Will Jay provides refreshing, meaningful content in pop music

Isabella Fernandez

Music has always been an intrinsic piece of human culture, even since the most primitive rock-and-stick drums. Music has entertained, brought people together, and has been crucial for spreading messages and making them stick. Humans have naturally been drawn to using their literal and metaphorical voices to share their thoughts through music. From the ancient Romans to religious spirituals to even the pop music of today.

Nowadays, it’s easy to believe the masses who talk about the immoral themes within pop music, but it’s also just as easy to find artists who use their platform for good; You just have to keep an eye out and stay open to new music. Allow me to share with you my own discovery: Will Jay.

Say you’re scrolling through the YouTube recommended section, searching for the right video to put on in the background when you come across the thumbnail to a music video titled, “Never Been In Love.” Unexpectedly, that thumbnail is bright pink and the artist is smiling widely. Seems interesting.

You click on the video and its wonderful; The song is bright with a strong, percussive beat and carefree vocals, the video is playfully animated and choreographed, and the lyrics are quite the refreshing change from the usual love (or rather, anti-love song). Most love songs follow the same formula of being about how much you want someone or miss someone or, for the odd breakup song, how much you hate someone. The song “Never Been In Love,” though, does the complete opposite. Instead, Will Jay’s lyrics express how perfectly content someone can be while single, and how irritating it can be to constantly hear how much you “need to be” in a relationship. In reality, it can be incredibly hard to find a partner and, frankly, some people don’t want one. As Jay himself says himself, “I say whatever, don’t care that I’ve never, no, never been in love.”

“Never Been In Love” provides a new take on the typical pop song ideology, but it’s not the only release of his that conveys this message. When I first came across Will Jay, I was pleased to find out that plenty of his songs have unique messages within their cleverly written lyrics. Some of his most notable songs, “Gangsta,” “Broke,” and “Leading Man,” each have their own especially interesting commentary on music and society today.

“Gangsta” is in the same vein as “Never Been In Love,” both musically and lyrically. In the same way “Never Been In Love” carries a very sarcastic, almost bittersweet, tone throughout, “Gangsta” is a very blatant satire on the toxic masculinity often presented in modern popular music, especially rap. The song mocks the various standards held to men: that men can’t be emotional, they must be aggressive, they should always aim to be the biggest and the best, they should go after the most beautiful women, etc. One of the lines quite explicitly states: “Your mannerisms should be more like a man’s.” As the chorus kicks in, however, Jay expresses that “[he doesn’t] need to be a gangsta to be a man” and, in the end, announces that he “[doesn’t] give a damn.” As the song goes on, he quirkily dances throughout the video and gunshot samples sound in the background, fit to the comical vibe of the song with bouncing brass synth. All of these elements combine to form a simple example of lyrical dissonance – when a song’s lyrics and music contrast tonally. In this case, the song’s serious critique of society’s views on manliness is juxtaposed with the fun and lighthearted instrumentals in a way that piques the interest of close or casual listeners.

The most recent of Will Jay’s songs is “Broke,” just as energetic, humorous, and sarcastic as the previous two. “Broke” is closer on the spectrum to “Gangsta,” clearly poking fun at the flexing culture of today wherein everyone shows off by owning the most expensive material goods (cough, Supreme, cough). In complete contrast, the lyrics of “Broke” take the same energy that A-list celebrities have when boasting their fanciest jewelry, and takes it to instead brag about how much money he doesn’t have. Throughout the song, he piles on the relatability with lines such as “Spending all this paper on student loans,” and “Only wear designer from the clearance rack.” Even the music video for the song sticks with the low budget concept, being recorded and edited entirely by Jay himself with not a single dime spent on it. The video very sweetly shows how much fun you can have without lavish or luxury items with scenes such as him celebrating his grandfather’s birthday with family and driving around with friends. Together, the song and video prove that money truly doesn’t buy happiness.

The last two songs have been fairly on the nose with their messages, but “Leading Man,” one of Jay’s first few solo works, differs with an interesting double meaning. When you listens to “Leading Man” for the first time, you may think that it’s a simple love song, cutely relating being leading man in a movie to being a girl’s boyfriend. However, watching the music video will very obviously show you the second meaning of the song: the lack of Asian representation in Hollywood. That may sound hard to believe at first, but the music video very openly showcases this, beginning with a scene in which a casting director explicitly says, “People don’t want to see Asians in the films.” (Yes, that’s seriously what he says. Opening line of the video!) When Jay comes in to audition for the director’s musical, the director dismisses him, only to immediately praise the next guy to come in, a white guy with subpar singing skills. The rest of the video shows Jay undergoing a whitewash transformation as he dances around various movie posters parodying the titles of famously whitewashed films: “The Great Fall” (The Great Wall), “Dr. Estranged” (Dr. Strange), and “Ghost in the Spell” (Ghost in the Shell). Even the musical he auditions for is a parody, being named “Deaf Note: The Musical” after the infamous live action “Death Note” Netflix reboot. Once he undergoes this transformation he re-auditions and lands the role, but by the end of the song he goes back to normal, ultimately losing the part but walking out happier than before. The song came out during the peak of the whitewashing epidemic sweeping across film and media in 2017 and is ultimately a bold “Screw you!” to Hollywood from Asian-Americans. Knowing all of this provides a new lens to view the lyrics through, making the song’s intro all the more relevant: “That should be me and you know why.”

It’s clear that Jay has some strong opinions about society and media today and his determination to share them is admirable. In Jay’s own words, he aims to “redefine what it means to be a man in today’s crazy world” and, with his whimsical, boisterous style, he’s certainly well on his way to that goal. These may be only a few of Jay’s songs, but rest assured that his other pieces continue to impress with both music and lyrics. As for his future releases, I think we can all look forward to how else he’ll be challenging society’s expectations.