Conan Gray’s ‘Generation Why’ is a lyrical ‘OK, Boomer’

Millennials are screwed. The Baby Boomers have milked the economy for all it’s worth and left only a plundered husk to posterity.

Now, all they can do is harangue Gen Y for failing to meet crippling college debt with a minimum-wage income as they themselves sit, blissfully oblivious to the conditions they created, in mortgage-free homes their grandchildren will never afford. Meanwhile, many geriatrics on Capitol Hill continue to wave off action against a global climate disaster, instead waiting out idle terms until both they and their problems pass on.

This is the classic Millennial plight. Conan Gray — who, born in 1998, is just barely on the periphery of that label — wraps fatalistic lyrics and a sedative tune into a package of social commentary titled “Generation Why.”

The catchy indie pop song expresses the languid angst of a generation whose culture embraces sarcastic self-loathing (“We are the helpless, selfish, one of a kind / Millennium kids that all wanna die”) and hears constant criticism from age groups of decades past (“We are the worthless, cursed with too much time / We get into trouble and lose our minds / Something that I’ve heard a million times in my life”).

Desire for death interspersed with indifference toward mortality make up the pinnacle of Gen Y humor. Nihilistic internet culture has bred many a meme about casual suicide, because at this point, even taking one’s own life is too ambitious. No, Millennials like to simply ask for their demise when the opportunity arises.

The grim comedy, however, may easily be a veneer to gloss over some dismal truth. The Pew Research Center reported an uptick of 59 percent in cases of teenage depression from 2007 to 2017.

And it’s no surprise.

Today’s young adults were the guinea pig children of the digital age, and they’ve grown up catching flack from their elders for having eyes glued eternally to a screen. They carry a reputation for being the laziest and most spoiled generation, according to some Boomers, due to the all the newfound privileges technology affords.

In the song’s accompanying music video, Gray is a newsboy who rides his bicycle through the suburb that “don’t got much to do,” enduring scoldings from looming parental figures when he isn’t sneaking out to meet a friend “‘cause no one cares that we’re gone.”

The most cynical Boomers also say that Millennials have been coddled into entitlement, as these kids emerge from a participation trophy culture that rewards minimal effort. They might as well appear “helpless,” Gray sings, in the real world after being raised in such accommodating environments.

It’s almost as if they’ve forgotten how their own Silent Generation elders had carped on about nearly identical concerns: How appalling that the Boomers, pampered on the luxuries their Depression-era parents could only dream of during childhood, privileged to be the first generation to regularly attend college, dare protest the status quo?

Yet in an ironically dark twist, both Gen Y and Gen Z — mirroring the eternal trend of inter-generational backlash — lament that it was the Boomers who depleted whatever potential hope remained in life after the millenium:

You and I haven’t got much to lose

So do you wanna rot in your room like we always do?

Talk about how fast we grew

And all the big dreams that we won’t pursue

Gray’s generation can expect to rack up six to seven figures of student loans for a degree that no longer guarantees employment in a job market now saturated like never before. The weight of this debt in turn means that owning a home becomes more of a pipe dream than a reasonable post-grad objective.

Financial security is the bedrock of vocational aspiration. If those entering the 21st century workforce can’t even lay down that foundation, what’s left to strive for?

But that’s not all, of course. Climate change and nuclear conflict remain ever-present perils threatening to wipe out humanity before Gen Y can even take over the treasured tradition of grumbling about their own children’s generational tendencies.

The suburbs’ “radium [green] lawns,” perhaps a reference to the toxic nuclear age that persists, are apparent in the oversaturated but hazy, old-film appearance of the video.

Decades after the Cold War, countries across the globe have only continued racing for their own nuclear arsenal: we have not, apparently, learned our lesson. Indeed, each second we exist we remain only a few ticks away from midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

About halfway through the video Gray tosses onto a lawn the day’s paper, headlined “Scientists Believe Earth Will Die By 2020,” accompanied by subhead “Mother Nature Is Melting.” He sings:

‘Cause at this rate of earth decay

Our world’s ending at noon

Could we all just move to the moon?

Almost every year in the past decade has seen record-breaking temperatures on both extremes — severe heat waves in summer and calamitous polar vortexes come winter. Roaring wildfires have become commonplace in California, while hurricanes grow more intense with each season.

Gray draws his point to a full circle here:

We’re living night to night

Since we’re bound to die

Oh, what’s the use in trying?

And it’s exactly why…

…Millennials act the way they do. With such desolate prospects all around, why invest in a future that promises no return?

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