It was widely reported last summer that popular music in the UK is getting slower, taking a dip in beats per minute (around 20 % since 2012) as people around the country channelled their inner emo in light of the increasingly crazy world we live in.
When the story broke in August, songwriter Bonnie McKee was widely quoted as attributing this cultural shift to the current socio-political mess we inhabit.
‘When you think about the financial crisis of 2008, there was a lot more up-tempo stuff… In a crisis like that, people want to forget their problems…the socio-political climate got darker, people just weren’t in the mood to hear some upbeat bop’
- Bonnie McKee
But things have always been bad, haven’t they? Pinning the need for sedate music on ‘turbulent times’ seems too simplistic. What could the actual reason be behind the slowing down of youth culture’s soundtrack?
Chasing Euphoria – through sedation, not stimulation
It’s not just pop music that has slowed down in 2018 – the interweaving of pop and hip hop into dance music has seen it take a downtempo shift too. Artists like Migos, Young Thug & Future in particular have captured the interest of mainstream DJs and dance fans with a new, woozy kind of music that sets slurred lyrics against lethargic but heavy hitting beats - disparagingly labelled by some sectors as ‘Mumble Rap’.
The emergence of this style of rap has been closely linked to the proliferation of lean or ‘purple drank’ (a cocktail of sprite and prescription-strength cough syrup) in the modern US rap scene. Consumption of ‘purple drank’ is about sedation and chasing pure feelings of euphoria. Mumble rap too, in its sound and its lyrical delivery, is arguably more about feeling than anything else. It’s like Hip Hop expressionism. Its detractors call it lazy, but is it really as simple as that?
Adam de Paor-Evans’ piece for The Conversation on the origins of the genre offers us a potential explanation that can also be applied to the question of the deceleration of music in general.
‘Daily life is fuelled by widespread consumption – of both products and images...saturated social media bite-sized communication…Mumble rap is a negotiation that offers relief from the invisible acceleration of life’
- Adam de Paor-Evans
When faced with an information overload, our physical experience slows down in a bid to absorb all of it. Mumble Rap, and slow music in general, can be seen as something of a cultural response to this. And it extends beyond music, ‘language flexes in real-time to accommodate our decreased patience for print and the long form’.
The age of information overload has prompted its youth to seek out simpler, more authentic modes of communication. Artists like Young Thug are contributing to an emotive evolution of language through their music. He bypasses conventional lyrical delivery to convey a feeling through his expressive style. That feeling, whether he's saying any real words at all, becomes the meaning for the listener. It's a different form of expression, no less potent (for it's fans at least) than the lyrical flow of early rap pioneers.
As Wired reported back in 2015, his songs are 'instantaneous, intimate flashes into what it feels like to be Young Thug, made for a generation of listeners constantly looking for rapid authentic connection.'
5 learnings from the mumble rap that you can use to help make your brand mean something to young people.
Today's youth have been increasingly cornered into seeking out instantaneous, emotive and authentic communication by the vast weight of information they confront every day. Don’t be afraid to turn on the feels.
Simplicity can be a powerful communications tool.
The trend towards more simplistic communication, whether visual or aural, has become a divining rod to help navigate the murky info swamp. A way to hone in on meaning. Looking to non-traditional delivery of brand messages and CTAs could be the way in to a youth market looking for new forms of expression.
Today’s youth needs our empathy, not our apathy.
We need to avoid denouncing what on the surface seems unintelligible, simply because of a lack of shared experience. Embrace your inner social anthropologist and try to dive into the context that drives the continuous evolution of youth culture.
Relevancy is a must, not a nice to have.
When marketing to young people, we need to be weary of generational nuance. The info storm is only getting stronger, and the effects felt more acutely by those that have known nothing else. As tech pushes cultural evolution into hyper drive, don’t let your brand get stranded on the wrong side of the ‘relevancy’ divide.
Music still has emotive power, but do we need to think about new ways to use it in our advertising?
We all know the power music has in advertising - so often, it’s the emotive hook that people latch onto. It can dictate how we feel about a piece of creative faster and more unequivocally than visual content. In a world of information overload, do we need to think about stripping back communications, using music with as little, traditional ‘information’ as possible?