Starship – We Built This City

First Hit #1: November 16, 1985

Blender has called it one of the 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs, Rolling Stone held an online poll that called it one of the 10 Worst Songs of the 80s. This confuses me, because how can you hate We Built This City?

I’m not going to claim it’s high art, because it just plain isn’t. It’s a big dumb rock song with a big dumb chorus that’s great fun to sing along to. It’s a song that piles on elements with big moments on several keyboards, drums and guitars. It’s a song with an anti-corporate streak that is specifically designed to be as appealing to as wide a range as possible, including referencing several city trademarks so nobody knows what city they’re referring to. Most importantly, it’s a song that’s fun, with a certain infectious enthusiasm which, for myself, at least makes it very difficult to hate. How can you not shout along to the thing? It’s just too silly and joyous.

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One Response to Starship – We Built This City

  1. RBerman says:

    I too have always found the hate for this song to be self-serving, an example of the worst sort of bandwagoning hipsterism. Even the existence of a phrase like “Awesomely bad” sounds like code for, “This is a great song, but it’s not cool to say so. Therefore I shall pretend to mock it by talking about it a whole lot.” Knee-deep in the hoopla, indeed! I much appreciated Sufjan Stevens talking about how disappointed his fans would be if they knew how much he enjoyed Pat Benatar.

    The most coherent argument against “We Built This City” that I’ve heard goes something like, “Bernie Taupin’s lyrics seem like a rant against corporate music, but the music, the production, and the use of the once-counterculture-but-now-coopted-band-Starship turn the lyrics into a hypocritical farce.” To which I reply, “So what?” We’ve seen a lot stupider lyrics, and a lot more hypocritical lyrics, at the top of the charts. At least Taupin makes sense. I’ll take this over a trite throwaway like “Oh, Sheila” any hour of any day. Thankfully, a rehab effort is well under way, as evidenced by its prominent, fun use in the recent Muppets reboot movie.

    Putting the hype aside, it’s just a catchy pop song, not intended to change the world. Synth bass, big chorus, radio DJ sample evoking their San Francisco roots, and the way each generation thinks it’s going to change the world and then discovers the reasons grown-ups do all those apparently weird things.

    The bigger story is how Starship managed to pull off a three-song victory lap over fifteen years after their Summer of Love sell-by date. Not only this one, but also “Sara” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” introduced them to a new generation of fans (including me) who had no clue about White Rabbit and the LSD counterculture.

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