Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dear Pop Divas: The Future Called, and It’s Not Gonna Be As Sexy As You Think



We were discussing with some friends the other night whether the 1970s would ever truly make a comeback in the same way that the 1960s, or even the 1990s, have. While the midi skirt will probably never enjoy a proper renaissance, it is clear that one vestige of the decade--Afrofuturism--has made something of a return thanks in large part to hip hop divas like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce's so-called alter ego Sasha Fierce.

Equal parts science-fiction, psychedelic style, and extraterrestrial attitude, Afrofuturism was a politically-inflected movement that explored the past and the future of people of color through art, music, poetry and literature by the likes of George Clinton, Sun Ra and Octavia Butler. More recently, musicians like Kool Keith, Outkast and even Kanye have dabbled in its remnants, as has P. Diddy-bankrolled gender-bender Janelle Monáe (whose album The Archandroid summons the movement in both form and substance).

But Afrofuturism's 21st century resurgence has been most prominently led by pop music's fairer sex, and the revival leaves much to be desired--mostly in the form of politics, sincerity and depth. This is not to say that we are not down with Rihanna's riff on Mad Max, or that Nicki Minja’s rainbow-dipped wig doesn’t have a certain amount of charm. It’s just that, back in the day, Afrofuturism was too freaky, too funked up, and far too far out to ever pass as pop. In dreaming up inter-planetary revelry, the movement's innovators (like its contemporary imitators) had a taste for utopian fantasy, irreverence and play, but their romanticism was never entirely divorced from the harsh realities of the real world, or the fucked up dystopia that it could ultimately fund. Today's future perfect divas don't seem all that interested in exploring whether the future will be just, only that it will be sexy (and that they will be 'the only women in it,' as Rihanna's thoroughly paranoid version suggests). But with large populations of birds inexplicably falling dead from the sky, a perpetual war in the Middle East, and the after-image of 40,000 tons of oil spilling into our rising oceans, we have to wonder just how sexy the future will truly be?

5 comments:

P U R P L E - D E E R said...

Sad really. Angela Davis would put all these girls to shame.

T.Allen-Mercado said...

word.

i'm glad i was present for the first go 'round.

Desiree said...

Give Nicki some credit. Her fantasy is a little more in touch with reality. I like the way she chains up one of her personalities in the Monster video. But there's something a bit insincere about Rihanna...

Between Laundry Days said...

Yes. I think you're totally on with this, for the most part. The one nagging thing I keep thinking of is that, what if, in embodying the 70s Afrofuturism vibes, vixens like Beyonce and Rihanna are claiming that too funked, outside of the mainstream movement and making it more visual and central than it was then? Claiming that certain successes have, in fact, been made, in the form of strong black women IN the mainstream, as public figures.

Note: I'm not saying that I totally believe this, myself. But it's something worth thinking about, I think. There's no clearcut line for what makes a movement "real" or what makes a style or era "meaningful", and it's definitely a dialogue worth exploring.

Wonderful post.

Huzzah! Vintage said...

I'm so daft. It just occurred to me that Nicki Minaj's last name is also a TOTALLY sexified allusion to a threesome. Seems like her actual surname ('Maraj') has way cooler futuristic connotations....