The Cyclical Nature Of Pop Culture

Pale denim jackets circa 1985, 12” vinyl LPs, Topman-branded ‘The Ramones’ t-shirts and fifties-styled retro kitchen design: all things that, somehow, in 2011, epitomise what it is to be up-to-date with pop culture. As the years progress, we seem to see a resurgence of fashion, style and musical trends that we once assumed were long-gone. Why exactly is it that we seek to emulate past trends in our day-to-day lifestyles? What is it exactly that makes ‘old stuff’ ‘cool’ again?

Perhaps it’s the uniqueness factor. With charity shops selling bargain (and in the right places, quite often designer) second hand goods dated 30 years before our time, there is no fear of duplicate purchases by any of our friends. However, if everybody’s doing the same charity-shop raiding, don’t we lose the sense of individuality that doing so is supposed to bestow on us? Moreover, judging by our regurgitation of fashion from decades and trends past, maybe the fact is that true ‘individuality’ is no longer possible to obtain. Even those who believe themselves to have an individual sense of style, those who claim that they don’t follow trends, tend to be decked head to toe in ‘unique’ vintage wear, and thus adhering to the styles of yesteryear in an attempt to stand out today. If pretty much every fashion magazine and website going are to be believed in their predictions for what we’ll all be wearing throughout 2011, then the seventies is set to have a huge revival this summer. As waistlines rise, trousers flare and tops are tucked into bottoms, are we all simply seeking the comfort of a past era as doggedly viewed through rose-tinted glasses?

Maybe we feel that innovation has been exhausted in all areas of pop culture, and therefore, attempting to create something new without infusing elements of the past is a futile exercise. Music is another area in which the past repeatedly rears its head: many modern bands cite their influences as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Clash, and take inspiration from three-chord catchy melodies and fifties-inspired crooning vocals. And let’s not forget the all pervasive influence of Michael Jackson, who, since his death, has seemingly become an even greater inspiration to male solo artists: Chris Brown is a prime example. Whenever Lady Gaga comes on the radio, parents worldwide are forced to restrain themselves from remark “Well… it’s just Madonna again, isn’t it?”

And to be fair, they have a point; the husky voice, the (barely-there) stage outfits and the somewhat uncomfortable and apparently obligatory gyrating in every music video are one thing, but ‘Born This Way’ bears an uncanny musical resemblance to ‘Express Yourself’ too. Such a suggestion moved Lady Gaga to tears in a recent interview – not surprising considering the way in which the current Queen of Pop markets herself as so unique, so controversial and so unprecedentedly ‘out-there’. What worse way to belittle her efforts at eccentricity than to call her a carbon copy of another inspirational, generation-defining singer who’s already come and gone before her? Again, this inability to avoid regression perhaps shows us that innovation is now difficult, nigh on impossible, to come by.

It is unlikely that we will stop looking to the past for inspiration for the future; trends in fashion, music, art and culture are always going to resurface in one form or another, whether that be via an entire revival of a decade’s clothing trends, or the odd Beach Boys-reminiscent guitar solo. Either way, is the recycling of past pop culture trends really such a negative thing? There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the glory and originality of yesteryear, whilst incorporating it with the new in order to create something definitive and, in its own way, unique. Lady Gaga may be using Madonna as an inspirational icon of sorts, but then again, you’d never catch Madonna in a dress made of meat.

Alex Binley & Sarah Dawood

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