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I had never heard the disco cover of Bonnie Pointer’s “Heaven Must Have Sent You” before the pandemic.
That’s so many songs crammed into seven minutes and 14 seconds. Bells that ring as if they’ve been stolen from a Christmas carol give way to twirling violins and a bass guitar that vibrates around a drum beating faster than a heartbeat. Bonnie’s voice (who you may know from the group she formed with her sisters in the ’70s, the Pointer Sisters) starts out as a dreamy whisper and at the end melts into a Louis Armstrong grater.
The 1979 hit has become the song I listen to at the gym, on my walks to the grocery store and on the subway. It’s one of those invaluable touchstones that got me through the pandemic and made the world a little less gloomy. And now it’s my favorite song – one that I almost completely missed hearing.
This came to me thanks to a recommendation from a friend of mine, after listening to the episode “Disco Demolition Night” of the You are wrong Podcast. (After “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” you should listen to that as well.) In it, hosts Michael Hobbes and Sarah Marshall explore the late ’70s and early’ 80s versus disco, which in many ways , was an attack on the black and queer communities that created and adopted him. The joy inherent in the genre felt like an assault on serious rock and roll sensibilities, just like the people who liked it. Growing up, I remember being told that disco was just a fad and people who attended should be embarrassed. Now he is being reconsidered as an influential and powerful force that absolutely changed music, paving the way for the electronic dance music we listen to today.
Finding “Heaven” has reconfigured my way of thinking about fashions, trends, follies – however you want to refer to it. The very definition of a fashion is something that, while popular now, won’t be for very long. We tend to treat people who love fashions as victims of suspicious tastes who follow the herd without thinking. And following this herd, this bad herd, is supposed to be embarrassing. Shame is what keeps us in line.
But if the American mainstream got so wrong about disco for so many years, I started to wonder, what did people avoid or dismiss as insignificant because they didn’t think it was? would they like it or don’t really care people who like it?
Thanks in large part to women, BIPOC, homosexuals and young people – the groups of people whose tastes have been at best ignored and at worst disparaged – it has become more difficult to dismiss these tastes as trends or fads. These groups called for a reexamination of culture, food, art, and music that critics, who were largely older white males, so easily dismissed or ignored.
There is also another factor at play.
One of the many strange and unintended consequences of the pandemic is that I appreciate joy in all its forms more. Being surrounded by unhappiness and sadness, and perhaps dealing with my own mortality, has made me a little more shameless about the music, movies, activities, and food that I enjoy. Who has time to worry about someone laughing at your taste for music or joining the masses if neither they nor you are sure to be here tomorrow?
It sounds awfully dark and probably says a lot about my own self-awareness. I’m just sorry it took a pandemic to find out that worrying isn’t worth it.
Fads and backlashes tend to go hand in hand. We wouldn’t call them “fashions” if they were universally popular; they would be called “timeless” or “classic”. Instead, they’re referred to as tendencies, follies, obsessions, even guilty pleasures – the implication being that there is something inherently shameful about their temporary nature. People who love fashions are people who don’t yet realize the shame.
Teenage girls are a good example. Their tastes, of dusk, Taylor Swift, and the Beatles to fashion and beauty trends, were deemed trivial at best and disposable at worst. Likewise, the dismissive term “mom porn” has often been used to describe the novel’s growing popularity. Fifty shades of Grey in 2011 (herself a dusk fanfic) and his next filmincarnation in 2015 – and felt as much a blow against the source material as against the audience that consumed it. Heaven forbid moms to experience arousal.
It’s not hard to find the same types of discussion threads when fads like comics, group fitness, sneaker culture, and K-Pop popped up, with some speculating that only a certain community of people loved them and that craze would quickly fade away.
However, the fatigue that we anticipated has not yet started. The sneaker culture is financially vital for brands like Nike and Adidas, and now Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga too. And not knowing who BTS and Blackpink are is impossible, without living under a rock.
If fashions get big enough or there is enough money to be made, the mainstream culture embraces them, usually reluctantly, while excluding the integral elements of that fad.
Take TikTok. In its debut in 2019 and even in 2020, the social network was written as if it was a passing fad popularized by Gen Z. Seemingly overnight, TikTok dances went from flash moments to events. cultural. Last month, the platform announced that it had more than 1 billion users, a base mostly fueled by teenagers.
With massive attention and popularity, the white creators of TikTok can now be highly paid celebrities. This has not been the case for everyone: Black creators, many of whom are behind popular dances and other content, have not had the same opportunities, which has led black creators to boycott the platform in June.
The dominant culture model neglecting the people who started the trend or the fashion is not so surprising when you consider that gatekeepers, taste makers, and critics tend to bias whites and men. But social media and the internet have leveled the playing field by giving people – young people, people of color, women, LGBTQ people – a place to come together and have their voices heard.
“As black people we have always been aware that we have been excluded and altered. Even in the spaces that we have managed to create for ourselves – whether in music, fashion, language or dance – non-Blacks continually infiltrate and occupy these spaces without any respect for the architects who built them, ”Erick Louis, a dancer and TikToker, said Vox last June.
Social media has made it easier for people like Louis to call out and criticize appropriation or injustice. This has made critics more aware of their own biases and blind spots. This is a positive result.
It also tastes galvanized.
The internet makes the line between fashions and mainstream culture incredibly thin. Even the niche corners of the pop culture landscape feel five seconds away from being swept away by the masses. A fashion is adopted so quickly that it is almost futile to fight it; By the time an enemy hears about it, chances are there are millions of fans.
Something strange is happening: People you might think were chic and hip are falling into fashion, drinking the popular drink that’s all over Instagram, reading a novel from a promoted celebrity in their book club, or wearing this overpriced shoe everyone has – and the folks you thought was dorky can now be pioneering, pioneering viral recipes from their mother’s kitchens on TikTok. Everything is weird right now, and even I, who could laugh if a friend of mine ordered an espresso martini, I understand that.
It shows how much the pandemic has been able to change us all. It made people a little more serious about what they like and gave them a little more slack. Given the litany of disappointments over the past year and a half, we’re entitled to a bit of this.
During the pandemic, as I watched friends become plant fathers, knitters, bakers, and cat moms, I began to realize that these fashions and trends were bridges to human bonds, allowing us to build communities that we might not otherwise have. Granted, some of these hobbies are much more permanent and involve more commitment than others (for example, making Dalgona Photogenic Coffee is a lot less investment than having a pet), but the result is final is the same. There is a second level of fun unlocked by joining and participating in a community.
It makes sense that when the pandemic severed much of our personal ties, people turned to fads and follies to create new ones. They did it with less self-inflicted embarrassment.
Whether our fad propensity continues in a post-pandemic world (if there is one) is really guessing. Maybe we’ll come to a place where we can be absolutely cynical about a fad. I’m not a trend forecaster or some diviner. I would also swap every mode I participated in to get the before time world back. But the pandemic has really changed the way I – and a lot of people in my life – have sought joy.
It made me realize, more than ever, that it’s not permanent. That’s why I found myself seeing what everyone is chasing and joining in this hunt. If people said that Peloton or a weird coffee or feta made them happy, I would give it a try.
Fashions won’t delight you every time; joy is not guaranteed. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, they can help you get your bearings.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior cultural journalist for Vox.