Mono­cul­ture Club

Sharp - - GUIDE -

Re­mem­ber how the In­ter­net was sup­posed to kill the main­stream? Well, the main­stream won any­way — and it’s harder to avoid than ever

AST APRIL, WHEN BEY­ONCÉ sur­prise-dropped Le­mon­ade on a ran­dom Satur­day night, some­thing weird hap­pened: I lis­tened to it. All week­end long. Front to back. I even watched the ac­com­pa­ny­ing one-hour HBO movie; dove into the tsunami of think­pieces on it; trawled In­sta­gram for its dank­est memes; scoured fo­rums to find out who “Becky with the good hair” was.

LI wasn’t al­ways like this. Never be­fore did I find Queen Bey in­ter­est­ing enough (well, be­sides op­ti­cally) to sit through an en­tire record of hers. (Sorry Bey­hive.) My mu­si­cal in­cli­na­tions usu­ally tend to­wards the loud and the weird, not the ma­jor la­bel and the twerk-ready. But this was dif­fer­ent. Not only was I ready for that jelly, I was con­sumed whole by it. And the rea­son —aside from it be­ing an un­de­ni­ably pow­er­ful piece of art — was ob­vi­ous: I didn’t want to be Mon­day’s wa­ter cooler out­cast.

The mono­cul­ture — the force that once united mass au­di­ences around a gen­er­a­tion-defin­ing record (see: Thriller, Nev­er­mind) — has sup­pos­edly been dead for over a decade. The In­ter­net was said to de­stroy that ra­dio-mtv-record store con­sor­tium, balka­niz­ing the main­stream into a panoply of niche tastes, while giv­ing smaller artists a voice. And yet, 2016 has been the year of the Big Al­bum. A hand­ful of im­pos­si­ble-to-ig­nore releases have dom­i­nated the pop cul­tural dis­course, re­quir­ing us all to have Big Thoughts about them. It’s the op­po­site of the de­moc­ra­tized mu­si­cal land­scape the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion promised. Wel­come to The Mono­cul­ture 2.0.

Iron­i­cally, the In­ter­net may be to blame for this. It gave us more choices than we could han­dle — when ev­ery­thing’s avail­able, we feel over­whelmed and fall back on what’s fa­mil­iar (or be­ing re­lent­lessly hawked at us). So­cial me­dia takes the guess­work out of things; it tells you what’s driv­ing the di­a­logue, and com­pels you to keep it go­ing. Screw dis­cov­er­ing new Nordic drone folk bands. Kanye said what about Tay­lor? For bet­ter or worse, ev­ery­one’s hav­ing the same con­ver­sa­tion again. So you may as well keep up with it — as if you have a choice.

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