October 1, 2017

Upbeat bouncy music peaks in 15-year cycles, last peak in 2012-13

Have you noticed how emo, angsty, and nihilistic pop music has become over the past couple years?

The new big releases by Taylor Swift ("Look What You Made Me Do") and Katy Perry ("Swish Swish") sound like crappy rap/bling "music" from the 2000s, not the high-energy anthems of five years ago. I didn't even recognize that that annoying materialistic song about "If I were you, I'd wanna be me too" was by Meghan Trainor until I looked up who sang it -- totally different attitude from her cheerful debut of three years ago (again, the new song being more in the style of the 2000s, a la "Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?").

So I went looking through the Billboard year-end charts to see if I was crazy, and no I was not. In the hit songs of 2012 and 2013 there was a peak in tone that was cheerful, carefree, upbeat, and bouncy. I'm talking about the music more than the lyrical content. Several years before, several years after, they sound more melancholic or phlegmatic than they sound sanguine or choleric ("fiesty").

As much as I dislike music after the '80s and hardly ever write about it, even I recognized something was different around 2012-13 and gave credit where it was due. Here is a post from January '13 giving a rare shout-out to a contemporary hit, "Treasure" by Bruno Mars. As this phase was winding down by 2015, I also mentioned "Shut Up and Dance With Me" by Walk the Moon. I kinda liked "Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake from last year, but evidently not enough to post about it. And this year, absolutely nothing.

Going back further in time, I noticed peaks of cheerful carefree music roughly every 15 years -- the late '90s, the early-mid '80s, the late '60s, and the early-mid '50s. Boy bands reliably show up during these peaks, while girl groups usually fall during the more melancholic and nihilistic phases. This left both the 1970s and the 2000s as decades without any concentrated peaks of cheerful wholesome music. But those many periods are the topic for future posts.

For now, a brief look-back at the last peak in case you missed it. I didn't know most of the titles or artist names of these songs until I went from the Billboard chart list to YouTube videos, but I do remember hearing most or all of them. If you were outside the home at all, they were playing on every retail store's sound system. I just thought of it as "H&M music" based on where I heard it the most.

Taylor Swift, "22"

One Direction, "What Makes You Beautiful"

Paramore, "Still Into You"

Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX, "I Love It"


  1. thanks, interesting new zeitgeist theory. This would mean that the phases last from 7-8 years - in other words, 7- 8 years of things getting more upbeat and optimistic, and then 7-8 of things more cynical and downbeat.

    eons ago, in a user comment you said fashion cycles go in roughly 10 year phases alternating between flamboyant and attention-getting colors, vs. laid-back and "earthy" colors. wonder if this is related to that, or any other trends.

  2. Paramore especially sound like they are straight out of the 1980s, especially the song "ain't it fun". not so much the lyrics, but the music itself sounds very 80sish.


  3. That's funny, H&M is one of the main places I find newish music that interests me. No luck there yesterday, but I've Shazamed a few good tunes there.

    I really like "Ain't It Fun" and "Hard Times" by Paramore. The last 4 years, they've finally started making music I enjoy.

  4. The late 90s cheeriness wasn't just Boy bands and Britney Spears.

    For instance, Len's "Steal my Sunshine" is pure bubblegum music(anybody remember it from the summer of '99)? Check out the music video:


    The cheeriness also effected the Indie scene. The New Radicals song, "You get what you give", had more serious pretensions, railing against corporatism, yet the music is gentle and positive. The music video shows a bunch of teens partying at a mall:


    The song rails against Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, and Beck("you're all fakes, come on out, we'll kick your asses"!). Not only a blow against corporate influence in music, but also against more downtrodden, melancholic music.

  5. More peppy rock bands from the late '90s peak: Hanson, Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Barenaked Ladies, Chumbawumba, even Third Eye Blind ("Semi-Charmed Life" being the most upbeat emo song ever performed).

    Sixpence None the Richer not only made the upbeat "Kiss Me," they put out a cover of "There She Goes" that was much more cheerful than the original, which came from a melancholic peak in the late '80s (then re-released widely in 1990).

    I think most Gen X-ers think of "Nineties music" as being the early-mid part that was more phlegmatic, emo, degenerate (rap), angsty, and mopey.

    Millennials probably remember the upbeat peak in the late '90s, since they were too young to remember grunge, alternative, and gangsta rap.

    It's hard to believe that only three years after "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg, the radio was playing "MMMBop" by Hanson and "Wannabe" by Spice Girls.

  6. For the record, I can't stand late '90s music, other than a few songs here and there. The quality was very low. Some of the lamest music ever recorded.

    But you can't ignore how much more upbeat and peppy it was since any time after about 1984, and anytime after, until the next peak around 2012, '13, and '14.

    Still, that's just the emotional tone. I'd rather listen to higher-quality songs that were not as bright and cheerful, like the late '80s.

    All-time high is still 1982-'84, though. High-quality songwriting and performances, and carefree and bouncy on top of it.

  7. "early-mid part that was more phlegmatic, emo, degenerate (rap), angsty, and mopey."

    True, but which is not to say that all melancholic music sucks. The quality of music has more to do with cocooning/the crime rate. For instance, in the previous melancholic peak in the early 90s, the Gin Blossoms had a string of hits. Their music is great, but obviously more melancholic and cynical. "and if you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down".

  8. "For the record, I can't stand late '90s music, other than a few songs here and there. The quality was very low. Some of the lamest music ever recorded."

    Heh, you made that one minute before I made the post about how the quality of music has more to do with crime rate than being upbeat. Like I said, the music in the early 90s was very high quality, despite being more downbeat and fatalistic.

    As far as late 90s music, I like some of it, like the New Radicals song and the other one I posted, other stuff I still have nostalgia for despite not being that good. The music just got worse and worse as the crime rate lowered.

    Seems like the crime rate rose temporarily in the 2011-2013 period, which is why there was not only an upbeat peak, but also better music.

  9. Thanks for the break, the breather. I know it's necessary to focus on the poli, but it's nice to have some fun every now and then.

  10. Might as well take a breather for now since the Trump movement is in re-grouping mode until 2018. Nobody wins a war by being engaged in battle 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, every single year.

    1. Feels like, on a more meta level, 2016 was a revolution, but in 2017, the empire is striking back.

  11. I worked in the radio industry for 30 years. In the Top 40 format they call the periods we are in now "the doldrums". This type of music is definitely hurting the ratings. Top 40 is at it's lowest level in decades while country, classic hits (which are now 80s based) and classic rock are all booming.

    It's interesting how many younger people are aware that the current music isn't good. They will admit older music was better. I don't remember any other generation saying this. I actually see more young people wearing t-shirts of old bands than anything contemporary.

  12. Jason -

    Silents did some good stuff (but it was never that great) in the 60's and 70's. Early Boomers did some ok stuff in the late 60's and early 70's. And then.....The late 70's. Early Boomers upped their game, and late Boomers (of whom there were many) started to get in on the act too. By the 80's, all Boomer cohorts had come of age and had formed tons of bands and were exploring all kinds of new and exciting stuff.

    By around 1988, ideas were starting to dry up, although we still got a lot of good stuff, it's just that it was generally derivative of established styles. Artists started going for a more, uh, organic approach (less reverb, fewer synths, fewer layers and harmonies, etc.) around this time too.

    Vibrant pop singles pretty much vanished by 1993; hip-hop, MOR housewife soft rock/pop, lame R&B, a revival of austere solo singer-song writer stuff (that was chillier and more simplistic than the OG stuff from the 60's and 70's). Boomer rock acts still were fairly entertaining in the first half of the 90's, with Metallica, GNR, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam keeping mainstream rock successful and plenty of 2nd and even 3rd tier bands doing some energetic stuff at least from 1990-1992. Rock fans tend to be much bigger nostalgists for the 90's (well, the early 90's) than other types of fans; after all, nobody claims that Boyz 2 Men or Micheal Bolton represented a welcome change from the big hair 80's.

    In terms of older acts being "in", there's a certain number of Gen X rock fans who cling to the idea that the 90's (or at least the first half of the decade) represented a return to authenticity.Most Boomers tend to write off any music made by an artist who got big in the late 80's or later, with the exception of pop country fans who buy whatever Nashville is selling.

    As we can tell by the continuing popularity of classic pop and classic rock radio, people of all generations subconsciously enjoy the primarily Boomer made music of the 70's and 80's. Sirius has a lot of stations which heavily mine the golden era of pop music (Circa 1964-1992), and have obvious appeal to multiple generation. Millennials were fortunate to miss out on the over-hyping of "alternative" rock in the earlier 90's, so they don't have any delusions that the 90's "corrected" the putative mistakes of the 80's. And of course Boomers were too old by the 90's to care about trends anymore.

  13. 80's critics are dweebs. How can you blast a decade that gave us:

    - The most consistently anthemic and inspiring pop/rock songs
    - Speed metal, power metal, synthpop, electro-funk, fun early hip-hop, and so forth. Not to mention that earlier sub-genres (disco, arena rock, etc.) were used as catalysts for more urgent, intense, and emotionally and sometimes musically sophisticated music.
    - Some 70's bands really hit it big in the early 80's (Survivor, Journey, Rush, even ZZ Top to some extent); early MTV wasn't just synthpop, it had a lot of classic rock too.
    - 90's alternative was actually an off-shoot of several trends that started in the late 70's and especially 80's. Early New wavers like The Cars, Devo, Oingo Boingo, and The Talking Heads set early standards for being quirky, weird, and tense while still having hummable and at times danceable music. Bands like REM and the Replacements made more "serious" rock music that still had warmth and melody.

    The most distinctive and entertaining sub-genre to emerge in the 90's (Grunge) was actually the culmination of many styles that started earlier (Punk, heavy metal, arena rock, introspective 1980's college rock). When music really started to blow around 1996, artists lost most ofthe knowledge and skill that had been developed in the 60's-80's.

    On name recognition/enduring popularity alone, the 60's-80's absolutely annihilates later decades. Most "known" artists to emerge in the 90's-2010's are corporate pop artists with carefully cultivated images and marketing campaigns. The 60's-80's produced countless organic bands and defiantly self-directed solo artists whose songs, concerts, and music videos continue to entertain 3 different generations. About 1993-1997 or so was a bridge period,where at least many acts that emerged were fairly authentic in their creative process and marketing, but that doesn't change the fact that most of them sucked. By 1998, record companies realized that boy bands and corporate solo artists were the way to go, since most authentic artists stunk and weren't selling any records anymore (of the albums that did sell back then, they are totally worthless 10-20 years later).. Might as well sink tons of money into attractive younger faces, and let big-shot producers and song-writers do the heavy lifting. BTW, the peak in successful artists writing their own material by themselves or in collaboration with othe artists was the early 80's.

    And in any era, I'd seperate white male artists from females and blacks. White male artists are much more likely to insist on authenticity and creative control, whereas creativity is much more incestous with other demos. What's that, you say? White bands don't control a large portion of the charts anymore? Poof, there goes authentic self-directed creativity. Granted, white male artists to emerge in the mid 90's and thereafter typically suck, right along with women and blacks. So they don't have anyone to blame for the sorry ass state of rock music but themselves.

  14. "As far as late 90s music, I like some of it, like the New Radicals song and the other one I posted, other stuff I still have nostalgia for despite not being that good. The music just got worse and worse as the crime rate lowered."

    It's not just eras, per se. It's also how cyclical sub-genres are, and how frequently sub-genres emerge, fade away, and-or cross-pollinate.

    It ought to go without saying that creativity drives creation of sub-genres and also, believe it or not, kills off sub-genres faster. For example, music of the 50's and early 60's is kind of a morass of often boring takes on styles that, well, didn't really stand out as representing the beginning or end of something that had only recently entered mass consciousness. Compare that to the "baton hand-offs" and mutations of the late 70's-early 90's. Disco in the late 70's gave way to the dancier New Wavers in the early 80. Arena Rock and New Wave Rock of the late 70's-1984 or so (Boston, Styx, Pat Benatar, The Cars, Billy Squier, etc.) gave way to pop metal/hair metal in the later 80's (Night Ranger, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, etc.). Which in turn gave way to alternative and grittier rock groups in the early-mid 90's (Metallica, GNR, Pantera, Korn, Grunge, etc.). Meanwhile, bands like Iron Maiden/Judas Priest/Ozzy Ozzbourne were also quite popular in the mid-late 80's, and they were neither as pretty as the hair bands nor were they as "street" as thrash.

    Basically, at the height of music quality that was the 80's, there were 3 different sub-genres in metal alone that attained popularity, often competing with and influencing each other. Just the same with softer forms of rock (New wave rock, heartland rock, college rock, legacy 70's rockers still making relevant music like Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel) as well as pop/R&B. I mean, how do you classify 80's Billy Idol? New Wave? Hard Rock? Pop? That's what made 80's music great; certain songs and even albums can be tough to pin down as to what sub-genre they represent. These days, we're back to the 50's norm of artists always being 100% tied down to going for a certain sound on an album. BTW, in the late 70's a lot of rockers experimented with disco which bugged a lot of Boomers who felt defensive about defending genre turf. In the 80's, artists frequently experimenting with stylistic diversions became accepted, at least to most of the general public.

  15. In what I would call "standard" rock music (e.g., bands focused on guitar leads), there really hasn't been a distinct sub-genre or regional scene since early 2000's. Well, ok, maybe the 80's revival groups count, but then again by default "throwback" bands don't represent the birth of a new style. Nu-metal to me is the last break out rock style, as it combined influences from grunge, 1990's rap, and thrash metal. That doesn't make it good, btw. And Nu-metal arguably made an impact as early as 1995 (Rage against the Machine, Korn, and Tool all had charting albums), then gradually spawned more copycat band who sucked even harder than the above mentioned groups, and didn't die until 2003. And grunge/post-grunge and nu-metal have resounded throughout the late 90's-2010, as nearly all rock groups to emerge since the late 90's have way more in common with Nirvana and Korn than they do Boston or Judas Priest. Again, the 2000's and 2010's, like the 40's and 50's, are musically about bland repetition and formula, or at times outright insufferable atonal and dissonant noise (Be-bop in the mid-century, and now most techno/EDM esp. dub-step these days). I mean, seriously, folks, the needle has barely budged on rock music from 1995-2015. People in 1975 and 1985 would've been shocked to learn that most rock music made in the ensuing decades would be 2nd and 3rd rate imitations of mediocre bands and 4th and 5th rate imitations of good bands.

    I honestly can't think of a single melody from a Cold Play or Radiohead song. Whereas, stuff like New Song (Howard Jones), Blue Monday (New Order), Loverboy (Billy Ocean), For Whom the Bell Tolls (Metallica) is immediately memorable and will never leave your head.

  16. Google auto-search fun:

    Typing "Is Rock" turns up Is Rock dead as the first suggestion. Hmmmm.

  17. Maroon 5 doesn't sound like anyone from the past 25 years, and they're by far the most popular rock band of the decade.

    "Funk rock" from the '90s onward meant inspired by jazz and long-form jamming, like Primus or Phish and their descendants.

    Maroon 5's funk is more from the post-disco era, first half of the '80s. Dance-oriented, not experimental.

    But the singing and tone is more like blue-eyed soul, who were usually from some kind of art school background, unlike Maroon 5. For blue-eyed soul, it was more of a conscious attempt at fusion, whereas it's just natural and unselfconscious for Maroon 5.

    Dance-y, funk-y, rock-y styles have been done separately before, or two of them blended together. But I don't think all three have ever fit together, especially without the experimental angle like new wave or '90s jam bands, and just straightforward mainstream appeal.

  18. Then there's all of the indie-folk-rock that's become very popular only in the last five years. Some of it mixing in dance as well ("Pompeii"), and sounding more like anthems than low-key ditties (but high-energy anthems, not emo folk anthems like "Bridge Over Troubled Water").

    Not that there aren't predecessors -- "Solsbury Hill", "In a Big Country", "You Can Call Me Al," etc. But they were limited in number, and generally not chart-toppers. Similar groups like Kate Bush or Talking Heads weren't that heavy on the folk angle, let alone folk with dance.

    Indie folk rock (dance) anthems -- haven't heard it before. But it's big, or was around 2012-'14.

  19. Yeah, Dave Matthews and other type of stuff like that did flash through my mind, but I just placed in the stagnation of rock and pop that began in earnest by the mid 90's. Post-late 80's Jam/Folk/Singer-songwriter never has had the same warmth as low-key rock music in a similar style from earlier eras, at least to me. And these groups never represented any kind of leap forward, to me.

    "Maroon 5's funk is more from the post-disco era, first half of the '80s. Dance-oriented, not experimental."

    I'm not sure what experimental means in this context. I was using the word in the context of trying out different sounds both within and between albums (like Metallica doing fast songs, mid-paced songs, and a ballad on their 1984 album). You don't have to be arty or pretentious to try different styles.

    In terms of being dance oriented, or more positive in spirit, yeah not all bands are a bummer or too nerdy to dance in the modern era. But I still stand by my stance that creatively rock has been in a rut for a good 20-25 years at this point. Judas Priest gave every one of their albums in the 70's and 80's a distinct mood, a distinct production style, etc. You never knew quite what you were going to get. It says a lot that one band alone was capable of more variety back in the good old days than most modern bands combined are capable of.

    I'm sure that I don't necessarily grasp all the fine variation in style these days, but that's due to how boring and samey in low quality it is; it might technically represent different genres, but most of it sucks and is forgettable.

  20. "Then there's all of the indie-folk-rock that's become very popular only in the last five years. Some of it mixing in dance as well ("Pompeii"), and sounding more like anthems than low-key ditties"

    Phillip Phillips and Aviici both go in that category also.

    Daft Punk's "Lucky", while not folsky, is another one I thought of for the upbeat, dancey peak around 2012-2013. The song was huge in the summer of 2013. The last time Daft Punk was big was the late 90s, during the previous peak upbeat music. The main single was "One More Time".


    And of course, since 2013 they've hardly done anything, despite being massively popular at the time. Shows how the zeitgeist can turn on a dime.

  21. Generally, its easier to dance to upbeat music than downbeat and melancholic music. That said, could it be possible that the frequency of people dancing tends to mirror the phases of upbeat music, peaking every 15 years? So 7-8 years of people liking to dance more and more, followed by 7-8 years of people dancing less.

  22. People were dance-crazy during disco, even though that was not one of the upbeat & cheerful peaks. And people were basically done dancing by 2010-'11. I remember how much lamer the dance club scene got with every year after the late 2000s.

    Maybe they're just dancing to themselves in their room, or bouncing around in the seat of their car while "22" or "Pompeii" comes on the radio.

    But not going out to dance clubs in order to take their bouncy behavior public. It's still a cocooning phase.

  23. "All-time high is still 1982-'84"

    Not just music, but movies were more upbeat and optimistic during that time period, beginning in the late 70s. Star Wars in 1977(which was much different than the rest of the 70s, mostly dedicated to disaster movies and exploitation flicks); ET in the early 90s, Superman, the Rocky movies, and gung-ho action movies in general. Still, it didn't really peak until '82-'84, like you said, since there were still more cynical high-grossing movies in the late 70s.

    The Rocky franchise shows how the movies evolved based on the zeitgeist. Rocky I was melancholic and wistful, and in fact in the original draft Stallone had Rocky get knocked out in the first round(the studio made him change it). The sequels were more clear-cut good guy vs. bad guy, and at the end of Rocky IV Rocky gives an inspirational speech to the Russian people espousing freedom and democracy.

    Rocky V, released in 1990, was much more downbeat, with Rocky suffering from Parkinson's disease("punch drunk") throughout the movie, having his protege, Tommy Gunn, turn against him, and weeping before the ghost of his old trainer, Mickey.


  24. The 3rd and 4th Rocky movies also had melodic AOR and synthop songs, unlike part 5.

    Progression of 80's action movies:

    - Mad Max 2/the Road Warrior. Good, but Mel Gibson's a cynical brooder as the hero.
    - Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great movie.

    - First Blood. Great movie, Stallone s a brooder as the hero.

    - Sudden Impact. Almost nihilistic, very moody. And Eastwood as usual is gruff.

    - Beverly Hills Cop. Still pretty entertaining, though C'mon, it's Eddie Murphy. Plenty of stunts and shootouts, but not exactly a high dose of testosterone
    - Terminator. Moody sci-fi, with all of the characters on edge.

    1985. The defining year of 80's action. When people make fun of 80's action movies, it's mostly because of two movies.

    - Rambo 2. Good premise, but Stallone took over the movie and some of the potential offered by James Cameron's script (which is pretty good and worth reading)is squadered. Besides, the overall plot was already done (and done better) in 1983's Uncommon Valor. First Blood's director said that he hated the movie and he thought it tainted the character.
    - Commando. Arnold and the director knew better than to be that serious with this one, and it's pretty fun.. He has endless ammo, never misses, never gets shot, always has quips ready, etc. It's not clear how much the movie is intended as a satire of the genre, but it sure seems like one.

    Top Gun. Basically the best music video ever made, so don't expect too much great drama or wit. Looks and sound great, and the flying stunts are still thrilling
    Cobra. Stallone is the toughest cop ever. He broods almost as much as Rambo, and evidently he or somebody else deleted several scenes where he's really nasty to people. They also cut out quite a bit of plot details, so many people complain that the movie doesn't flow well. The action here is pretty over the top (about on par with Rambo 2). Unlike Commando, there's no meta jokes or irony. The end is awesome, though. Look it up on Youtube. Great power ballad theme song, also.

    1987. The genre hits it's stride.
    - Lethal Weapon
    - Predator
    - Robocop
    - The Running Man
    The heroes are all personable (Mel Gibson plays a loose cannon by now; he's not exactly clean-cut but he's still warmer than Mad Max).

    - Bloodsport
    - Die Hard
    Who doesn't like these two movies? Bloodsport is the one movie I listed that wasn't a hit, but on home video and cable it was very popular. These days it's become more fondly remembered than Cobra, which was in fact a big hit. I omitted several sequels in the Indiana Jones, Rambo, and Dirty Harry series because let's face it, the earlier movies are way more iconic and quotable (with the exception of Kali Maa! from Temple of Doom, I guess).

    Good movies from the early 80's that aren't quite action movies:
    - I'd put Conan more in the category of fantasy than pure action, as there actually isn't as much action in Conan as you might think.
    - Escape From New York ('81) is more a moody dystopian sci-fi movie than an action movie. Kurt Russel also plays a brooding anti-hero, rather than a clean-cut and amiable hero.

  25. As for 1989....Well.....The big non-sequel action movies that year were Tango & Cash, which from what I've heard is full of meta-humor and functions mainly as a spoof of Lethal Weapon (and that movie wasn't exactly earnest, either), and Black Rain, a Micheal Douglas movie that nobody, and I mean nobody, ever talks about. Even genre aficionados. Personally I think Licence to Kill (the most 80's action movie of the Bond series) and Road House are entertaining and should've done better than Tango And Cash. License to Kill actually has a lot less humor than a typical Bond movie, while Road House, like nearly all 1989 action movies, is clearly self-aware that's it a bombastic action movie. Still, some of the actors (including Swayze) don't seem to be in on the joke, which is part of the movie's charm. That and the fact that about 60% of the movie seems to consist of brawls and near brawls.

  26. Curtis: I think that during the peak of outgoingness (Circa mid 70's-late 80's), we get a variety of different moods effectively evoked by songs and movies. Whereas in cocooning eras and even the beginning of outgoing eras, things seem more affected and/or tentative/self-conscious. So Stars Wars, for example, never seems like it's over zealously and consciously reaching for grandeur or excitement, yet the viewer still feels awed by the story being told. Dawn of the Dead ('78) evokes a variety of moods (dread, adventure, reflection, sorrow, joy, etc.) without ever seeming strained or pretentious.

  27. ""All-time high is still 1982-'84""

    The peak was '83. In 1984, the highest Billboard single was "When Doves Cry", the number two single was "What's Love Got to do with it"(Tina Turner). In '85, number one was "Carless Whisper", number two "Like a Virgin". Clearly a segue to melancholia. Though there were still very popular cheerful songs during those years, the absolute most popular songs were more depressing.

  28. "Curtis: I think that during the peak of outgoingness (Circa mid 70's-late 80's), we get a variety of different moods effectively evoked by songs and movies. Whereas in cocooning eras and even the beginning of outgoing eras, things seem more affected and/or tentative/self-conscious. So Stars Wars, for example, never seems like it's over zealously and consciously reaching for grandeur or excitement, yet the viewer still feels awed by the story being told. Dawn of the Dead ('78) evokes a variety of moods (dread, adventure, reflection, sorrow, joy, etc.) without ever seeming strained or pretentious."

    Yes, movies made during rising-crime are very impactful - the director seeks to maximize emotional impact, both joy and sorrow.

    Still, as Agnostic has pointed out in this new post, there's a different zeitgeist effect that oscillates between meloncholic,, cynical vs. optimistic, happy, that exists apart from just being emotionally powerful.

    Something like "When Doves Cry", if not necessarily pretentious, still seems sadder than Prince's earlier stuff, like "I Wanna Be Your lover", which is way happier. Both seek to maximize emotional impact, but different emotions - one sadness, the other happiness.


  29. "Whereas in cocooning eras and even the beginning of outgoing eras, things seem more affected and/or tentative/self-conscious."

    I agree with your point, which is that self-consciousness is something that is definitevely associated with cocooning.

    Off-topic, but self-consciousness and self-pitying are not the same thing, though. "When Doves Cry" is self-pitying, but not in a self-conscious way, in a more sincere and vulnerable way, where he's laying it all out on the table.

  30. "1981
    - Mad Max 2/the Road Warrior. Good, but Mel Gibson's a cynical brooder as the hero.
    - Raiders of the Lost Ark. Great movie.

    - First Blood. Great movie, Stallone s a brooder as the hero.

    - Sudden Impact. Almost nihilistic, very moody. And Eastwood as usual is gruff"

    First Blood and the Road Warrior were downers, but how popular were those movies when first released? According to Box Office Mojo, The Road Warrior was #32 highest grossing movie in 1982, when it was released; Rambo was much higher, at #13, but was more of an exception.

    That year, the highest grossing movie was E.T.; second highest was Tootsie; #3 was Officer and a Gentleman, #4 was Rocky III, and #5 was Porky's (lmao).


    All those movies are either lighthearted and buoyant, like Tootsie and Porky's, or optimistic stories about overcoming the odds

    When analyzing the history of pop culture, its common, and I'm guilty of this, to pay too much attention to what the media obsesses over, instead of what most people were actually watching and listening to. Who could have said that Porky's was so massively popular when it was released???

    Likewise, I'm skeptical about how popular Grunge was in the early 90s. As Agnostic said, the depressing period peaked more like in the late 80s.

    According to the Hot Billboard 100, the most-played songs on the radio, the most popular songs in 1992 were #1 End of the Road(Boys II Men); #2 Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot(lmao); #3 Jump by Kriss Kross; #4 Save the Best for Last Vanessa Williams; #5 Baby-Baby-Baby by TLC(though to be fair, depressing songs like Under the Bridge and Tears in Heaven made the top 10).

    Smells like Teen Spirit comes in at #32.

  31. I focused on what are regarded as the enduring films of the period, not just on which ones immediately made money. For example, as I noted, Black Rain and Tango And Cash were more technically successful movies than the Road Warrior and Bloodsport, but within 2-3 years after the latter movies were released they'd developed a foothold in pop culture far surpassing Black Rain or Tango and Cash.

    Grunge was extremely popular with teen whites in the 90's; Nirvana and Pearl Jam's 1991 albums were on the charts for years. You're right that early 90's pop and R&B were often a lighter weight and cheesier take on styles developed in the 70's and 80's. And this cheese was much more popular than most Gen X-ers admit (some X-ers desperately cling to the idea that the 80's were the lame send-off for the Boomers, while the 90's were the first X-er decade which brought much needed depth and wry commentary that the 80's supposedly lacked).

    The 90's (as in 1992-2000) were an awful, awful time for pop singles. Fortunately, a decent number of late Boomer rockers still had some gas left in the tank. Also, rock is a better outlet for angst than pop, so we got some good angsty stuff at least in the first 5-6 years of the 90's. That being said, some of the alternative acts were often affected and campy ("Millions of peaches, peaches for me") goofballs who thought they were more clever than they actually were. New Wave was the peak of weirdos who could make entertaining music (David Byrne, Danny Elfman, Gary Numan, etc.). Almost all the 2nd and 3rd wave grunge wannabe bands are emo and faggy. The lion's share of good Alternative music came out in the 80's and early 90's; if the band released their first album in 1994 or later, odds are it sucks.

    A lot of Gen X-ers are clueless about the 80's and 90's. The 80's had more sincerity and creativity than many X-ers realize. And the 90's had more cheese and camp than is commonly thought.

    WRT cycles, people often acted posery in the late 60's and early 70's. When another wave of PC hit us in the early 90's, affected posturing also seemed to be in again. There's a circa 1994 interview with Soundgarden done by MTV, on YouTube, where the band (wearing rumpled clothes) acts uncooperative and sullen with the interviewer who's trying to be gracious. Whereas, in say, the 50's or the 80's people try to be unpretentious and sincere. Annoying posturing doesn't really seem like a cocooning thing as much as it does a PC cycle thing. People just act cooler when cultural warriors are muzzled. We're of course in a PC cycle right now, and sure enough, the way a lot of people act these days reminds me of how snotty and brusque people were from about 1992-1996. That being said, having more of a life in the late 60's or early 90's at least tempered some of the bitching and preaching, whereas right now cocooners have ample energy to devote to posturing, energy that would be better spent elsewhere.

  32. To be fair, some of those songs I listed for '92 are more cynical or melancholic in tone(Sir Mixalot's song is cynical and objectifying, etc.). Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" is slow and sombre. Its not really cynical or angsty, but certainly a sadder song as the singer pleads with his girlfriend not to dump him. Melancholia extended a little into the 90s, and early Grunge was certainly part of that.

    "Grunge was extremely popular with teen whites in the 90's; Nirvana and Pearl Jam's 1991 albums were on the charts for years."

    They had lasting popularity, but how relatively popular were they compared to other music? According to the most played singles(and Billboard uses a secret algorythm to determine that, which could be flawed), grunge paled in comparison mainstream hip hop like Boyz II Men, Whitney Houston, Kriss Kross, Paula Abdul, Ace of Base, Janet Jackson, Vanessa Williams, etc., and a bunch of others that most can't even remember(anybody remember "Color Me Badd", who had the #2 single for 1991?). That is the way I remember it, though I was only a little kid.

    Nirvana's most popular song, Smells like Teen Spirit, only got to #32.

    You can say that the popularity of Hip-Hop and dance was being driven by blacks, but there aren't enough of them to drive those songs that far up the charts. Only 10-12% of the population, and that has been true for decades now.

    Still, Grunge was part of teh angsty, angry, cynical zeitgeist in the early 90s.

  33. Thanks for your responses, Feryl.

    "(some X-ers desperately cling to the idea that the 80's were the lame send-off for the Boomers, while the 90's were the first X-er decade which brought much needed depth and wry commentary that the 80's supposedly lacked)."

    The Xers probably hate the 90s more than anybody else; it was like they got the rug pulled out from under them, having been socialized as children to be more outgoing and sexy.

    "The 90's (as in 1992-2000) were an awful, awful time for pop singles."

    I'm not disagreeing with you there. Yet, it is still uncanny how Agnostic was right about the peak of cheeriness in the late 90s, which makes the 90s seem "not as bad". I always noticed that '99-'00 things seemed to get worse for some reason, and now I know why. Nice job, man.

  34. I've noticed that people tend to be most nostalgic for the decades they were born in, and thus there's some resentment for the subsequent decade changing things. It might seem weird to care that much about a decade that you spent less than 10 years in, but consider that we're too young to remember the negative aspects of that decade.

    The biggest bashers of the 90's were born in the 80's; we missed out on the hey day of MTV, Micheal Jackson was white, acting black became cool, video games were becoming an at-home activity, etc. And we never saw young Boomer culture first hand, nor did we get much time with early X-ers before they got preachy and more aloof in the early 90's.

    Most Gen X-ers are suckers for the 60's and 70's, since after all, they were such heavy decades, man, before the Boomers became moralistic and yuppieish in the 80's. A lot of X-ers would rather yearn to have been adults in the 60's and/or 70's as opposed to working harder to defend their culture. But in their minds, who'd defend post-1980 culture?

  35. "A lot of X-ers would rather yearn to have been adults in the 60's and/or 70's as opposed to working harder to defend their culture."

    Heh, I just saw an interview with the singer Pink(b. 1979) on "CBS Sunday Morning" where she outright said she wishes she had lived in the '60s and '70s.

  36. Back in the actual 80's and early 90's, it was pretty common to acknowledge the excesses of the 60's and 70's (the hatred towards the military, polyester, dirty old misogynistic Silent men, ignorance of and indifference towards STDs, etc.). As we reached the late 90's, Gen X-ers (and of course some Boomers) started hitting the 70's nostalgia drum hard. The most inexcusable and embarrassing aspects of the decades (popular cults, pedophile enabling, hitch-hiking culture getting many young Boomers raped) are never acknowledged by these nostagists.

    In defense of very late X-ers and Millennials who pine for the 80's, at least we have a sense of humor about yuppies, Satanic panic, big hair, the crack wars, etc. We readily admit the era's flaws, which is better than how 70's idolaters flat-out deny some very unseemly things about the decade. More bizarre still is that over-protective liberal Gen X-ers don't understand that their own parenting is a reversal of the 70's norm of not giving a shit what your kids were up to. Fundamentally, X-ers are very conservative parents, not at all what parents were like in the peak of free-wheeling cultural liberalism (about 1967-1981).

    And yes, some liberals say that the 80's were decadent! Shallow, misguided, sanctimonious, well maybe. But there's a reason that Strauss and Howe, in 1990, called the 70's a corpse in the trunk decade.

  37. "In defense of very late X-ers and Millennials who pine for the 80's"

    I think that is because of having grown up on 80s media of people acting more outgoing, teens dating etc.

    "But there's a reason that Strauss and Howe, in 1990, called the 70's a corpse in the trunk decade."

    We now know that partially this was because of the angsty zeitgeist. Remember, upbeat, bubblegum music peaked in the early 80s, which means that the early-to-mid 70s would have been more downbeat and melancholic.

  38. Does political conflict/agitation tend to correlate with the "angsty" phases? the upbeat, bubblegum zeitgeist peaked in 2012-2013; in 2015 you saw the insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders. when the music is angrier, people are also angrier and more political.

    You see sort of the same pattern going back in time. The early-to-mid 2000s were angsty - that accompanied the protests against the WTO, protests against Iraq War, Bush being the most polarizing president up to that point, etc. The early-to-mid 70s were also angsty - Weathermen blowing up government buildings, etc.

    Of course, you've said the late 60s was upbeat, and that was a time of political agitation, so who knows.

  39. It gets at how naive and clueless many people were about hitch hinking, child molesting, cult gurus, and the like in the 70's. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting that you have a problem, and the Me-Gen was on the whole, at the time, disinterested in leveling with how out of control hedonism was in the 70's.

    The zeitgeist of the 60's and especially the 70's was very libertine. It was in the 80's that people became greatly concerned about the effects of rape, violence, drugs, etc. That is why it was a more wholesome decade than the devil may care 70's.

    If you use the NYtimes query feature, you see that "victim-less" crime was a meme that got started in the early 70's. Searching for nihilism revealed a lot of usage in the 70's, one article said that the youth zeitgeist of the late 60's and 70's (which Boomers demanded as the only zeitgeist ) reveled in the idea that creativity and nihilism were intertwined; the only statements worth hearing were the ones that smashed boundaries.

    Of course, among prole whites there never was particular ease with a lot of this twaddle (as the prole friendly 80's action movie took shape in the 70's and first couple years of the 80's, there's an obvious progression from the seedy, under-lit, conflicted morality of the early 70's Dirty Harry and Death Wish movies, to the wholesome and courageous protagonists of the mid-late 80's.

    In Peter Biskind's screed about New Hollywood, he says that 70's movies were largely driven by Silent and Early Boomers who wanted to create a challenging experience for the film-maker and audience alike. Both the public and the money people had had enough by 1982; he says that Paramount in particular had a reputation for being "gay" (as in slick and fashionable), and in the 80's redefined movies as being glossy rock videos and fashion shows,
    rather than attempts to confront the audience and flay open their insecurities.

    Biskind says a lot of the blame goes to what he calls the "Porky's generation" (e.g., those born in the late 50's and 60's), who came of age during the 70's, and felt no generational or cultural urge to make statements. Late Boomer 80's audiences had no interest in moral ambiguity, in bitching about "the man", or being sympathetic to "low" people (druggies, hookers, fags, etc.).

    There's some merit to these ideas, but it's also true that not everything in the 70's was deep, and not everything in the 80's was shallow. It's also true that people felt that we had gone too far in the 70's, and we needed to come back from the edge.

    I do remember Biskind saying that the fashion and moral aesthetic of the mid-late 80's was like rape, in the sense that you were told what was wrong and what was right, what was pretty and ugly, what was cool and out of style, and you weren't asked for your consent or opinion beforehand. Now, to the Me Gen who came of age in the sterile 40's and 50's, it's not surprising that they embraced the muddiness of the 70's and came to resent the idea of army vehicles being used to literally knock down filth in the 80's.

  40. Been thinking about this more. We know that upbeat music peaks every 15 years, which means that each cycle probably lasts 7-8 years(unless one is longer than the other).

    Oddly, the timespan of 7 years is colloquially important. For instance, the phrase "7-year itch". George Friedman, of Stratfor, believes that a recession happens about every 7 years - which would indicate a cultural change happening about every 7 years, which we know is true.

    another observation - the angsty phase makes holidays more confrontational. When you mentioned 2012-2013 being the peak, I noticed I haven't visited my extended family for Thanksgiving since 2012. In the media and popular culture, we have two depictions of holidays - one of them being joyful and pleasant, the other of being confrontational and dysfunctional. These depictions probably vacillate depending on angsty vs. upbeat.

    Jean Shepard's "Christmas Story", for instance, was made in 1983, the peak of happiness, and shows Christmas as basically being a joyful occasion. Something else, like "Christmas with the Kranks"(made in the early 2000s), portrays the holiday as stressful.

  41. Curt -

    I couldn't get into A Christmas Vacation(1989?) because it seemed so manic and busy, with lots of actors mugging and feigning emotions/characterization . Vacation ('83) and even European Vacation ('85) were pretty light weight and amiable.

    You'd expect there to be a generational thing going on here, with people who were in their upper teens and early 20's during a relaxed and upbeat period being more likable and optimistic.

    Which would mean that people born in the late 50's/early 60's are cool (the early-mid 80's being formative), and those born in the late 70's/early 80's cool too (coming of age in the late 90's/early 2000's). And thing sure can change fast, can't they? While the later 70's and early 80's were both earnest, people became a lot more optimistic and energetic in the earlier 80's. Then as early as 1988 and certainly by 1991, the zeitgeist was clearly shifting to angst and unwholesome introspection (as opposed to personably staying engaged with the outside world); as an added demerit, early cocooning also meant an injection of meta goofiness.

    If the pattern holds, then people born in the late 90's/early 2000's ought to be more unpretentious than those born in the late 80's/early 90's. And anecdotally, 1986 and definitely 1987 are when Millennials start to become annoying and those traits are seen in those born thru the early 90's.

    Incidentally, I just visited my cousin and her daughter, with my own mom also. My mom was born in 1960, me in 1985, my cousin in 1979, and her daughter around 2003. I'd be curious to know if these cohorts remember growing up with a lot more joy and camaraderie than the (relatively) stingy and vain cohorts who grew up amid a lot of tension and posturing. Just look at 70's pop music, made by late Silents and early Boomers, and how it's moods ranged from uneasy reflection, to bitter jealousy and insecurity (Fleetwood Mac wrote a whole album about their relationship issues in the late 70's), to decadent hedonism, to sci-fi mumbo jumbo, to screeds against whatever issue they didn't like.

    It's in the 80's that, due to the climate, and due to late Boomers being heartier of spirit, that a variety of topics and moods are handled with more grace and healthy openness.

    And I'd caution that music is a much better way to gauge trends than music. For example, Wayne's World (1992) is clearly rooted in the goofy zeitgeist of the late 80's than it is the self-important zeitgeist of 1991-1996.

    These seven year cycles are affected by the level of pessimism, and also whether things are earnest, flippant, or pretentious. The early 80's were earnest and upbeat, the late 80's were simultaneously goofy and cynical, while the early-mid 90's were caustic and inwardly focused. The late 90's and early 2000's were goofy and upbeat.

  42. The good cheer may have peaked a little bit earlier, in like 2010-2011. that was when One Direction first came on the scene(2010). Boy bands tend to show up towards the end of the happy era - for instance, the popularity of the Backstreet Boys from '97-'98, which was the peak and end of the 90s good cheer.

    In 2012, the number one song on the Hot Billboard 100 was Gotye's "Used to Know" - a depressing song if there ever was one. And in 2013, the singer Miley Cyrus unveiled her new, angstier persona, which was far removed from Hannah Montana and her much more upbeat music, like "Party in the USA"(2009).


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