It was ten years ago this September that a bunch of Wall Street scumbags pushed the world economy to brink of collapse with their goofy collateralized debt obligations, credit swaps, and derivative trades that no one understood. And while we’ve largely recovered from that–Hey! Why didn’t anyone go to jail for this?–the scars are still pretty ugly.
Culture is always downstream from society, reflecting and chronicling everything that happens to us. That includes music. So how did music respond to the economic collapse ten years ago? Not so well, really.
Read this from Vox.
After the pain of the ’08 crash, the nation experienced an economic recovery that shifted a massive amount of income from the poor and middle class to the very rich. The big banks got bigger; huge bonuses returned. Just two years after the crash, the nation’s Gini coefficient, the standard measure of wealth distribution, was at 46.9, making the US among the most unequal of modern democracies.
We can call the past 10 years the decade of inequality. So what, then, does the music of inequality sound like?
Part of the paradox here is simply that monetary wealth gives musicians — at least, the tiny minority experiencing material bounty — something to sing about.
Musicians are not unique here: In the years since the Reagan administration, a reveling in what used to be called heartless materialism has become de rigueur. (The shift in personal style from an old-school rich man like Warren Buffett, who made his early fortune in the 1950s, to Donald Trump, a product of the gilded ’80s, is hard to miss.)
Artists singing about how much wealth they had accrued fit cleanly into a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous culture. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Marvin Gaye were filthy rich, but it’s hard to imagine them crooning about their money and mansions. Nor can we imagine Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, or Liz Phair posing in a bath of diamonds, as Taylor Swift does in the 2017 video for “Look What You Made Me Do.”
Many of the songs about luxurious possessions and lavish lifestyles — the sonic equivalent of Keeping Up With the Kardashians — are the descendants of “Mo Money Mo Problems,” the 1997 Notorious B.I.G. song. But in many cases, there seem to be no serious problems besides having too many women or possessions to choose from.