Popular Music & Depopulated Species

Probing Life at the Limits in Song and Science


  • Josh Wodak Lecturer, UNSW Art & Design


In the opening lyrics and refrain of The Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever, John Lennon invites the listener to join a journey down to a place called Strawberry Fields. Each of these four invitations are to an otherworldly realm: reminiscence in a halcyon time of childhood wonder. This essay draws on the ethos and milieu of Lennon’s song, to turn his invitation toward another otherworldly realm: the submarine. In turning our attention downward, this article extends his invitation over the half century between now and the song’s release. 

Taking up this invitation will lead us from the zeitgeist of nascent artistic and scientific ideas of underwater life when Forever was released, to two descendants of The Beatles – Radiohead and Beirut. Their music presents telling popular cultural engagement with two other otherworldly realms: that which is more-than-human and post-human. By probing the limits of life through song (selfhood, nostalgia, sensation, and wonder) and science (evolutionary biology, climatology, and Earth System Science) I explore what environmental sensitivity pop music of our time can attune us to. As marine species disappear en masse under the advent of The Sixth Extinction, this article speculates on what extinction and evolution may come to be, when future sea shores engulf cities founded in the littoral zones of the early modern period.

KEYWORDS: Popular music; cultural imaginary; evolution; extinction; biophysical limits