit and we look anaemic"; inadequate job (singing or otherwise) performance, "our jobs on the line"; dated allusion to a past rock star that connects them with a by-gone era, "still listen to Bon Jovi"; and lack of charm or musicality, "then welcome to hell."
No Direction (parody) "What Makes Us Really Cool"
If only we were all 17
Unfortunately we still listen to Bon Jovi
We’re confident of success because we’re all naive
We don’t know, we don’t know we’re terrible
And that’s what makes us really cool
Based on the theme of the parody, what No Direction is satirizing is their own generation: they are satirizing how far their generation has fallen from youth and appeal and health:
Apologies for what you have to see
Just think of us like the cast of an elderly Glee
We’re in the sun ‘cos were lacking in Vitamin D
We don’t know, we don’t know we’re terrible
No Direction has taken the hand mirror of humorous deprecation, criticism and exposure and turned it in on themselves. They are exposing, with humorous vitality, the ease with which their generation fell into decline. This decline, though not addressed by the lyrics, occurred through generational phenomena like couch potato sports mania, remote control channel surfing, lawn tractors and various other failed generational gambits.
The techniques used to satirize the singers' own generation are simple ones, such as these: repetition of words, rhythm and melody, "We’re insecure"; metaphor, allusion and simile, "I look like a fat Russell Brand"; magnification, foregrounding or exaggeration of faults, "Australia will get sick of our shocking heads"; humorous language and images, "If only we were all 17 / ... because we’re all naive"; exaggerated conditionals:
if we were wine we’d taste like cheap Moselle
If One Direction is heaven, then welcome to hell
The "group" calling themselves "No Direction" are a group of men in their forties who have cleverly taken One Direction's lyrics from "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" and, using parody, have used their own words for comic effect. They have used mimicry to ridicule this "boy band."
The result is an amusing play on words and may be interpreted as being meant to mock the band and all that they represent, suggesting that One Direction itself may be a cliched band, its songs simplistic, and that "we don’t know we’re terrible" is targeting One Direction's lyrics, "Everyone else in the room can see it." In other words, One Direction can't see how terrible they are.
This song is satirizing society's self-absorption. One Direction, like any boy band has mainly children or "tweens" (between age 9 to 12) as their biggest fans and the parents of these children go to great lengths to keep their children happy but at the same time support a genre that may seem flippant, shallow, materialistic and detached from reality. The parody can be interpreted as pointing out that it's time to introduce our children to real music; perhaps something with deeper content that doesn't reflect social self-absorption.