The song “Cool Kids” by Echosmith is an interesting lesson on social identity. The song itself has been criticized by many for being too trite and bubbly, with no essence. The melody is effervescent, but that is one reason it is catchy. Perhaps the sentiment is trite, but “trite” is not always bad. Like clichés, which are forbidden by the rules of writing, but are useful when one needs a shorthand way to convey a concept, something that is trite is generally understood to be true by everyone. Like the boy and girl in “Cool Kids,” virtually everyone has had the experience of feeling left out or self-conscious or envious or insecure, especially as teenagers. This is one reason for the popularity of the song; it resonates on a universal frequency. The essential lesson of the song is that we share certain feelings — that we really all “fit in” — without having to change anything at all about ourselves.
In the first line, “She sees them walking in a straight line.” The cool kids are united, conforming, protected. Even though “that’s not really her style,” she still envies them for the benefits they achieve by being “cool.” She is torn between one social identity — a “cookie cutter” existence — and another — being her true self. The line “they all got the same heartbeat, but hers is falling behind,” conveys the dual sentiments of distaste and longing. She feels distaste for them because they appear to be clones, but she longs to catch up to them, even if it means falling into step and losing her personal identity for a group identity. The next line points to her sadness because she is vulnerable and they seemingly are not. “Down” can refer to an emotion or to a behavior; the cool kids cannot be brought down to depression nor can they be defeated. She’s “just in the background.” As a fixture in the backdrop of life, she is easily ignored and taken for granted. As she moves into the chorus, she is becoming convinced of her own uselessness. But the words “seem to fit in” offer hope; maybe they don’t really “fit in,” they only seem to.
The boy expresses similar thoughts. The cool kids talk with big smiles and live “the good life,” but they don’t have a clue and they don’t know where they’re going. Even though he, too, wishes to be like the cool kids, he understands that they are lacking in reality and in awareness. They are not truly alive, because they live “life without knowing.”
The message of the song is different from what one would think after listening once, because the repetition of the chorus brings attention to the wish to fit in. However, the verses add another side to the story, as indicated above. Although being cool seems great, the singers recognize that it has no substance. The lesson is that “social” identity is made up of varied and individual identities, not many copies of the same identity.
The melody and presentation of this song are perfect for the audience, because it appeals to teenagers overall, and this is the group that most needs to hear the message. Popular music has a tremendous impact because it is heard so frequently; a person listening to a Top 40 radio station may hear a song 5 or 6 times in one evening. Listening to CD or iPod just increases the number of repetitions, giving the lesson plenty of time to sink in — often without the listener being consciously aware of it. These are the benefits of learning about social identity through music.
There are also disadvantages. With “Cool Kids,” there is always the possibility that the listener will hone in on the chorus and not hear the words of the verses; in this case, the opposite message is transmitted. This is a problem with any vocal music because sometimes lyrics are hard to understand and can be misinterpreted easily.