New weird shit always wins.
I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about what is ostensibly youth culture, and one of the consequences of this is that I regularly come into contact with people who are repelled by youth culture. They hate it, think it’s worthless, think it’s more mindless than it used to be, that it’s eroding our values.
I don’t usually pay much attention to those people, because they’re going to be dead soon.
This is the black and white of the issue. It sounds harsh, but I think it’s an important thing to consider. I’m 30. I’ll be dead soon too. And occasionally, I have to stretch my brain to understand incoming youth culture. But I do the work, because I want to stay engaged, and, cheesy as it sounds, because I believe the children are our future.
To me, this means I listen to them. I listen to their ideas, their passions, their cultural interests and their aesthetic choices. Because they are on the right side of history. Not me. It doesn’t mean I shelter or protect them in this stifling way; that I assume I know what’s best for them. It means, instead, that I start with the assumption that they’re right, that they know what they’re doing, that they’re on to something. That they literally ARE the future. I don’t always stick with that assumption, but that’s where I force myself to start.
Sure, there were fashion faux pas and regrettable aesthetics in the 80s, the 90s, from every decade really. But every one of them has been digested and repurposed. Every one of them influences the current culture. Look at the indie music landscape of the last decade if you want to see the impact of the 80s and 90s, and all the decades before that. We collage from the past.
Hip-hop, maybe, is the most instructive example here.
Many people above a certain age have a real issue with hip-hop. They just can’t process it. They think it isn’t music, or they can’t connect to what it’s communicating on a visceral level. This was especially true once the influence of southern hip-hop crested the horizon — dirty south hip-hop can be intentionally abrasive, blunt, slow, and languid, with simple wordplay belying complex wit.
There’s this meme that periodically circulates on Facebook that compares Nicki Minaj’s lyrics in “Stupid Hoe” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or something like that. There are a million other memes like it. These memes are presented as evidence that culture is in decline, that art is getting dumber, that “kids these days” wouldn’t know good art or music if it bit them on the ass.
Let’s leave aside for the moment that the memes cherry-pick; that if you selected lyrics from the chorus of “Whole Lotta Love” they would be just as repetitive, and that Minaj’s verses in Stupid Hoe are breathtakingly intricate. Those are arguments over minutia, and miss the bigger picture.
Culture is about emotional impact. Punk rock has happened. Simplicity and bluntness are in the official artistic paint-box. This culture is conveying something, and every aspect of it is a decision, a real and new things that opens universes of new media, aggression, and realness.
Those articles passed around about how pop music is “becoming simpler and simpler” and “using fewer chords and smaller words” are other classic examples of this kind of myopic thinking. I read them, every time, and i think, maybe they have an argument this time. Maybe I’ll learn something new.
The last time I did this I started laughing uncontrollably. The study in the article had analyzed the changes in chords and melodies used in pop songs over the last few decades, but the study totally ignored rhythm. It didn’t talk about rhythm at all.
You know the most significant developments in popular music over the last four decades? Dance music and hip-hop. Movements based in rhythm, percussion, repetition. Communal music designed to bring people together in celebration; music as a social tool instead of just an individualistic artistic statement. Music broadened and bolstered by visual media, lights and lasers, by interpersonal communion and group participation. Music that exists in three dimensions and between people.
This is why the new, weird shit always wins. Because new weird shit can move in four dimensions. It can see The Matrix. It expands around, and subsumes, older forms. The remix. The rave. Tumblr.
See, there are a million cultural dimensions to this. And these new multifaceted multimedia movements are led by the kids, by the Mileys and the Mykki Blancos and the Claire Bouchers of the world. If you want to know what’s going on, listen to them.
And really listen. Try that as an experiment. What if you assumed that they’re right, and you’re wrong, just briefly? What if you looked and really tried to understand what they’re doing?
After all, the kids are always going to win anyway, because we’ll be dead soon. And because new weird shit always wins.
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