There has long been a thematic trend in music–one that espouses the notion that you don’t need money in order to be happy. In fact, you’ll probably be more miserable when you have it. Starting around the time The Beatles assured us, “I don’t care too much for money/Money can’t buy me love,” the American masses in particular have been fed the consistent belief that the only true source of enjoyment comes from the things that one can’t acquire monetarily: love and self-actualization. The overt irony of this, of course, is that America has long prided itself on capitalism, wherein, to borrow a phrase from Guy Ritchie’s Swept Away, “the proprietor of goods can set any price he or she sees fit and shall not be at the mercy of any moral or ethical issues.”
This philosophy is also romantically known as the American dream, positioned in such a way so as to make everyone believe that excess and decadence is just within his or her reach. The existence of songs like “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” by Notorious B.I.G., “Royals” by Lorde and now, most recently, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia, all get heavy rotation in order to encourage the dichotomous false notions that people in general and Americans specifically have about being able to procure comfortable contentment through money.
When truly examining “Cheap Thrills” lyrically, everything Sia talks about doing will, in fact, ultimately require some monetary exchange. Even from the outset, with her describing the getting ready process, “Friday night and I won’t be long/Gotta do my hair/I put my makeup on,” the underlying truth is, she had to buy that shit from the drugstore, even if it was cheapo Wet ‘n’ Wild brand. You still need money for the most minuscule, low-budget of entities.
Then she proceeds to tell us, “Hit the dance floor/I got all I need/No I ain’t got cash/I ain’t got cash/But I got you baby.” This tribute to “I Got You Babe” iterates the idea that, no, you don’t need money, but you at least need a person–because if you can’t be rich, you should probably be co-dependent to distract yourself from your lack of wealth. And perhaps the fine print here is also: no she doesn’t have liquid money, but she more than likely has a credit card, which will easily buy her the drinks she needs in order to dance without inhibitions as she supposedly has a good time without a speck of dough.
Now, Saturday comes along and she’s “gotta paint [her] nails, gotta put [her] high heels on.” This, too means at least paying $3 at Duane Reade and $20 at Pay-Less. And again, maybe she’s using intangible money to pay for this alleged free good time, but it’s still money she’ll have to pay back at some point nonetheless.
And so, for as vehemently as Sia declares, “I love cheap thrills!” throughout the anti-material anthem, there is no denying that this song is a pack of lies. No one enjoys living on a budget, and indeed, everything about the American capitalist system makes it so you can’t. But in the meantime, there are songs like this one to coat the minds of those in the poverty-stricken realm with just the slightest sheen of hope for attaining such a lifestyle as the one advertised by America’s first family, the Kardashians.