Keep Calm and Carry On – Or Don’t: How Some Songs Reflect Our Ignorance of the Past

When you hear air raid sirens, what do you think of?

The sound of an air raid siren makes me downright uncomfortable. I get chills and tense up. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to have lived through a horrific war: frantically running towards the nearest bomb shelter while planes flew overhead and air raid sirens blasted.

There are some things that are appropriate to think about when you hear air raid sirens; the sacrifices made by soldiers, the terrors of war, the freedom that we have because of those who gave up theirs.

There is also something inappropriate to think of when you hear air raid sirens: the song  Salute by Little Mix.

Let me make something clear –  I love Little Mix . Whenever one of their songs comes on, I can’t stop dancing. However, I skip the intro to this song. It is catchy but it makes me so uncomfortable! The air raid siren is supposed to be a “call to action” – which, in war terms, it was. Is it’s rightful place really in a song meant to empower women?

Answer: no. It’s really not.

I think it’s wrong that people go to Little Mix concerts and hear the air raid siren and cheer, because it means their favourite song is about to be performed. During the Second World War, people definitely didn’t cheer during when they heard an air raid siren; in fact, quite the opposite happened.

During this past summer, I travelled to England. There I visited the Churchill War Rooms: the underground bunker that was the hub of the war in Britain. It was an easy target, but because of extreme secrecy it was never bombed. One visitor comment, posted on a wall read: “Please never close the war rooms. Everyone needs to know what happened here.”

A Meeting Room in the Churchill War Rooms (London, England)
This is a meeting room in the bunker. If you look closely (or zoom in a lot) you can see a small cartoon caricature of Hitler on the map on the left wall.

World War 2, and wars in general, deserve to be remembered. So then why are we so ignorant about our remembrance? It sickens me to think that some people will go through life, hear the sound of an air raid siren and think of the song Salute.

I don’t dispute that it is a good song, for the most part. Lyrics such as “you think we’re just pretty things/you couldn’t be more wrong/we’re standing strong, we carry on” are empowering, positive messages for women and girls around the world.

An interesting note, though, is that those lyrics feature a variation on the popular British wartime propaganda phrase: keep calm and carry on.

Sound familiar? The phrase was coined in 1939 by the British Government, in preparation for WW2 and in recent years has gained popularity as a motivational message.
Sound familiar? The phrase was coined in 1939 by the British Government in preparation for WW2, and in recent years has gained popularity as a motivational message.

Another interesting note is that Little Mix is actually from England – they won the British version of X-Factor in 2011. In a way, they are using the air raid siren to symbolize the call to action for women to be soldiers, and for women to take on roles typically filled by men. However, I think the song would have been fine – much better, actually – without the siren at the beginning.

Many of the background sounds and lyrics still get the message of female empowerment across. So why was it necessary to include it?

This brings me to another question, which goes beyond just this song and questions today’s music in general: are the actions and antics of society a reflection of the music we hear? Or, is the music that is produced and listened to today a reflection of society?

“A curious Afghan girl holds the hand of a soldier" (source). Reportedly after taking the picture the little girl said she was inspired to “see a woman in a man’s job”.
“A curious Afghan girl holds the hand of a soldier” (source). Reportedly after taking the picture the little girl said she was inspired to “see a woman in a man’s job”.

To me, this image is beautiful and thought-provoking. The young girl is finding a positive female role model who is doing something amazing for the world. I hope she grew up knowing that she was worth more than some of the song lyrics that you hear on the radio nowadays.

But I also hope she grew up knowing the value of the contributions of those who fought in both World Wars, and the other wars around the world. I hope she values and remembers those brave people; and I hope she follows her passions but doesn’t become ignorant of the past.

In other words I  hope she doesn’t sing or produce a song meant to be a positive message towards women but, really is ignorant of the sacrifices made by those before her. I don’t just hope these things for the young girl in the picture, but for all young girls.

In Salute, Little Mix says they are “representing all the women.” I don’t want to be represented as someone who cheers at the sound of an air raid siren, or is ignorant of the past.

What do you think? Should people ‘Keep Calm and Salute On’? Or should we “stand up and salute” to a different tune?


ps – on a totally unrelated subject, today is my one year WordPress Anniversary! (An occasion which I totally would have forgotten if I didn’t get a lovely trophy in my notifications). I guess this makes me an expert now, so… thanks for sticking with me for a year. I’m so happy to be here! 

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