2018 and Music

this could be bad and dumb


The relationship between music and the world we live in has become increasingly daunting in a way that is both telling and unsurprising. Look back to the 2016 election, the start of our current simulation: one of the first reactions from both optimists, opportunists, and humorists was that Trump being elected will bring back “punk” or some other sort of protest music. Despite the mostly failed protest music in the Bush era, lots of people (myself included) were hoping for a mass cultural reaction that would create art to inspire our movement.

For the most part, we didn’t get that. And there’s a number of reasons why: for one, take a look at how quickly everything was convoluted to the top of the liberal media’s late night shows and their Twitter comedians. Perhaps more importantly, however, we realized that we don’t need it. It was going downhill after the ’60s anyways (only a few Reagan-era punk bands were able to pull off solid lyrics).

Still, the best music of today is the kind that is able to highlight our current condition in a way that resonates with us in a way that brings something new to the table. Some of the year’s most prominent albums, from Parquet Courts to JPEGMafia to Mitski, all contain themes with a tangible, powerful message. It may not be explicitly protest music, but it’s music that’s aware of the situation in which we exist– not just what’s happening in politics. Only music from my generation could produce this understanding– the truest of this art is angry and uncompromising, but it doesn’t veer into the cliche; it seeks to make new in response to the cultural attitudes of the world we live in.

On the macro level, we can look to how many important rap releases there were in 2018, and how the genre seems to be accelerating exponentially by the week. In both the actual music being released and the increasing absurdity of hip-hop’s myriad of personalities, we can see how much culture has evolved. In fact, I would argue there is an intersection between the music itself and the context (and aforementioned personalities) which produce it: the line between artist and art has become increasingly muddled and twisted. The drama, both online and in real life, has become an event which we cannot escape from; everything produced is memed into oblivion the second it’s uploaded to Soundcloud.

The phenomenon of art blending with reality isn’t exclusive to rap, though: some of 2018’s best rock releases have tied in the personal and material on a hyperrealistic level. Look at Car Seat Headrest’s Twin Fantasy, which completely remakes a 2011 album with edits based on the changes the creator went through (something unprecedented, as far as I’m concerned) to present a new version that is both a meditation for the artist and the artist alone and a celebration ready for a wider audience, simultaneously. Or take the albums by artists like Mitski, Snail Mail, Parquet Courts, and IDLES (just to name a very small few of the most hyped artists of this year), whose lyrics almost instantly established a connection with just about everybody around my age.

What 2018 ultimately highlights is how much music has faded into our reality: even if realist themes are not explicitly present in a record, music keeps finding more and more ways to connect with us in ways we previously thought impossible. Our consciousnesses continue to be shaped by it, our communities continue to be driven by it, and our experiences continue to be soundtracked to it; culminating in a wave of feeling that causes us to break from the monotony if only for a second and feel a sense of freedom and belonging, sometimes beyond anything the artist could have intended. It is our interpretations that shape this understanding, and it is this understanding that shapes our personal enjoyment.