Why shouldn't I listen to fashwave
Review with music critic Jens BalzerPop and Politics 2017
Sascha Ziehn: If you look at the politics of 2017, you get a little dizzy. Over 12 percent of voters in Germany have elected a right-wing to right-wing radical party in the Bundestag, in Austria there are a few staunch Nazis in the government and there were and are disturbing reports about US President Donald Trump almost every day. How did that affect pop music? We want to talk about that in Corso Musikmagazin, with colleague Jens Balzer, good afternoon!
Jens Balzer: Hi good afternoon.
Pull: Perhaps let's take a look at the USA first, and as a refresh a year back to 2016, the year in which Donald Trump was elected US President. How did pop stars, musicians and artists react?
Balzer: Yes, that is actually quite interesting for comparison, because 2016 was an enormously politicized year. It actually started - some people may still remember the pictures - with this appearance by Kendrick Lamar at the Grammy Awards, where he stepped on stage as a member of a chain gang and the assembled white establishment of the music industry berated for it and hates his race, and has reflected back all the disgust he has seen throughout his career and biography. And then it went on. There was no telling that Donald Trump would even be a serious candidate for the presidency. But there was this "Black Lives Matter" movement and the rising racism in the US. And then there were really big records from Beyoncé and her sister, Solange Knowles, Run the Jewels and A Tribe Called Quest. So this whole year 2016 stood like a sign of a great rebellion, especially of Afro-American music, but also of many white pop stars, against what was looming on the horizon as a menetekel in the course of the year - namely the insane shift to the right in society.
No big political statements against Trump
Pull: And then, almost exactly a year ago, on January 20, 2017, Trump was inaugurated. How was Trump featured in US pop and rock music this year?
Balzer: Interestingly enough: He was already a topic, so of course there were many interviews with artists and many pop musicians who have positioned themselves against him. But if we compare that with 2016, then one has to say that there were actually no comparable big musical statements against Trump. Not even from people from whom one would have expected that. Kendrick Lamar made a very nice record called "DAMN." Which I think came out in April. But that's not an offensive political statement either, but rather a return to his own communal community roots, where he goes deep into himself and tries to collect his people. In a sense, this is more like a retreat into a safespace of your own community.
Quite similar with Jay-Z, who also recorded an album that didn't deal with politics at first, but rather with the attacks on his wife the year before.
Pull: The affair story.
Balzer: The affair story. So it is under the sign of atonement and repentance and he wants to be a good person again, apologizes to everyone. Then there is a play, "The Story of OJ", where he then deals in the broadest sense with the fact that racism in the USA is an endless story and all the emancipatory achievements that were believed to be safe under Trump were questioned again. There was also a very nice video where these racist attributions, from which one cannot escape even as an African American, were visualized in the style of old cartoons from the 30s. But even there the political perspective, if there was one at all, is rather resigned. So Jay-Z said: We have tried for so long now to live with the whites, to found a common society - we look at Trump, it just doesn't work. We have to withdraw. Why don't we do black Grammys? Why don't we do black Oscars? We just need a parallel society if it doesn't work in a multicultural society. Of course that's not a ... If it's a perspective at all, not a very productive perspective at first.
"You could see how much the mood had changed within a few weeks"
Pull: This Super Bowl appearance is always incredibly important. There was Beyoncé's in 2016 - very political. In 2017, Lady Gaga did this halftime show - a supporter of Hillary Clinton. What role did politics play in this appearance by Lady Gaga?
Balzer: A lot was expected, of course, because Beyoncé had set the bar so high with that Black Panther ballet the year before and Lady Gaga - you have already said - has always positioned herself clearly. And then there was a very strange, so not uninteresting appearance - but one where she played a greatest hits medley from her own work, with a few allusions that one could understand Trump-critical, but not had to. For example, she was playing "God Bless America" by Irving Berlin - Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant. The history of migration in the USA was cited or associated with it. And then there was a quote from "This Land is Your Land" by Woody Guthrie - also someone who, at the beginning of the political folk music tradition, celebrated the USA as the land of freedom, equality and the land of migrants.
Lady Gaga was only hinted at political at the Super Bowl (picture alliance / dpa / Patrick Semansky)
These were all quotes that could be read as little tips against Trump, but which could also easily be overlooked. And I had the feeling that it was more like someone smuggling a cashier into such a mass event, as if you were already in such a GDR-like censorship society - that is, in a dictatorship where you have to smuggle in all political allusions. So it was interesting, but also a ghostly performance because you could see how much the mood in the country had changed within a few weeks, in 3 months since the election, I think.
"Somehow there is a musical silence on the right-wing side"
Pull: What about the other side politically?
Balzer: Yeah, interesting.
Pull: Are there musicians in Trump's isolationist politics who openly celebrate this alt-right movement, from which his ex-advisor Stephen Bannon comes? Any arch-conservative, patriotic country singers, for example?
Balzer: No, strangely not. Or what do you mean, strangely enough ... There are already people like Kid Rock. In November, I believe, the album came out, which is then on the side of Trump voters as the trustee of White Trash or the honest, working white man from the Rust Belt. But there wasn't much positioning. You could see that in the difficulties Trump had in getting a reasonably usable line-up of musicians for his inauguration ceremony. Did he not make it then, especially compared to who had played at the Obamas the time before, that was more than pathetic. So there was a phenomenon called "Trumpwave", or "Fashwave". This is instrumental electronic music that, if you don't have any other iconography, you could play in any Gothic disco here in Germany without anyone noticing, the only iconographies and visual material celebrating National Socialism or Trump was enriched at the YouTube appearances. That was the most politically clear. But these are also underground phenomena of producers who appear anonymously - basically like these 4chan bloggers and trolls who created the mood for Trump in these obscure internet areas where you can't show your true face. But nobody who would stand on a stage or even a DJ who has great success with a mass audience - strangely enough, there was nothing. Somehow there is a musical silence on the right-wing side.
Pharrell Williams' "1000": "That's an amazing thing"
Pull: Now, shortly before the end of the year, a very clear statement appeared: the single "1000" by Pharrell Williams and Future. What is the content and background?
Balzer: Interestingly, that's the clearest political statement we've seen against Trump this year. This is coming from Pharrell Williams of all people, the "Happy" singer, the inventor of what is still the most successful Christmas party and company party hit in recent years. And with his band project N.E.R.D. after years again released a very nice record: "No One Ever Really Dies" is the name of it. And there is a single called "1000" with a very trendy young trap rapper named Future, which on the one hand is about Pharrell Williams really wanting to see a riot again and no longer follow the Trail of Tears wants, which the African-Americans have followed for too long - that is, accept everything and endure everything - but now it is time to get up again. While Future then raps classically about the fact that he has the greatest big cars and the most expensive jewels and the most beautiful women. There's an old-school politicization mash-up, so to speak. Interesting is the video, which was also really widely shared in the USA, on all social networks, on all channels you can imagine. Most of all, you see upright left-wing demonstrators beating up Nazis, tearing down Southern flags and burning them. You can see the incumbent president with swastika arms. And there is - which made me very happy as an old man and punk rock socialized man - a sample of the great old punk rock heroes Dead Kennedys, "Nazi Redneck Assholes Fuck Off!". It used to only be on underground radio and Pharrell Williams really washed it back into the mainstream. That's an amazing thing.
Pull: And of course we want to hear this amazing thing too - Jens Balzer, we'll talk about politics in German music in a moment - that's N.E.R.D .: "1000" in the Corso music magazine.
Pull: NERD. with "1000" - one of the few explicit political statements that 2017 produced in American music. How does it actually look in Germany? Has the music become more political, with Pegida marches and the arrival of the AfD in the Bundestag? Jens Balzer, found something that deals with it?
Undervalued: Joy Denalane and Casper's new albums
Balzer: Again, there isn't really a big, overwhelming, clear political record this year. I don't even know who it could have come from. I was very touched: At the beginning of the year there was a new record by Joy Denalane, Afro-German soul singer from Berlin, maybe known to older listeners from the band Freundeskreis. And she has recorded a new album, "Gleisdreieck", on which she deals, among other things, with how her life as Afro-Germans, as dark-skinned Germans, has changed in recent years and how this shift to the right that we have witnessed into them Capillaries of everyday life has penetrated - in other words, how the looks at her have become more and more strange in recent years and how it suddenly seems alienated in places where she grew up and where she is naturally at home and feels at home because the way white people look at colored skin has changed. A record that, I think, went under a bit, unfortunately, and also seemed a bit undervalued to me in the features section. Similar to Solange Knowles last year with "A Seat at a Table", one of the records that pick up on the political mood without converting it into activist slogans. Sometimes it is also important first of all to be clear about how things are really changing and how this affects our everyday life on a small scale.
Pull: That sounds more like a kind of observation, observation. Are there also combative approaches in the spirit of "cry for love" by the doctors or clay stones shards against this shift to the right?
Dancing against the apocalypse: Casper's new album "Lang lebe der Tod" is also a statement against the shift to the right in Germany (imago stock & people / Manngold)
Balzer: There was a record by Casper, the German rapper, which was also undervalued in the features section - he started as a rapper, then turned to rock that was almost Bruce Springsteen and has now recorded a Gothic-EBM-Hip-Hop record, "Lang live death ". And it's actually about the way his own depression connects with the country's depression. And it's specifically about the thought bubbles of AfD voters and angry citizens, about this miserable isolation from reality. It's about the fears of people who, for whatever reason, are always afraid of the wrong things, who are more afraid of a few refugees than of the impending climate collapse that really concerns us all. But everything is so suppressed. It's about the wish to flee from the world from all these "fucking Nazis", quote. But then the rave against the apocalypse is called again in this piece called "Don't be afraid". And there is also a video where young people dance excessively to this kind of Gothic-Rock-Disco-Emo-Core and you can already hear air sirens and the walls shaking and the chandelier above the dance floor falls down at some point , obviously because of an airplane attack.
Pull: Casper und Drangsal: "Don't be afraid", from the album "Es lebe der Tod" - another statement against this shift to the right that is taking place in Germany. We have now mainly talked about artists who tend to come from the left-wing scene. What about the other side - bands who play with right symbolism at least once or who use them openly? Fair game, for example, are they going to be the poster boys of the New Right and express themselves accordingly?
"With the alleged new 68ers of the German right, there is nothing at all"
Balzer: Neither. We spoke earlier about the strange silence on the part of the New Right in the United States. There is no soundtrack for the Alt Right in the US and there really isn't a soundtrack for the New Right in Germany either. You have already mentioned it: With a band like Freiwild, whose career over the past few years you have been able to follow exactly how these people, who feel as if they are left behind and then appear extremely aggressive, masculine-aggressive on the one hand, but then also themselves always feel like a victim ... Long before Pegida existed, you could already see Pegida's psychopathological disposition at fair game concerts. But at the moment when this becomes politically concrete, they are withdrawing and have never put themselves at the head of the movement. This applies to both fair game and the bad Onkelz, who could be imagined as an AfD or Pegida band. They all held back and nothing actually emerged from this new right.
There is a rapper from Halle an der Saale who is called a plot and makes identity rap, which is always played by these identities at the demonstrations. He then raps about these bad no-go areas for Germans that are everywhere, and for more monument protection, because all of our old monuments are falling into disrepair and the European culture is going down the drain. It all seems involuntarily funny if it weren't so serious in these contexts. But this is the best known from the New Right. And nobody outside of the scene knows him. So there is such a strange vacuum, which I find interesting, because especially in the feature pages in the last few months there has always been an attempt to write the new rights up to the new 68ers. So the cool political zeitgeist is no longer on the left side, but on the right side. But if it's actually the new '68, then it's the new '68 without music. So the old guys had Joan Baez and Neil Young and the Grateful Dead and in Germany, you mentioned clay stones or the doctors. But the alleged new 68ers of the German right, there is nothing there.
"One was insecure. The entire scene fought against Trump and he still won"
Pull: It all sounds to me as if it was a very big mess right now.
Pull: Nobody in pop music knows exactly where it could actually go in terms of content.
Balzer: Yes, like in the whole world.
Pull: There is this trench warfare, sideline. Is the music world just as overwhelmed as the political and social world?
Balzer: Yes, the music world is overwhelmed - interestingly, it was like that: Wherever the strongest political statements were made, it was always about someone being boycotted.So one should no longer play in Israel, one boycotts people who call to no longer play in Israel - an endless back and forth this year, also an enormous polarization. And you can see exactly how confusing the political situation has become, but oh how confusing the relationship between the musicians and their audience has become.
I have the feeling that there is a certain silence in the USA, not least because after this year 2016, after this rebellion of political emancipation, people were so unsettled. None of that helped either. The whole scene fought Trump and he won anyway. And I think you felt marginalized yourself in such a strange way that you have to think about it first. That's why this thoughtful album by Kendrick Lamar - how do we behave and actually politically and how do we even reach people who do not already agree with us? So: How do we get - a lot of intellectuals outside of the music scene have also thought about this - how do we get out of our bubble? And I think that's the state we are in right now. And in Germany, too, we are in the state that many, let's say, left-wing musicians first think about how to oppose this generally widespread Biedermeier mood in the hit parades, without even going back to the side of uncool, left old do-gooders. It's a difficult balancing act.
Pull: Jens Balzer - thank you very much.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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