‘Change Your Life’ is the latest single by the girl-band Little Mix, winners of the 2011 series of The X-Factor. It is a song that tells us an awful lot about ourselves. ‘Change, change your life, take it all’ the chorus commands, reminding us what we already know: our current life is insufficient, it lacks something. The song is an inspirational one however, as the swelling chords indicate, and it does not want to suggest that there is a problem with our identity – with who we really are. Our life may be lacking but we are not: this is the song’s message. For this reason, the command to ‘take it all’ is followed by the line ‘you’re gonna use it to become what you’ve always known’. ‘Taking it all’ is not consumption for its own sake: it is a means – perhaps our only means – of self-realisation. ‘Taking it all’ enables us to bring about change, and change is required, paradoxically, to become what we’ve always known.
This takes us to the kernel of the song: identity. Identity in this song is not what you are, but what you want to become. At the same time, it is determined by ‘what you’ve always known’. ‘What you’ve always known’ must be distinguished from what you learned when you were very young – it is more radical than that. It is the category of whatever goes unquestioned, whatever does not even enter into thought. We must also recognise that, if becoming it requires you to change your life, then ‘what you’ve always known’ is that which you are not. It is a knowledge which is not yours. A gap opens here, which is precisely the gap in which identity is constituted. Marxist theories of ideology call this gap alienation. For Lacan, it is the gap that emerges in the mirror stage when the child identifies with an image of herself. The problem is that any image with which we are forced to identify is always insufficient, as the first line of the song reminds us: ‘She captures her reflection then she throws the mirror to the floor’.
Yet this song is also a story about Little Mix. They are the ones who have changed their life, winning a talent contest and achieving success in the charts. They are telling us, in this song, that they have become what they’ve always known. It is a celebration of self achievement. The song turns against itself, however, with the recognition that ‘what you’ve always known’ is not identity but rather the ideology or Symbolic order that precedes identity. What Little Mix are saying is that they have become embodiments of the system which tells us that our lives are incomplete (and in the telling makes them so). Instead of returning to a true, original identity, Little Mix have become images which show us that identity is separated from life. The song says this: if you’ve always known that your life needs changing, then follow Little Mix’s example and become the means by which this knowledge is perpetuated and disseminated. The success of ‘Change Your Life’ is that it turns this position of absolute alienation into one of affirmation.