Going out to parties as a college student, I am basking in my generation’s obsession with throwbacks and appreciation of popular culture from our childhood. Honestly, I don’t blame them; you cannot tell me that Amanda Bynes’s performance in Big Fat Liar was not worthy of an Academy Award, that the greatest style icon to walk the face of this Earth wasn’t Paris Hilton in a Juicy Couture tracksuit, or that Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten hasn’t been the “Song of the Summer” since 2004.
You can’t tell me any of those things, not only because they’re not true, but because I believe the peak of American Popular Culture was during my childhood. Not to discredit the TSwift-Kimye feud that transpired just a couple months ago, but the Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff rivalry of 2004 over Aaron Carter’s love transcends any celebrity quarrel in recent history.
To get out of my Cultural Rut, I thought of the most infallible way to experience new pop culture, while still enjoying what I’m being exposed to: Spotify Discover Weekly. Spotify Press (2015) describes these playlists as “updated every Monday morning, Discover Weekly brings you two hours of custom-made music recommendations, tailored specifically to you and delivered as a unique Spotify playlist,” (“Introducing Discover Weekly,” 2015).
This way, I will — hopefully — be able to enjoy music that I listen to, while simultaneously becoming “hip” and learning what the “cool kids” are listening to.
I already had my Spotify Account set to shuffle, so when I pressed “Play,” I was taken to the middle of the playlist. The first song I was ever-so generously gifted with was 1-2-3 by Nikki Cleary, which just so happened to appear in the critically-acclaimed (probably) movie, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen starring our previously mentioned, goddess of song and dance, Lindsay Lohan. Of course, I didn’t stop there as this song is from 2003, another impactful year for pop culture, completely foiling my plan.
But I persevered. The next song I listened to was #ThisCouldBeUs by Doug Locke, which I knew had to be from any time post-2010 as hashtags are a fairly new concept. Thankfully, I didn’t hate the song. I mean, I definitely wouldn’t play it at a party or bar, but I could listen to it on the radio without driving myself off the road. The lyrics were pretty horrible, but it was catchy and made me tap my foot, so that’s a good thing.
Next up on shuffle was Breathe by Michelle Branch, one of my all time favorite Radio Disney Jams to listen to in the car after a taxing day of 4th grade. (Please see 1:53 of the 13 Going On 30 trailer for point of reference — also another gem from 2004). As much as it broke my heart in half, I pressed “Skip” because, again, my plan was backfiring.
The following song on the playlist was actually from 2016 and an artist that I recognized, Teagan & Sara. I know that I’ve heard a couple of their songs, but I couldn’t tell you any of the titles if I tried. The song was called Boyfriend off their album “Love You to Death.” I was lucky enough to be walking, nay, strutting down the street as this song came on, feeling like I was in a Forever 21 commercial, actual able to fit in their clothes, inspiring young men and women to wear quirky shirts that say things like “not a vegan” and “I know guac is extra.”
I followed the song to their album and actually listened to it in full. I don’t think that I would actively seek out this type of music, much less an entire album of it. One of my favorite artists at the moment is Dame Carly Slay Jepsen, more specifically, her most recent album, “Emotion.” It’s the same type of idea as “Love You to Death,” taking the 80’s vibe and making it contemporary. In class we talked about the renewal of popular culture and how trends are ebbing and flowing, resulting in a lot of trends making their come-backs. After closer analyzation, I found that a lot of the more contemporary music that’s out there, is closely related to music from decades ago — Taylor Swift’s most recent album, “1989,” being an example of that. In an interview for the Grammy’s, Swift (2014) explains, “the sonic inspiration for this album really… harkens back to the sounds of late 80’s pop…” (“Taylor Swift New Album…” 2014).
This revamp of retro vibes also bleeds over to the fashion industry. According to an article on GoodHousekeeping.com by Sam Escobar, there are several fashion trends coming back including fanny packs, crop tops, jean jackets, drop crotch pants, animal print, spandex, and my personal fave, scrunchies all in time for the Coachella boom.
The idea of appreciating any form of popular culture before your time definitely comes with age. This summer I worked as a camp counselor in my hometown, and I can wholeheartedly say, if you ever get the chance to work with kids and be a role model for them in that kind of setting, don’t. Those spawns of Satan will eat you alive and criticize everything about you, including music taste.
Whenever I had the daunting task of picking out music for the “children” to listen to, it was nearly impossible to find music that wasn’t completely mind-numbing, but also appropriate — because let’s be honest, 2016 suburban mothers don’t let their kids touch grass because it’s “not organic enough.” Because I was in great company with other counselors around my same age, we thought it would be a good idea to put on some of our jams from when we were their age; we wanted to try and relate to the kids.
As I put on JoJo’s Too Little Too Late, one of the greatest songs of our generation, I get berated by 8 year-olds telling me that they want Anaconda by Nicki Minaj, Fireball by Pitbull, and Fight Song by Rachel Platten. I explained that these were not appropriate song choices for camp — except for the latter, I just told her she has bad taste — and that if they can find me an appropriate song, I’ll play it. Now, even an 8 year-old can only listen to Let it Go from Frozen so many times, so anything in that genre was out of the running, and to the camper’s dismay, they couldn’t find anything. Luckily for me, we were stuck listening to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album on repeat in the middle of July, but I found it unsettling that it was hard to find anything “appropriate” for these kids.
I’m not trying to say that pop culture is getting more inappropriate as time goes on, but something is changing. I listen to music now that I listened to as kid and wonder how my parents let me listen to it. The answer is probably that they didn’t, but that’s beside the point. Even watching Disney Channel TV shows now, it’s weird to compare my generation’s Lizzie McGuire going through puberty (“Between a Rock and a Bra Place,” 2001) and That’s So Raven combating racism (“True Colors,” 2005) and body-shaming (“That’s So Not Raven,” 2004), to watching this next generation’s Dog With a Blog about a talking dog. As I grow older, I’m relating to actual old people when they say that everything was better in the past. We’re living in a time now where everyone is so sensitive to what they consumer; from food to music, everything is seen as “not good enough.”
Although I can appreciate the popular culture in 2016, I think that, to some degree, my generation — including myself — is exemplifying what we learned in the Linda Holmes article (2003). Holmes refers to the generation gap and how older generations are comparing their experiences to the way the world is today. I fully admit that I turn on the radio and click through every channel just to eventually put plug my phone into the AUX cord and alternate between Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson, but it’s incredibly important to understand all forms for pop culture as it stands today. I get all my important information about the world from Giuliana Rancic on E! News — well, until she left the show, RIP — but my music taste was still in 2004. Broadening my music library was definitely a good thing because there’s no telling when Mandy Moore will release new music.
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