It was on this day 30 years ago that Swedish band Europe alerted the world that the time-honored tradition of the countdown was coming to an end. They had the last one that would ever exist, “The Final Countdown.” At the time, it sounded like hyperbole, and the message of the song was taken lightly as the track, a fun and high-energy arena rocker, would go on to become a favorite at sporting events and other spirited environments.
This has lead to great success for the song, but it has also overshadowed its invaluable, prophetic underlying theme: “The Final Countdown” truly was the final countdown… that mattered.
It’s important to understand everything that has happened—everything the band saw coming—since the song’s parent album of the same name was released on May 26, 1986. In 1989, English scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, the virtual space through which most users access the internet.
As the internet became more widespread and allowed the efficient communication of information, the needs of the audience became more nuanced, and easier to fulfill. Most of the early online written content was either newsworthy or informative, to take advantage of the most immediately useful utilization of the medium. As users realized the internet could be used for more and as content providers realized that they could provide that content, the World Wide Web was filled with less serious musings about entertainment, culture, and humor.
That brings us to today, the age of the listicle, the more prominent contemporary form of the countdown. Urbandictionary.com explains: “They are easy for content producers to create or plagiarize, and unlike news content, they remain “relevant” for years. Because they don’t take long to read, visitors to the site are more likely to click on another listicle that interests them, generating more traffic. They are also bite-sized and frivolous enough to be shared on social media.”
The key term there is “frivolous.” Frivolous things don’t matter. Europe saw this coming, and they lamented this loss of apparent value in the first verse of “The Final Countdown”: “We’re leaving together / But still it’s farewell / And maybe we’ll come back / To earth, who can tell? / I guess there is no one to blame / We’re leaving ground (leaving ground) / Will things ever be the same again?”
What is that are we leaving together? Content driven by intellectual value, in favor of countdowns that aren’t as substantial as those of yesteryear. The good news is that the band has predicted that this era of sensationalist, oft-vacuous, observational content is a phase that humanity will fight its way through, in the second verse: “We’re heading for Venus (Venus) / And still we stand tall / Cause maybe they’ve seen us / And welcome us, all yeah / With so many lightyears to go / And things to be found (to be found) / I’m sure that we’ll all miss her so.”
Venus represents a newly enlightened era where mankind has realized the follies of its ways, and perhaps we’re tougher as a people for having been through this. There are “lightyears” until we’re there, and we still have a lot to learn until we’re ready to approach this future, but we’re on our way, and like a bygone era filled with regrettable fashions and other questionable aesthetic choices, this current era is one we’ll look back upon with a nostalgic fondness. This countdown, ripe with self-awareness about a dying age, truly was the final one.
Images: Epic Records, Geico