So over-played that I immediately felt drawn to change the radio station once I heard the opening notes.
But I recently read an article that is prompting me to re-think this peppy pop tune. It seems that "Happy" is being transformed into a protest song, an anthem for people who live in chaos, challenging times, and political turmoil. It's turning into a symbol of their spirit and their resilience under difficult circumstances.
This movement is being documented through music videos created by people from areas such as Tunis, Moscow, and the Ukraine in response to the hardships they are facing. Some videos show people dancing in the street, all smiles and joy, a showcase of spirit in spite of their troubles. Others pack a more powerful punch. For example, the Ukranian video starts with dancing, then transitions into juxtaposing footage of bombings and violence in the streets with the energetic boppiness of "Happy." (Read Shan Wang's contribution at PolicyMic for a wonderful overview and analysis of this trend.)
"Happy" seems an unlikely choice for a protest song. When you look back at more traditional protest anthems, you hear music and words that sounds strong, heavy, angry or sad. Think "We Shall Overcome" from the Civil Rights movement and Green Day's "American Idiot" as an anti-Iraq War song. These are just two of the many, many examples of how music has historically been used as an organizing, socially acceptable way to express objection and disagreement with authority and oppression.
If you broaden the definition of "protest song" you will find moments documented in history of when music brought together dissenting factions. These moments can perhaps be described as poignant, reflective, or sad. This happened on Christmas Eve in 1914, when the sounds of holiday music replaced that of gunfire between the British and German troops. It happened again in the 1990s in Sarajevo, when cellist Vedran Smailović performed regularly and openly in the streets during the long Bosnian War siege (an event documented in Steven Galloway's 2009 book The Cellist of Sarajevo). And it happened more recently when German pianist Davide Martello played in the midst of protest efforts in Istanbul.
However, "Happy" seems to break these molds. There's nothing serious, sad, angry, heavy, or poignant about the song. Instead, it seems to have evolved beyond it's catchy melody and rhythmic energy, serving instead as a symbol of the human spirit, cultural pride, and the resilience of a people.