Where is all of this political and social contestation leading to, sonically?
Polarity? The answer might be that all of this contestation is should lead to something that is popular and grand: a new, hopefully literary, mythology to replace the grand American mythology of success expressed in pop song to more progressively culture human spirit. Even if it takes a million indie years. The sound of contemporary commercial Hip Hop, R&B, and of Pop (pop, pop-rock, pop-country) is triumph, extended to every American. Historian Jackson Lears used the painting “Allegory of Fortune,” by Balthazar Nebot, to illustrate an article of his in Lapham’s Quarterly on the American mythology of success “Fortune’s Wheel.” There’s something unreal about the content of the painting, something that galvanizes one’s spirit with familiarity. It could be the poster of a contemporary pop concert, shocking because of its honesty though not that shocking.
Mythological pop song, songs with kitschy protagonists and antagonists but also comedy and drama, is the perfect song to sell to people who live the everyday that comes with an industrialized society. For one mythology is. Realism, for example in the Blues, was so prevalent because farming was so big in the south. After some years of moving to Northern cities, the songs gradually came to vehicle mythology. Secondly, kitsch is simple to live along to. Mythology is not bad and is the key to new American music. Alter-mythology can be written, as fictions are written to culture minds to replace how other narratives in a society do.
What’s the matter with today’s pop? Pop music, sonically a mythological allegory of fortune (immaterial or material,) and the means by which one attains fortune, can be pop high art. A look at Andy Warhol’s career is proof of this. American existence includes upbringing and, sometimes producing pop art, art that agitates, is meaningful, and sells, is the key to an artist’s personal satisfaction. Andy Warhol had a portrait business where he was selling portraits at 25,000 dollars a pop (pun intended.) He also produced the paintings of cows, and the Brillo boxes that are now quintessential in American history. It’s kitsch that’s killing us.
The contesting kids now care about principal, including that all are owed art. A definite “no” is what is often offered about someone who is in between. Most of the lettered kids, this time around, did not like either Hillary or Trump, though many did. Others settled for one or the other: writing a new chapter in the history of contemporary contestation and general youthful existence, one of both private and public contestation. Contestation of what? Contestation of “the absurd”: not the comic WTF but what should not be. There isn’t a massive existential crisis going around that leads kids to drop out, etc, lie in the 1960’s, and 1970’s; it’s much more complex than that this time. This time around, the kids who are #against grew up with the works of art produced by those who had produced in the 1960’s mostly to rid themselves of the nausea (as Sartre puts it in his novel Nausea) that they felt about the world.
This time around, the kids want morality, equal rights for women, black lives mattering, etc., both because they feel nauseated and because they were educated to want it by the arts, the sciences, etc. that came out of the mid and late-20th century contestation. The thing is that the racist and sexist science that used to justify and legitimize that women and blacks were inferior, are untrue, stupid science, nothing that makes actual sense. Add to the fact that the girls of the 21st century just don’t play those sort of games anymore and you realize that this time the Trump-ity or, for some the Clinton-ity, is just absurd. Then throw in the books written, films filmed, albums recorded, and voila: I am a wolf of the distant future, male, female, looking to resettle this old land and its “Old Glory.”
The acts and thoughts kids will lead to the production the music of a popular culture that matches their dreams and sentiments, if they are not doing so already. It might be because of their teaching, professing, writing, or whatever, but the citadel that was conservatism is crumbling. Very few people will visit its ruins.
The issue is that many American Pop musicians (performers, producers, session musicians) have not necessarily been educated by the new arts and the new sciences that came after the 1960’s (and also before but much less.) Others have. Instead, given their upbringings, most have been proletarianized by certain terrible American pulses and have also had to live both the reality and theatre of human hounding. They then have worked towards an envisioned objective, music being both an end and a means to an end. In other words, a unique American becoming, similar because in certain regions given the level of industrialization, non-industrialization, or post-industrialization, that the region harbors. Change that becoming and the Pop music mythology will change.
The other issue is a resurgence of backwards as it resurged with the Young Republicans who got Ronald Reagan elected.