Gen Z pop stars have made their mark in 2021. Beware, Millennial Ancestors.
On August 30, archetypal millennial Drake unveiled the cover art for his new album, “Certified Lover Boy”. Designed by British art provocateur Damien Hirst, it features 12 emoji women of varying skin tones, all pregnant, presumably by (emoji?) Drake.
Much like the cover of Drake’s 2016 album, “Views,” which showed him perched atop Toronto’s CN Tower, this image first elicited disbelief, a bit of recoil, then a torrent without. end of memes. Most memorable came from a former internet troll who over the past few years has grown into one of 35-year-old Drake’s musical peers: Lil Nas X.
22-year-old Lil Nas X tweeted viral just reverse the gender: 12 emoji men, all pregnant, presumably by (emoji) Lil Nas X. Still a savvy self-promoter, Lil Nas X captioned the tweet with a reference to “Montero”, his own upcoming album, which was only due come out only two weeks after Drake’s.
When it comes to album sales, Drake won this battle. Like just about everything he touches, “Certified Lover Boy” has grown into a cultural juggernaut, moving over half a million copies in its first week and spending consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 200 – meaning that when “Montero” came out, despite having a relatively strong performance, he debuted at No.2. In a recent GQ interview, Lil Nas X admitted that he was initially disappointed with this statistic. graphic before realizing, with amazement, “Drake is my idol”.
In less quantifiable terms, however, “Montero” recalled that a new type of star, younger and altogether less predictable, suddenly bit the heels of Drake – and his entire cohort. Their playful competition is testament to a dynamic that is increasingly noticeable this year: the growing generational gap between the old pop people and their heirs of Generation Z.
In recent years, at least within Music’s A-list, now 19-year-old Billie Eilish has been treated by Grammy voters and critics as the token of pop Zoomer, taking on the burden of represent his entire generation and all the changes he has brought about in the music industry. (Same she thinks she’s won too many Grammys.) But this year – on the Billboard charts, Grammy ballots, and year-end lists – a new front of Gen Z pop stars like Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo, Chloe Bailey, and Kid Laroi have emerged and achieved critical mass. To quote LCD Soundsystem, and therefore myself as a crisp old millennial, kids come in from behind.
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Some high profile pop mentors have actively aligned themselves with the new generation. Beyoncé has been championing R&B sibling duo Chloe x Halle since signing them to her label as a teenager in 2015, and so it felt like some sort of cosmic torch passing when Bailey’s sultry solo single, Today 23-year-old “Have Mercy” was released the same week Queen Bey turned 40. On the ubiquitous duo “Stay”, Justin Bieber, 27, played a sort of pop musical version of Will Smith’s clone thriller “Gemini Man” when he traded verses with his own young doppelgänger, the 18-year-old crooner at the mop, the Kid Laroi – who flaunts his precocity in his stage name.
Despite all of their stylistic differences, what these young artists have in common is that they all grew up on the Internet, which means that their history of admiring or even “quenching” the artists who are now their contemporaries is. well documented, always correct. a Google search (or at least a Wayback Machine). Lil Nas X was a member of Nicki Minaj’s Stan’s Awesome Army and the prolific poster behind the @NasMaraj Twitter account. 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo identifies as a “huge Swiftie” and considers her so-called “mum” Taylor Swift’s music so formative for hers that she interpolated the piano riff from Swift’s 2017 track “New Year’s Day “on” 1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back “, from her debut album,” Sour “.
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But as Lil Nas X and Rodrigo turned out to be not only one-hit wonders but formidable forces in the pop firmament, their relationship with their ancestors got a bit more complicated. Drake and Minaj both declined Nas’s invitations to participate in “Montero”. As a child of the internet’s open-source creative ethic, Rodrigo’s open tributes to his influences may also have had the opposite effect: Swift and members of the rock band Paramore were added as songwriters to their hits “Deja Vu” and “Good 4 U”, none of which nod to their songs as directly as “1 Step Forward”.
These results are perhaps not surprising: after all, these two beginning artists clash with some of the most powerful players in the industry. But they also represent something exciting – and, perhaps for some, threatening – new.
As a Disney star turned hitmaker, Rodrigo followed a markedly different – and truncated – path to maturity compared to the rocky road traveled by his 29-year-old ancestors Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato – who were all still signed. to the Hollywood Records label of the Disney Music Group when they were Rodrigo’s age. Although she will still appear in an upcoming third season of the show, her fame has since grown too great, “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series”, Rodrigo’s decision to release “Sour” on Geffen has given her certain lyrical and stylistic freedoms which allowed her to be more true to herself.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Oh, did you just swear to let people know you’re not a Disney kid anymore?’” She said in an interview with Variety earlier this week. year. “It’s really not a calculated decision in my head. It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a nervous kid now.’ I just tend to have a really dirty mouth, and I think that obviously reflects in my writing.
Lil Nas X, as an openly gay hip-hop artist working in a genre that during his lifetime was so one-dimensionally macho and heteronormative that it propagated the “no homo” mantra, has experienced a particularly radical rise. Understandably, the way he has come to center his sexuality in his music videos and award-winning performances has ruffled some of the old guard feathers, but he also embodies a younger generation known for his open-minded views on the genre. and sexual fluidity. As he said on The Breakfast Club in September, defending the playfully subversive images of the clips for “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and “Industry Baby,” “I want the clips to be entertaining. Like it or not, seeing men do different things than what men always do is a lot more fun.
As their ancestors evolve to maturity or descend to self-parody, I would agree. Rodrigo easily fitted into the empty space that Swift left when she started making less pop music with the albums “Folklore” and “Evermore”. (In a sense, too, she made a better Lorde album than Lorde this year.) And Lil Nas X is able to nimbly avoid her idols’ most awkward blind spots, like the odd about-face of Minaj in 2020 “bi, but now I’m just straight.” Say you’re a lesbian, girl, me too, “Drake lazily raps on” Girls Want Girls, “a” Certified Lover Boy “single that seems to both left and out of date, more reminiscent of the era of shameless baiting when Katy Perry kissed a girl than when Lil Nas X kissed a man at the BET Awards.
“I have a feeling this new generation of rappers who are coming in, and those who are here, are going to have to reshape their thoughts,” Lil Nas X told playwright Jeremy O. Harris in a recent interview, when asked about “blackouts. hypermasculines that have been happening in hip-hop lately. “
And to Generation X rocker Courtney Love’s questionable claim that Rodrigo plagiarized the cover of Hole’s “Live Through This” (which itself borrowed liberally from the 1976 film “Carrie”) in a publicity photo, Rodrigo was just as open-minded – so gently barbed wire. “I mean, to be honest, I’m flattered that Courtney Love knows who I am,” she told Variety. “She’s from a whole different generation, so I thought that was cool.”