March 21, 2021

No more songs about sub-cultures, nor crushes / relationships within them

Another striking fact of today's society, in addition to the death of sub-cultures circa 2010, is the absence of other cultural "content" about sub-cultures -- naturally, if the thing they would be commenting on no longer exists.

This hit home when I was thinking of writing new lyrics to adapt older sub-cultural anthems to today's landscape. But why should I have to do that in the first place? Don't the songwriters and performers already feel inspired to compose anthems about today's exciting sub-cultures? Well, not if there are no such things to sing about.

I'm not going to catalog the entire history of examples, but just to provide some from the not-too-distant past, the early 2000s had a few about the skater / punk scene of the time. "The Anthem" by Good Charlotte and "Fatlip" by Sum 41 were both about rejecting mainstream culture and joining a sub-culture. Note the difference with today's pseudo-sub-cultures -- they were actual social groups that people joined and participated in, not just a personal aesthetic and an individually curated playlist. Check out the music videos to see that the members were just as female as male.

As for the emo / scene kids of the late 2000s and after, I don't recall many popular songs about them. However, Fall Out Boy did release an anti-anthem "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race" on their 2007 album, which tried to deflate the in-group-iness of the scene by saying it was no such thing, it's over, it's boring, or whatever. But whether it's self-effacing or a rowdy celebration, it's still a meta-commentary on the sub-culture that it comes from.

During the 2010s, the only songs about something resembling a sub-culture are danceclub anthems, i.e. about the experience of regularly going out to party in clubs. "Tik Tok" by Kesha, "All Night" by Icona Pop, "Take My Hand" and "Famous" by Charli XCX, "New Romantics" by Taylor Swift, "Habits" by Tove Lo, etc. And yet these are not about a social group whose members have enduring bonds and an awareness of belonging to a larger group than just themselves and their narrow friend circle. Rather, they're all about the individual, or at most their friends, going out to clubs to have fun. We don't have labels for the people they're singing about (a la emo, goth, punk, skater, prep, jock, etc.) because they're not genuine sub-cultures -- just people who have similar leisure and lifestyle inclinations.

By the 2020s, things have sunk into such a Dark Age that even the party club "scene" will not inspire anthems. It'll be more about online "communities" like Alt TikTok, Twitch streamers' fandoms, fitness Instagram, heaven forbid weird Twitter, etc. -- and perhaps there will be no more anthems about today's pseudo-sub-cultures at all (other than ones that random anons like me write on the internet, never to be performed, recorded, or widely distributed).

* * *

Aside from overall anthems about sub-cultures, there were also songs about the prospect of forming a romantic relationship within the sub-culture. Any thriving cultural community, whether a church or a music scene, has to be compatible with the other large domains of social life, like dating, mating, and family formation. If joining a sub-culture means you'll get no dates, no attention, no sex, no marriage, and no kids -- it's DOA.

Note how inverted this logic is with the pseudo-sub-cultures of the online world -- there are all sorts of them that not only attract people with poor romantic and sexual prospects, but degrade the prospects of anyone who comes into their orbit. Some of them are even meta about that whole predicament, like the incels.

Contemporary songs about crushing on a sub-cultural girl? Not that I'm aware of. Again I'd have to write my own by adapting earlier examples.

Relating to the gender skew of pseudo-sub-cultures, I just could not put myself in the place of a young guy today, who would be singing about some girl he's following on Alt TikTok. Straight guys have dropped out of sub-cultures altogether, while there are still a fair number of young girls trying to make them happen. If there are no straight guys in the scene, of course there will be no guys singing about the girls in the scene.

In fact, I felt like to make it honest to today's climate, the voice would have to be a girl singing about her crush on another girl in their pseudo-sub-culture. If girls are the only ones showing up, and they have romantic desires, that's going to find an outlet somehow -- and with no guys around, that means each other.

(The more autistic-leaning male brain channels those desires into video games and porn, plus male sexuality is not plastic like female sexuality is, so "gay out of curiosi-tay" is not an option.)

I'm sure there are straight guys out there who are pining away for the girls they scroll through on Tik Tok, or the IRL examples they see on the rare occasion that they leave the house. As the girls' Tik Tok videos show, they dress up and record these videos everywhere, including the most banal gathering spot like the nearest Walmart. So it's not as though the guys couldn't also get dressed up, go to the Walmart, and flirt or at least talk to and hang out with the alt girls who reliably show up.

That's why I have trouble writing a song from their perspective -- they're not going to talk to, or otherwise interact with, those girls IRL. And that would reduce the song to how he's going to work up the courage to DM a girl on the internet, maybe text her, and in his wildest dreams, receive some of her nudes. I'd like to bring the perspective back to IRL, not online, and these guys just do not exist in the real world anymore.

What examples do I have in mind? Just to name a few...

"Surfer Girl" by the Beach Boys

"Sheena Is a Punk Rocker" by the Ramones (not overtly about a crush, but feels implied)

"He's the Greatest Dancer" by Sister Sledge (it's specifically about the disco sub-culture, not merely being a good dancer)

"Punk Rock Girl" by the Dead Milkmen

"Sheena's in a Goth Gang" by the Cramps

"Sk8er Boi" by Avril Lavigne

"The Rock Show" by Blink-182

"Teenage Dirtbag" by Wheatus

"Riot Girl" by Good Charlotte (deep cut, not big hit)

"Girl All the Bad Guys Want" by Bowling for Soup

Before going further, I just want to point out the inversion of meaning that has taken place with "Sk8er Boi," whose opening lines have provided a meme format for the past several years. "He was a boy, she was a girl -- can I make it any more obvious?" In the meme, "boy vs. girl" is taken to mean members of opposite groups, akin to "Democrat vs. Republican," and the meme is about unlikely opposites attracting.

But that's entirely backwards from the original song, in which there is an unlikely pairing -- the skater boy and a popular ballet girl -- but the girl dumps him under peer pressure from her own in-group. The singer is a new girl who is from the same sub-culture as the skater boy, and they are the ones who live happily ever after -- not those from opposing groups. The singer downright disses the other girl from outside their sub-culture. It's a "Rah Rah, Team Us!" anthem, not a celebration of unlikely opposites attracting.

As with the anthems about the sub-culture overall, I don't recall any popular crush songs from the late 2000s and after about emo girls, scene queens, MySpace cuties, etc. I'm thinking of adapting "Punk Rock Girl" into "Mall Goth Girl," though.

Also in line with the overall anthems, there seems to be a peak in the early 2000s. That's not my selective memory, since I was never heavily into that music at the time, or since. Why that might be, is a separate post.

There is one major genre from the late 2000s that fits the pattern, however -- rap songs about crushing on a stripper / go-go dancer, and by implication the kind of girls who were into that club culture and had similar dance moves, style, appearance, musical tastes, and hang-out spots. "Low" by Flo Rida (with the most extensive sub-cultural details), "I Wanna Love You" and "Smack That" by Akon, "Bartender" and "I'm 'n Luv (wit a Stripper)" by T-Pain, "Cyclone" by Baby Bash, etc.

"Dear Maria, Count Me In" by All Time Low doesn't count, despite being about a stripper and being released in the late 2000s. It's not about crushing on her, but trying to make her a big star, and not about the members of the wider sub-culture of nightclubs.

I don't know of any big examples from the 2010s, including quasi-examples from the "club party" scene-but-not-a-sub-culture. Because there were no enduring social bonds there, no one individual would crush on another one, and pine for them over time, hoping to someday work up the nerve to approach them and get to know them.

Apparently, not even the regulars who work there, like the bartenders or the hired dancers, could convince the 2010s club-goers to crush on familiar members of their non-sub-culture. If you're not going to a club as part of a sub-culture, then the bartenders and dancers are not familiar fellow members of the sub-culture, but servants meant to wait on you while you do your leisure / lifestyle activity (which they are not, being at work). Or at best mild background entertainment (not the main reason you went there -- they're not like a band you pay to see perform live).

Which brings us back to the current year. We'll see how well I can adapt the older models, but anons should not have to. And yet, that's where we are -- in a new Dark Age.


  1. Does the above post also include Western Europe and the rest of the Anglosphere too? Is it just America?

  2. You've talked about how even the extreme religious right is individualistic/libertarian; bombing abortion clinics instead of gay bars (incidentally, the actual Black Klansman book discussed foiling just such an attack, rather than against radical black students). What do you think of this guy in Atlanta shooting up massage parlors because of his sex addiction?

  3. At least the Anglosphere, maybe more, but I don't know music from other spheres of influence (Russian, etc.), let alone at a fine-grained scale over time to judge how things are changing.

    1. Lots of other countries listen to American music. I wonder if that would influence them to be more culturally American. Could we export our declining subcultures, rising/falling cycles, etc. through music? Wokeism, BLM, and gay/trans seem to have exported quite successfully.

  4. Crushing on an e-celeb doesn't count, since they're not a fellow member of a sub-culture, but one of the main personas around whom the sub-culture is oriented.

    It's like having a crush on a singer -- rather than on one of the fellow fans of that singer, who you met at their show / reaching for the same CD simultaneously in the Barnes & Noble music section / etc.

    All cultural communities have a kind of camaraderie, where people are more or less equal. It's at that level where the crushes and relationships happen.

    But with the fake online world, whether it's a Twitter persona, a podcast host, a Twitch streamer, YouTuber, etc., none of the fans are crushing on each other, let alone meeting up, starting a relationship, or even just hooking up.

    That's why no one could write a parody song about falling for a girl who listens to Red Scare. You would have to write it about falling for either *host* of the podcast, not for one of the tens of thousands of your fellow fans.

    Not about a fellow regular in Pokimane's chat -- but about Poki herself.

    This is why it's called *para*-social -- in a real social-cultural community, you might have a crush on a person of high status within it, but probably you're looking for a relationship with one of the fellow members on your laity level.

    In the online parasocial world, you do not have a false sense of intimacy with the other lowbie anon followers. All of your attempts to establish a connection are directed toward the central persona of that fandom -- the streamer, the podcaster, the etc. You're aware of there being dozens or millions of others in your situation, also vying for the persona's attention.

    But not to the extent that you would start crushing on one of them, rather than the central persona. That's because you can only crush on someone with whom you have at least a semblance of acquaintanceship (even just "goes to the same school"). But the 10s or 100s of thousands of followers of some persona don't interact with each other, so there's not even a semblance of a social bond on which to build a crush.

    Sure, there are the handful of "reply guys" who may interact with each other a bit. But not all 10s / 100s of thousands of that persona's followers. There is zero interaction among 99% of them.

    In a real community, most interactions are among the mass of "followers". How often do lay Catholics interact with the Pope, or their archbishop, or bishop? Basically never. It's all at the local level, and plenty of them have crushes on each other, marry each other, and have children together.

    Same with emo kids hanging out at Hot Topic in 2008 -- they were never going to interact with Gerard Way, Tony Hawk, the CEO of their favorite hang-out spot, or anyone like that. Their interactions were entirely with their peers on the status pyramid.

    Sure, the girls all had a crush on Gerard Way, but their real hard crushes, that they actually lost sleep over, and acted on, were directed toward their fellow low-status emo boys who hung out at the same place as they did.

    We've only scratched the surface on just how inverted from normal the online parasocial domain is...

  5. The reason is online is an infinitely scalable domain, but IRL is not. As fans of My Chemical Romance, you could almost never meet the lead singer, or even ensure that a communication of yours reached him, let alone that he would respond back to you in some way.

    But your fellow fans, who go to their shows, or hang out at the same places (mall, Hot Topic), and dress similarly -- you can certainly see them in the flesh, communicate with them, touch them, and develop a relationship with them.

    The material constraints of physical reality prevent you from wasting your time and effort crushing on the central personas of a community that meets primarily IRL.

    But without those material constraints, e.g. online, all bets are off. All you have to do is craft a sufficiently witty, or negging, tweet and @ the central persona directly -- they might well get that message, and even respond to it! Doesn't matter if you're a no-avatar lowbie anon, central personas cannot help replying to those who are several tiers beneath them on the hierarchy of the fandom.

    Celebs, unlike e-celebs, never do this. If some rando was interviewed by local news, and they badmouth Britney Spears, is she going to send that person a nasty voice mail, text, etc., let alone hold a press conference about it? Not if everything happened IRL! It doesn't matter, and they let it go. Most likely, though, they were never aware of it, because they and their team don't scour every local TV station's output to see if they're mentioned.

    Directly communicating with people who are many tiers higher than you on some status pyramid is only possible in an infinitely scalable domain, like online. No material barriers, information traveling rapidly and cost-free.

    That's just too tempting, especially in our status-striving age. Why develop a camaraderie with your peers on the status pyramid, when you could be schmoozing and yukking it up with those who are way above you. Why, you could be the next big star to break out! All you need is for a central persona to give you the much coveted "exposure" like a series of retweets or links, and bingo, you're no longer a lowbie.

    This obsession with the vertical dimension of social-cultural groups leads to the neglect of the horizontal dimension, in online domains. There is no such thing as a peer group, camaraderie, fellows, fellow-feeling, solidarity, or anything like that online.

    It's purely fanboys gushing over their central persona who they worship and have a parasocial attachment to. Or lashing out at that persona if they feel neglected.

    At any rate, none of their emotional energy is concerned with the others at their same level of the pyramid.

    There is no community online, only an army of stalkers following the same target persona.

    You could say "Well, that's only on social media sites, not on forums or blog comment sections, back in the 2000s". Yeah, emphasis on decades ago. We're talking about the state of affairs now, for the past 5-10 years, and seemingly going unchanged into the future.


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