Soapbox Rant: We've Been Hoodwinked and Bamboozled by "Empire State of Mind"
Last night I joined American sports fans in watching the wonderfully well-known rivalry between racket wielding sisters Serena and Venus Williams. The two Compton raised tennis players faced each other for the 27th time in their professional tennis careers in the quarterfinal of the Women’s U.S. Open Championship. Much has been made in the sports world about Serena’s chasing several women’s records including the possibility of completing a sweep of all major tennis championships in the 2015 calendar year. It’s been an awesome story to watch and adds a bit of importance to watching her play. But this is not a piece about the incredible sibling rivalry or any of the other story lines run by sports networks the 27 some odd times they’ve covered Williams Sister matches. No Ma’am… I have a bone to pick. The U.S. Open Championships are being held in New York City. You may have noticed ESPN playing “Empire State of Mind” upon returning to the match(es) after commercial breaks. You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that? It’s New York… Playing the 2009 hit by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z seems perfectly appropriate to me.” This might be true. But I’ve been waiting for an excuse to step on a very particular soapbox for many years now and step on it I will! The soapbox is called, “The song 'Empire State of Mind' is the most false, untrue and misleading representation of New York City ever created in the history of the United States of America". If you ask a native New Yorker to describe their hometown, they’ll talk about the lights, the action, the culture, pizza and diversity of people. They’ll tell you there is nowhere like it and in many ways, they are correct. But here at MYDM, we try to consider what might be smart for your pockets (if even just occasionally) and here is a moment where I must speak out against untruths, hornswoggles and the attempted bamboosulement of my generational cohorts. When asked, I prefer to describe New York City as an overcrowded, overhyped, inescapably expensive city that presents itself as a place one goes to chase dreams but where too many end up simply “existing”, caught in some place akin to purgatory where one waits in perpetuity for their graduation into the “I made it” class of the city. It’s like a very crowded Hunger Games, except living long enough to see your dreams come true is the equivalent of killing all the people in the Arena. The reason I see New York City in this light is for no other reason than the cost of living associated with being a resident. An April 2015 Business Insider article explains New York City residents pay between seven and 12 percent in state income tax. Numbeo.com outlines estimated costs of living in the city. A 1-bedroom apartment “outside" the city center costs $1844 each month. The closer into the city you get, the more likely your rent looks something like $2973. Buying a home instead of renting provides you no relief with the average price per square foot “outside" of the city running you $964 per square foot. Utilities are around $125 per month. A monthly pass to ride the subway (and home of millions of small mice) is $116 each month. Taking the lowest of all items listed above puts the average city resident spending $2085 a month, give or take. We’ve not eaten, brushed our teeth or even purchased a roll of toilet paper. I’m not imagining the great expenses involved with living in this city. Which brings me back to Alicia Keys. Upon reading the lyrics of “Empire State Of Mind", I realized the lyrics were not necessarily overselling New York City or what you can expect living there. Ms. Keys was very honest in her lyrical presentation of the Big Apple. She talks about concrete jungles, street lights and that nothing in the world compares. She might actually be presenting it more honestly than I initially thought. New York has street lights, lots of concrete and no smell compares to many odors emanating from many of their city street corners. The lyrics are tame in this song, but the tone is not. Alicia Key’s melodic voice encourages the average college grad to come to New York to pursue their dreams. The high key piano strokes beg you to sit on the stoop of famous people in order to be discovered. It’s the sound of the song that makes New York City and living there seem so epic and so very necessary. In truth, pledging allegiance to New York City residency may come at greater costs untold by this song. Oh yea… Serena won.
Ben Carter is the Host of Manage Your Damn Money and author of Fictitious Financial Fairytale: A Completely Untrue Story About Money, Friends and Moscow Mules.