January 17, 2017

Will Trump era make pop music great again?

An earlier post looked at how TV producers are already accepting that their programming will have to adapt to the Trump zeitgeist, whether they like it or not. This parallels the last time the media elites took notice of the Midwest, after Nixon and then Reagan turned the entire map red.

In perhaps another example of how culture is downstream from politics, Billboard looks at how the big acts in pop music may react to the new political realities:

Whether you believe the arguments that difficult political times create great protest music by firing up the punk in all of us, there's no doubt that the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump is likely to unleash a barrage of heated anthems. Already U2 revealed that they have re-thought releasing their long-simmering Songs of Experience in favor of possibly going back into the studio to write tunes inspired by the current times.

Eminem weighed in back in October with his scathing eight-minute "Campaign Speech," which we can only hope is a first taste of be a precursor to his ninth full-length studio album. Singer Amanda Palmer recently said she thinks Trump is going to "make punk rock great again," but we'll have to wait and see if she's right.

Of course, punk rock was before Reagan and Thatcher, but don't expect this moron to know basic history. They can't even blame Nixon or Ford -- its anti-musical nihilism was a reaction to the larger sense of stagnation and doom during the Jimmy Carter years. Once Reagan and Thatcher took over, nihilistic punk and decadent disco fused into new wave, canceling out the worst aspects of both and producing a cautiously novelty-seeking tone that characterized the Eighties.

Another major change was away from the tortured urban beatnik in folk rock (Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel), and toward heartland rock, with its non-ironic tribute to common people and everyday life outside of elite cities. Everyone knows John Cougar Mellencamp's wholesome vignettes in "Jack and Diane," "Pink Houses" ("Ain't that America?"), "Small Town," "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.," and so on. But just a year before the Reagan landslide, his first hit "I Need a Lover" was about the gritty city -- a winking celebration of faceless "human jungles", druggies, and empty promiscuity.

Still, I don't think we're in for a revival of the '80s atmosphere, as awesome as that would be. Reagan had the whole country on one side, so musicians really had no choice but to appeal to whatever it was that was resonating politically. The 2016 election is closer to 1968, when re-alignment was just beginning away from the New Deal / Great Society and toward Neoliberalism / Neoconservatism. It wasn't a landslide for Nixon, so musicians could go against the political winners and feel supported by a large chunk of the population.

It was also nearing a time of growing civil unrest, which according to Peter Turchin goes in roughly 50-year cycles -- which means we're due for another peak around 2020, after the last one around 1970. That kind of atmosphere naturally encourages musicians to act up more, whether the whole country is on their side or not.

So if anything, pop music is headed in a counter-cultural direction which middle America will largely tune out. And yet without the rising-crime and outgoing social behavior that characterized the mood in 1970, the coming counter-cultural moment will not be as exciting or thrilling, even for the participants.

On the plus side, we may get another "Sweet Home Alabama" in reaction.

18 comments:

  1. When are post-Boomers going to get over nostalgia for the 60's/70's? At least Boomers have an excuse (they grew up back then). This nostalgia often doesn't even accurately capture what people were into or the character of things anyway. Escapist music (as opposed to nerdy bum-out music) was quite popular in the later 70's, and 80's artists could build a haunting atmosphere without punishing the listener with whining or contrived angst.

    BTW, artists in the late 70's and 80's usually portrayed cities as things to be escaped. At best, urban life was an ordeal to be survived if you had to face it. As in Joe Walsh's In the City ('79), GNR's Welcome to the Jungle ('87), or White Lion's Lonely Nights ('89).

    Even punk bands, to their credit, didn't sugarcoat urban life. As with Fear's Living in the City/New York's Alright, or X's Los Angeles.

    I think a lot of this arose from the fact that white Boomers lived primarily in spiffy new mid-century suburbs sometimes after their parents fled increasingly uppity black dominated cities. When Boomers came of age to pursue their respective goals, the "great" society had turned great chunks of urban areas into lawless war zones. Even left leaning creative types had to admit that by the late 70's, nobody in their right mind wanted to be in a big city.

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  2. Colby Wilson1/17/17, 6:09 AM

    It will be interesting to see what artists are performing for the USO this year.

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  3. VICE has made similar predictions
    http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/why-ronald-reagan-was-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-punk-rock

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  4. Reagan-era punk sucks -- angsty whining, even less music than the original (aside from the Clash).

    With punk from the Carter / Callaghan years, they were tapping into a general malaise in the population. They were on the same wavelength as normal people.

    During the Reagan years, they were shrill stand-outs against a wholesome background from the general public, and they were happy to be that way. Fuck the sheeple.

    By the late Reagan years and Bush years, things had gotten noticeably worse again -- yuppies, strivers, outsourcing, downsizing, and so on.

    That gave rise to the alternative / college rock heyday around 1988. They were once again more in tune with the mood of the general public, which was shifting away from Bush yuppie globalism. Not surprisingly, their music became musical again.

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  5. If Turchin's theory is correct, than the past 25 years or so has already been a growing period of contentiousness - in politics as well as pop culture.

    The difference now is that, in my opinion, the crime rate has begun to rise - which means that pop art will become more vital and high-quality in nature.

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  6. Or Trump could, as you have stated, turned his Anti-Trust division full bore on Hollywood, the record companies, and Apple. Basically, shatter the corporate media empires with the old Progressive weapon.

    That would end all the whiny protest music---which, since the 1960s onwards, have really been the slickly-controlled commercial products of these companies, encouraged by the Communist sympathies. Without their monopolies, however, such songs would never gain traction.

    We on the anti-Left complain often about the Corporate News Media and Corporate Hollywood monopolies, but the pop music monopolies are just as bad and poisonous.

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  7. @ Feryl:

    artists in the late 70's and 80's usually portrayed cities as things to be escaped. At best, urban life was an ordeal to be survived if you had to face it. As in Joe Walsh's In the City ('79), GNR's Welcome to the Jungle ('87), or White Lion's Lonely Nights ('89).

    By the 1980s, the nightmare of desegregation, the New Deal, and the Great Society social policies had borne full fruit into creating nightmares. It's not for nothing that one of the 1980s installments of Friday the Thirteenth was called Jason Takes Manhattan, and the joke was that Jason didn't stand out at all in the putrid rot of early-1980s New York at night.

    However, the pop culture never pointed the finger at blacks who did the ruining or the Left who let them roam free and subsidized their villany; the music and movies instead depicted it as a completely "natural" cause, not created by humans, where crime "just happened" or was due "to poverty." Also, that it was all so hopeless. This shows you how tightly the artists were controlled by the companies/studios, never allowing even a hint of blame to fall on the Left.

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  8. Another way to look at it is the popularity of black music and culture vs. white. Black music became popular starting with the motown sound in the late 60's, evolving into the funk/soul music of the mid late 70's, not to mention disco. All of this seemed to die over a two year period starting in fall of '79. Black music and culture was nearly invisible by the spring of '81.

    Perhaps Trump will inspire the rise of another "white" pop culture like that of the 80's?

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    1. Although it could be argued the last few years saw a move away from "black" pop culture. There are less R&B hits that cross over to the pop charts and fewer black musical mass appeal superstars than anytime I rememver. Also, rap/hip hop has taken a dramatic dive in popularity. Few rap songs crossover these days. The one that is right now "Black Beatles" makes references to a historic, white pop culture phenomenon. I think it's a pretty good song BTW, I am probably one of the few 50 year old white guys who is familiar with it.

      The big trend I noticed in pop music is it slower and more chill than I ever remember. Not necessarily sappy love ballads but slow and dark, such as "unsteady" or "Heathens".

      I agree that the Trump win feels very different than the Reagan win. Much more division today and many more obsessed crybabies who seem like they will never let go. So whatever happens in pop music I don't see fun, happy music making a big comeback.

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  9. The last counter-cultural peak around 1970 was before the massive media consolidation during the later '80s. If another such moment arrives, even a decentralized media landscape won't be able to stop the culture producers from churning out counter-cultural stuff for the short term. They don't care about 100% acceptance, and as long as they have 50% or so acceptance, that's enough for them.

    The difference is that a highly centralized media corporation can keep this crap going during non-counter-cultural times as well, since consumers have little else to turn to. Whereas the counter-culture burned out fairly quickly and naturally during the '70s.

    Another major difference this time will be who is allowed to take part in the counter-culture. Last time, with lots of indie labels around, a band with mainstream non-shitlib appeal like Creedence could hit it big. They were on Fantasy Records, not one of the big labels.

    This time, the monopolized labels control all access, so they may not allow the next Creedence to be part of the counter-cultural chorus.

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  10. Most artists are biased far toward the left. Record companies don't really have to encourage them. During very conservative periods (like the mid-late 80's), the left-leaning artists who want to have mass appeal either take a reasonable stance or just avoid politics altogether.

    Jews, who dominate the record industry, wouldn't balk at making money from more conservative artists. Now, if somebody openly took a neo-Nazi stance or something, maybe not so much. Then again, Slayer got away with Angel of Death on their first major label album (ok, it's not like they used an eagle in their second logo, oh wait).

    There's a link between mental instability and Leftism. There's also a link between craziness and creativity. Do the math.

    It's only in Country (for obvious reasons) and macho heavy metal that artists aren't such Left-wing panty wastes. But in periods in which the effects of Lefty over-reach are undeniable (like the late 70's-early 90's) most artists are less likely to insult the intelligence of listeners by pushing the most brain-dead strain of Leftism (like John Lennon's skunky pot reeking ode to utopian horseshit Imagine from '71)

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  11. "By the 1980s, the nightmare of desegregation, the New Deal, and the Great Society social policies had borne full fruit into creating nightmares. It's not for nothing that one of the 1980s installments of Friday the Thirteenth was called Jason Takes Manhattan, and the joke was that Jason didn't stand out at all in the putrid rot of early-1980s New York at night."


    That movie's pretty bad. The 2nd worst one to come out in the 80's, and horror movies stopped being scary in 1989 when JTM came out. But still, the scariest scene in the movie is when the clean-cut redhead heroine is drugged and raped by two (non-white) scuzzbags in a back alley bum crash site.

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  12. "The big trend I noticed in pop music is it slower and more chill than I ever remember. Not necessarily sappy love ballads but slow and dark, such as "unsteady" or "Heathens"."

    We're in a toned down decade right now. Remember, we alternate between BIG and small decades. So the 2010's aren't going to be as bombastic as the 80's or 2000's.

    I don't really pay any attention to pop music made after about 1994. But from what I've heard, the 80's were still the best decade for evocative and moody music. Songs like Live to Tell (Madonna '86), I want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner '84), or Such a Shame (Talk Talk early 80's) are hard to beat.

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  13. Tracy Chapman's hit "Talkin' About A Revolution" in 1988 is a puzzler, then and now. Quite out of step with the times but a hit nonetheless.

    "Poor people gonna rise up and take what's theirs." LOL

    I knew someone then who said she was Tracy's lesbian lover at Tufts University a few years earlier. This friend was hetero when I knew her and later had a kid or two.

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  14. -- But from what I've heard, the 80's were still the best decade for evocative and moody music. Songs like Live to Tell (Madonna '86), I want to Know What Love Is (Foreigner '84), or Such a Shame (Talk Talk early 80's) are hard to beat.

    As a GenXer I love 80s music but I don't set it against the 90s. A very different, complementary spirit in the two decades.

    The 90s raw pathos does it for me. Of the more obscure hits from that decade, Candlebox "Far Behind" epitomizes the decade's feel.

    PA

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  15. "During the Reagan years, they were shrill stand-outs against a wholesome background from the general public, and they were happy to be that way. Fuck the sheeple."

    Now that you mention the 70's punks could be seen as "on the same page" as the gen.population, but it makes sense, despite the nazi armbands, I agree and think the same thing can be said about 80's hardcore kids:

    They were shrill and hostile, but hardcore punk (distinct from punk rock, way more impactful in the US) has a sort of conservative vibe to it--Things like discipline, strength, strong divisions of ingroup/outgroup with intense ingroup loyalty, "might makes right," are emphasized, as if they were trying to out-Republican Republicans in a way that used no elements of Republicanism itself.

    The American Hardcore documentary has a segment on hatred of Reagan as a great uniter in the scene, it's behind a paywall but the trailer signals it a little bit:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRnv-2fFopU

    Reagan did have an impact on "punk rock": a guy with a shaved head clad in a basic t-shirt and shorts yelling for 50 seconds against casual sex and alcohol is a long ways away from The Clash/Blondie/X/Television/Patti Smith etc.

    Culturally there's a huge gap in attitude between punk rock and hardcore. Hardcore has a penchant promoting disciplined/restricted ideologies:
    *Straight Edge (imagine: rebellious rock music that's against drinking, drugs, and casual sex)
    *extreme environmentalism (Earth Crisis)
    *veganism
    *Hinduism (late 80's NYHC)
    *Islam (in the 90's, bands like Vegan Reich and Racetraitor)

    Billboard's readers probably don't know/care what hardcore is, so they used "punk rock" so their audience would have an idea of what they were talking about.

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  16. i'm wondering how you think the internet will fit into this. seems like the decentralizing effect that had on music has sort of declined from what it was even 8 years ago. either way i'm tired of the extremely bland electronic music and pop this decade.

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  17. A lot of the "protest music" has to do with the culture turning angrier and more confrontational(peaks every 15 years, just as upbeat/bubblegum zeitgeist peaks every 15 years), which Trump was a part of. As you said, the upbeat and carefree zeitgeist peaked from 2012-'14, so the rise of Trump happened right when the new, angry/angsty zeitgeist was beginning.

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