“the popular music of the time, specifically the style called chanson réaliste. As made famous by Edith Piaf, Damia, Fréhel, and Lucienne Delyle in particular, this genre evokes a world-weary romanticism with untrained and frequently raspy voices, minor-key melodies, and dark narratives set more often than not in semicriminal milieux.” – Luc Sante
We are in a new age of under 35 black ambition and in the realms where this ambition is voiced, articulated, or an undercurrent of a young black person’s public achievement, we are in an age of new language to match, especially of musical language, that is a realism. A new signifying.
The dressing that matches this music is pronounced dressing and shared by most who practice this realism. It is now popular culture to see pronounced dressing in all sort of colors as everyday attire: red, yellow, purple, black, floral.
The language of this new realism pronounces grandiloquence or misery (as it was the case in Italian neo-realist film, though homegrown.) One or the other or a mix of the two. Grandiloquence (genius) or misery about “I,” or black “her,” or “him”: bringing the spotlight to blackness as the new pronunciation dance.
The main ambition is to both modernize (morally, immorally) blackness and progress perceptions about blackness and actions in regard to blackness. It’s to add style to blackness, wherein most blacks quite simply live average American lives of bargain shopping dress and mass culture consumption in order to quench normalcy. The kids would like to destroy white patriarchy, in style that is not a repetition of the last generation’s.
The vast majority of this signifying is going on commercial Hip Hop, as in Young Thug’s song “Power.”
First you get that money then you get that power
Boy he walk with his nose up like on that powder
Hip hop sells because it signifies blackness, as some sort of reflection of blackness. R&B is traditionally folk sophistication. We now can hear this signifying in R&B music, in a much more thoughtful way than in commercial Hip Hop. Perhaps the aesthetic flows forth from Hip Hop listening and appreciation.
Beyoncé’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” from Lemonade is an example.
Blindly in love, I fucks with you
‘Til I realize that I’m just too much for you
The music is supposed to be articulating something deeply real: something lived, often as a wealthy African American. It is a sentimental realism or at least a realism that hopes to express both the facts and the felt in a way that modernizes the political community at large. It produces a crowd around both fact and sentiment.
It’s also the case in much of the literature considered at the forefront of the youthful production of black art. In literature’s case, it has different morals and speaks about much less wealth than in music partly because literature does not pay as well and because it would not fly. It highlights blackness as an afflicted genius, surviving regardless and or genius enough to point fingers with smarts.
Poet Morgan Parker’s “Let me handle my business, damn” is the new realism: about “genial me” afflicted by you but really, interestingly, me.
Took me awhile to learn the good words
make the rain on my window grown
and sexy now I’m in the tub holding down
that on-sale Bordeaux pretending
to be well adjusted I am on that real
jazz shit sometimes I run the streets
sometimes they run me
Brit Bennett’s novel The Mothers is also the new realism: about place and character.
“You leave her be, Lester,” the woman said. Then to Nadia. “Come on, I’ll freshen you up.”
“Aw, Cici, I was just talkin’ to her,” the old man said.
“Please,” Cici said. “That child ain’t even as old as your watch.”
She led Nadia back to the bar and tossed what was left of her drink down the drain.
In painting, it is seen in the figurative painting of Jordan Casteel or Khalif Kelly.
This musical realism is legitimized by journalism (realism.) It often adds realism to realism. Journalism is its coherence, vis a vis a political community (USA) guided, in the end, by a diverse middle class. Jenna Wortham’s criticism in The New York Times (about Beyoncé, Rihanna) is an example.
Journalism also participates in this new realism, realism as standalone art, often as a confessional version of this new realism.
Chioma Nnadi, an editor of Vogue magazine, has written new realism in journalism, with a lyrical way of writing about style and material (that is also immaterial) success. Her article “Why This Vogue Editor Will Never Straighten Her Natural Hair Again” is an example of widespread confessional new realism.
A few days later, Lineisy Montero’s buoyant afro had me doing a double-take in envy at Calvin Klein, and by week’s end I’d reached a breaking point thanks to Karly Loyce, whose fizzy ’40s-style updo was the crowning glory of Marc Jacobs’s show. Suddenly the processed hair that I’d been tending to for more than two decades was looking limp, lifeless, and seriously uncool in comparison. Going natural seemed like, well, the most natural thing to do.
There seems to be a unique cult of submergence that comes with this new realism; one with followers whom chose to stay underwater to signify both difference and adherence to the cult, submergence as an alternative to psychic misery. It has made very wealthy artists but has cultured very little postmodernity, postmodernity being the ticket to best navigate our world.