New Series--Pop Culture Monday

I have been meaning for some time to talk about things other than religion on this blog, but it seems like I can never quite get around to doing it.  So, I am going to try out a new series called "Pop Culture Mondays."  This will be a series of short or medium-size musings on something in the broader culture that interested me over the course of the week.  We'll see how it goes.


According to the Billboard Charts, the Number 1 R&B/Hip-Hop song in the U.S. this week belongs to the woman shown at the left.  She goes by the name Iggy Azalea, and she is a 24 year old originally from Australia.

Her song "Fancy" is clearly a big hit--it was Number 1 last week on the overall Billboard Chart.  It is one of those classic "earworm" songs, in that it is incredibly catchy and sticks in your head whether or not you want it to do so.  For earworm songs, a discussion of whether the song is "good" or "bad" is somewhat beside the point--it accomplishes what it intends to accomplish, which is to make you remember it.  I find much of Lady Gaga's music to fall into this category.

I have no problem with music of this type--I'm not someone who thinks music has to be "serious" or "deep."  Listening to music is supposed to be fun, and this song is fun.  See for yourself.

And I am not surprised in the slightest that "Fancy" was Number 1 on the overall Billboard Chart last week--this kind of pop music song is designed for that purpose.

I do find it interesting that it is Number 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Chart.

I will not claim to be a serious student of Hip-Hop music, so it is possible what I am about to say is very ignorant.  But ever since I have been aware of Hip-Hop, which pretty much dates to the early '90s, I have perceived Hip-Hop music as dangerous.  Not literally dangerous--I don't believe that NWA's songs actually resulted in the death of police officers--but artistically dangerous.  '90s West Coast gangsta rap was telling a story about a world that most people didn't know existed, and probably preferred not to know about.  Jay Z told the story of his own unique version of the American dream--taking the business skills he learned selling drugs and parlaying them into vast success in music and fashion.  (My favorite Jay Z lyric is on Kanye West's "Diamonds from Sierra Leone"--"I sold kilos of coke/I can sell CDs/I'm not a businessman/I'm a business, man/Let me handle my business, damn.")  Eminem talked about how legitimately rough it is to be part of the white underclass, and how no one is really supposed to talk about the fact that the trailer park is not all that different from Compton.  Even the late '90s/early '00s "bling-bling" rappers were a little dangerous, in the sense that black folks driving Maybachs represented a kind of wish-fulfillment that had previously not been really possible.

I can't really see what is dangerous about "Fancy."  Azalea raps about how awesome she is, how she is about to blow up and become huge (which proved prophetic), how the ubiquitous yet undefined "haters" need to back off, etc.  This is all well-worn ground, probably even cliched at this point.  Someone like Ke$ha has covered much of the same ground.

The rest of her stuff is equally un-dangerous.  Azalea likes to talk about how good she is at sex and how desirable that makes her, but I have a hard time seeing that as dangerous anymore.  I mean, it's been 30 years since Madonna came on the scene. Plus, perhaps more importantly, its been 20 years since Lil' Kim first showed up and said all of the stuff Azalea's is saying, times 100. That was dangerous music.  Lil' Kim always came across as some kind of terrifying and yet alluring force of nature--the embodiment of everything a Mom warned her son about in a woman.  Azalea is a choir girl compared to Lil' Kim.  

This is all the more interesting when country music, especially country music made by women, seems to be going in the opposite direction.  Middle '90s female country music was Shania Twain and Faith Hill--sunny, positive, maybe a wee bit of "girl power" but nothing that would offended anyone but the convicted misogynist.  Miranda Lambert writes about killing no-good husbands/boyfriends all the time.  Even Carrie Underwood, the clear heir to Shania/Faith, has songs like "Two Black Cadillacs," where the wife and the mistress team up to, apparently, knock off their mutual lover.  That's pretty edgy for America's Girl Next Door.  Kasey Musgrave writes about how judgmental and crappy small town traditional culture is.  That might not be dangerous in New York City, but it's plenty radical in the places her intended audience lives.

None of this is a criticism of Azalea, or of hip-hop.  I see no inherent reason why hip-hop must be dangerous, and given how much hip-hop has become integrated in mainstream culture--for all races--it was probably inevitable that it would become less dangerous over time.  But it seems to me that the success of "Fancy" is a sign that hip-hop music has changed in the last 20 years.  It's not so scary anymore.


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