'We were sad of getting old': how pop stars are growing up gracefully

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From Florence Welch to Matt Healy, Lily Allen to Neneh Cherry, it is becoming acceptable for pop stars to mature and make music about it

In 2012, before her first memoir told us the truth about punk, childbirth and what it’s like to nearly die, Viv Albertine released an album called The Vermilion Border. Reviewing it back then, I was struck by how revolutionary it sounded. Here were songs about real life in raw, unvarnished detail, totally sidestepping metaphor, about IVF, being fed up about being a housewife, being desperate to experience more life as you got older. Albertine could get away with doing songs about ageing, I thought, because she was an old punk. Madonna tried that for a while, got less pop as a consequence, then ran away from it. After all, pop stars generally still had to play young.

Fast forward to 2018 and pop’s landscape has shifted. This summer, the 1975’s new single, Give Yourself a Try, began: “You learn a couple of things when you get to my age.” Then Matty Healy discussed grey hairs, and told us about getting “spiritually enlightened at 29”. Florence Welch, 32, was singing about getting over anorexia, and realising love wasn’t in the drugs, in Hunger, and describing how her youthful days in South London Forever had an end (“We’re just children wanting children of our own / I want a space to watch things grow”). Lily Allen, 33, was singing about her three-year-old child missing her, and her own terror at turning into her parents – and doing so, like everyone else, without ditching her established pop sound. Something remarkable seems to be happening: pop’s long-term lease in the realm of eternal youth had finally been given its eviction notice.

In many ways, this is an understandable change. Born long ago, pop is now of pensionable age. Surely chart-pleasing kids should be allowed to get a little older? But pop’s standard currency, until now, was always aspirational fantasy, not nuanced reality. It never really allowed itself to enter the real world before. Or perhaps the suits never really allowed it.

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