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Generational Cycles – Anthems

Generational Cycles –  Anthems

| On 09, Sep 2018

Darrell Mann

When Roger Daltrey sang, ‘I hope I die before I get old’, he sounded what was to become the clarion cry of the rising Baby-Boom teenager. The Who’s song ‘My Generation’ quickly established itself as the anthem for the Boomers. That was 1965.

Spool forward to the early 1990s, and we get a new generational anthem. Or possibly three. GenXers perhaps love(d) music more than their Boomer forebears. The first rallying call was Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Here the defining Xer script had nothing to do with being a Boomer Peter Pan, but rather saw the world as a tad more difficult:

Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial

If you had to pick one GenX anthem, this would probably be it. Being a contrary bunch, however, there would be many Nomads who would say there were two more representative anthems. Radiohead’s debut single, ‘Creep’ in 1992, which contained the immortal…

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.

Or, wait another year, and we get Beck and ‘Loser’…

Soy un perdedor
I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me?

So, why these songs in particular? Why not a song by Elvis Presley? Or Bob Dylan? Or The Sex Pistols? Or Patti Smith? Or (I’m joking) Coldplay? The answer is because popular music follows a half-generation cycle. This happens because musicians tend to be slightly older than their target listeners. In the first half of a cycle, you get members of one generation singing to youngsters from the next generation. Then, in the second half, you get members of the generation singing to younger members of their own generation. Its during this second half that we seem to get generation anthems. Only someone in the same generation truly understands what life is like for their peers.

Or maybe. If the theory is right, we should have had a Millennial anthem by now. Early Millennials had prospective anthems written by Nomads (Oasis, Wonderwall for example, or Blur and Song 2. Or Boys & Girls?), but they don’t count because the band members are all Nomads. An internet search for ‘Millennial anthem’ reveals little more than a depressing dearth of candidates. Rather, Millennials, when given the option to express their opinions, seem to opt for cheesy, upbeat songs from the Boomers. Hero generations aren’t typically characterized by their creativity of course, so maybe there’s the problem. If I had to pick something that fits the Millennial zeitgeist, I might be tempted to opt for Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’. She was a tad too old, though, and probably fell on the Nomad side of the generational cusp. Arctic Monkeys’ classic, ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ might do the job. If we were talking about albums as anthems, then maybe their debut is a candidate? Then, how about Taylor Swift (‘the GenY answer to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Kurt Cobain’ according to several music journalists)? Or Adele? Do any of their songs carry the hallmark lyrics of an anthem?

How about Taylor Swift’s, ‘Shake It Off’?

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off…

Or maybe, just maybe, we’re still waiting for Ed Sheeran to write it?
All we can be clear about, is the Millennials are running out of time. If they’re not careful, they’ll end up with (Baby-Boomers) Hall & Oates and ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ as ‘their’ legacy – as re-popularized in the film 500 Days Of Summer. And every other Millennial-targetting advert on the TV at the moment. And on that note, I’d say I’m only half joking.