The meaning of YOLO can be difficult to grasp, but within the word of pop music the term is starting to become its own movement.
Depending on the audience, the term “You Only Live Once” can be a call to enjoy life, a modern-day Carpe Diem, or could be a flimsy excuse for debauchery. Like many trends, it was pioneered and popularized within hip-hop culture (most prominently by the rapper Drake) and and picked up by early adopters in white suburbs.
YOLO is now more than a throwaway term or a hashtag. For pop music, it’s become an entire sub-genre.
Perhaps no artist encapsulates the YOLO meaning more than Miley Cyrus. The 20-year-old singer just turned in a provocative performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, grinding and twerking against singer Robin Thicke.
As Entertainment Weekly writer Grady Smith points out, the performance is simply an extension of the YOLO mentality becoming prevalent in pop music.
“But in all actuality, Cyrus’ deliberately vexing presentation wasn’t shocking at all. ‘We Can’t Stop’ is a natural extension of the ‘Can’t Be Tamed’ philosophy that Cyrus has been peddling since 2010. And by the same token, the song — in its irreverent disregard of all people in the name of a good time — is the crystallization of pop music’s ideals over the past year.”
Miley Cyrus has said something to the same effect herself.
“It’s not just about being like, ‘We don’t care what people say,’ ” Cyrus told Billboard. “It’s about living for right now.”
There are plenty of other artists who share the same YOLO philosophy. Ke$ha implores listeners to “make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young,” and One Direction sings: “We’ll never ever ever stop for anyone/Tonight let’s get some and live while we’re young.”
But the YOLO meaning has extended even further than Twitter and pop music. This year, Tufts University asked applicants the question: “What does YOLO mean to you?” Students were asked to sum up their take on rapper Drake’s philosophy in about 500 words.
The university asked:
“The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase ‘Carpe diem.’ Jonathan Larson proclaimed ‘No day but today!’ and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?”
But despite the popularity, many believe that the YOLO meaning is no different today than past generations, just with a new word. They point out that the band Grass Roots shared the same sentiment in their 1966 hit song “Let’s Live for Today,” and the Beastie Boys embraced the YOLO philosophy in their 1987 song “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right to Party.”