January 27, 2020

Updates on transition out of vulnerable phase of 15-year cultural excitement cycle

Maybe it's just around here, but public spaces have been absolutely DEAD since sometime between Christmas and New Year's, or a solid month already. Regardless of which type of public space, typical demographic that uses it, time of day, weather, or anything else. I've never seen everywhere so deserted all at once and for weeks on end. And the handful of people who are there are making for a very low-energy atmosphere.

At first I thought this might mean the vulnerable emo phase is merely extending into the first calendar year of the next phase, the restless warm-up phase when people come out of their cocoons. Certainly the timing doesn't have to get right down to the changing of the calendar year. So maybe this is just a final bottoming out of the "leave me alone" attitude that has grown steadily since about 2015.

However, this seems like a qualitatively different state -- not just a higher quantitative degree of the kind of emo, withdrawn, refractory behavior of the previous 5 years. It's like people have ended the refractory phase, but in order to fully come back out into the open with a new pro-social attitude, they need to go into a brief chrysalis and then emerge after a metamorphosis. Over-sensitive juvenile emos, no more -- now, socially open adolescent or adult types.

This kind of social cocoon is not to fend off stimuli that might overload the nervous system of someone in a refractory state. It is to protect them while they undergo a metamorphosis, from an immature to mature form. Why can't they be disturbed, why do they require seemingly total isolation for at least weeks and perhaps months on end?

Maybe there's so much re-wiring of their mental and physical programming, that they simply can't function well in normal social situations, which would require a stable set of programming, not one in major flux. Plus, a torrent of social stimuli would interrupt that re-wiring process by making their minds and bodies pay attention to incoming external stimuli, instead of devoting all resources to the internal re-wiring process.

It's like closing a store to the public for days, weeks, or months while it's being re-modeled or re-developed. You don't merely allow fewer-than-usual customers inside -- if the plumbing, wiring, HVAC, etc., are being torn up and re-built, you can't have any customers at all putting demands on those systems. They'll have to come back in awhile, when all the changes have been made and the systems are back online in new-and-improved form.

Unfortunately I can't reflect on what happened the last time the cycle changed from vulnerable to warm-up phase. I was living in Barcelona for the first months of 2005, and I was not part of the usual social climate there, being an ex-pat who'd been there less than a year. I did, however, notice major changes by the summer of 2005, when I was back in America, compared to the early 2000s, and that shift only became more pronounced throughout the rest of the late 2000s.

So perhaps this chrysalis stage will last through the winter and/or spring, and be finally done away with when the warm weather returns with the mating season? We'll have to wait and see. Hopefully it's sooner rather than later.

I'm also not clear on whether this affects the mass-market pop culture that so closely reflects the changes in the excitement cycle. I'd have to look at the first months of 2005 for the Billboard charts or something -- not just the #1's (which Wikipedia does have), but the new entries into the Hot 100 (the #1's have generally been out for awhile by the time they hit the top). And Billboard doesn't have that info on their site.

I have noticed that the radio has remained heavily emo in tone -- almost more so than last year. That's true for stations that play more upbeat music, and from earlier decades -- I've never heard so much late '80s soft rock on the stations that usually play happy manic-phase music. Contempo stations are relying on the emo tunes of the past 5 years still, rather than trying to hype up the brand new stuff, whatever it is.

You'd think after the new year, they'd want to make a clean break. But they're doubling down on emo for the time being. If their audiences have entered a final chrysalis, it would only make sense for the radio stations serving them to do so as well.

The first clear test will be Dua Lipa's upcoming single "Physical," to be released on January 31. The restless warm-up phase is characterized by dance crazes, and a disco-oriented social-cultural atmosphere. There was proto-disco in the early '60s, original disco in the late '70s, neo-disco in the early '90s, neo-neo-disco during the late 2000s, and soon neo-neo-neo-disco in the early 2020s.

There were a couple initial moves in this direction late last year with "Don't Start Now" by Dua Lipa and "Say So" by Doja Cat (currently climbing the Hot 100). But these aren't such a clear break with the mellow, dreamy, emo phase and its start-and-stop rhythms for dance music. We need to hear something like "Hung Up" by Madonna, which didn't come out until October of the first year of the warm-up phase. It could always come earlier this time around -- but you'll know it when you hear it. And so far, we haven't heard it.

Dua Lipa modeled the cover for her upcoming single on the cover of Madonna's 2005 album that "Hung Up" comes from, so let's hope there's musical similarity as well, and we can kick off the neo-neo-neo-disco era already.

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