Monday, December 31, 2018

Song of the Year 2018

I can't say I enjoy contemporary pop music. Every now and then I work my way through someone's top 100 albums, to find that one or two products are listenable. This is not the fault of the internet or GarageBand or MP3s... it's a symptom of late capitalism, where everyone (in our parts of the world) is spoiled and no-one has a compelling reason to do any one thing or the other.

(So, yeah, it is the fault of the internet and GarageBand and MP3s.)

Music is not the vital force it was when I grew up, when there was still room to play with the difference between the orders of simulation. And when, for many, pop music was the only way to escape a trap laid by society, to express an outsider relationship to politics and culture. Today, it's a career choice.

Most pop music is produced to give the listener what they want. Hence, most pop music is crap, valuable only for a few moments of escapism. But there have been times when it has operated as a disruptive force. The post-punk period (1976-1982) was one such, and I am glad to have lived through it. I am sure the original hip-hop scene was another, and had I been in NYC, living in the right community, at the right time, I'm sure I'd love it all. (As it is, my love doesn't extend too much outside classic albums from Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, with a smattering of Grandmaster Flash, Coldcut, etc.)

For some time, there's been no point evaluating pop music apart from its artifice. For years, that meant the album cover and follow-on advertising, including the pin-up poster. Today, that still means the music video, a rather tired format that only sometimes recalls the possibilities of the medium. For decades, pop music has not been made to operate on its own, but rather within the warm embrace of this televisual spectacle. Simply listening to music is to miss the point.

Given this, I have no doubt that the most important song of the year was "This Is America" by Childish Gambino, composed and produced by Donald Glover and Ludwig Goransson (a Swedish film composer). Immediately on release of the video (directed by Hiro Murai) the internet went crazy, viewers searching for hidden symbols and references. And there's plenty to find, from the Jim Crow dance to the Confederate trousers, the 17 seconds of silence and the horseman of the apocalypse.

This analysis is proof of the visual literacy of today's voyeurs. I've watched at least ten reaction videos and there's one thing they have in common. I'm in tears by the end.

Hope. After all.

(For a certain ironic displacement, this post should be read in concert with the last one, "Today's Music is Crap, Reports Old White Guy".)


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