Ok, let me preface this by saying that pretty much 100% of all my friends and family agree that I have the worst taste in music they have ever come across. And to that I say “fuck all y’all”. Did I not just KILL the barbacoa recipe? Yes? Was the chipotle reduction not to fucking die for? Yes?
Well shut the hell up then. You eat the food and I pick the music.
I remember having this discussion with a group of expats in a bar in China (god, those lovely days before kids!) and we had some lively disagreements but nothing like the explosion that followed my assertion of the BEST ARTIST of the noughts.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Every generation, every decade has a musical artist who simply defines the times. The sine qua non of the zeitgeist. The fifties was an exciting time in music with the emergence of rock’n’roll and there were some truly great artists: Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Etta James – the times were kicking and alive with truly great music.
But there is one artist who just IS the 50’s.
Elvis Presley. The King. The man with the pelvis. The rhinestone captain of the drumbeat and bass.
Elvis shocked the American nation out of a complacency they didn’t even know they were in. He was raunchy and sexy and bold and just so, so manly. Elvis heralds the beginning of the sexual revolution and women flocked to him and screamed for him and fainted at his feet.
Elvis was a god.
Then the 60’s came along, and once again, there are a plethora of musicians that spun out webs of gold made of guitar strings: Bob Dylan, the BeachBoys, MOTOWN! Jesus. It was a time of invention and exploration and the inclusion of a variety of artists who had heretofore been silenced.
But once again, one band emerged to define the 60’s.
You thought the ladies went nuts for Elvis? He had nothing on John, Paul, Ringo and George. They were the panty creamers of Homer’s dreams.
The Beatles were worrisome to the pearl clutching brigade because they were so squidgy with their long hair and casual sex and druggie habits. If Elvis put women’s sexual desire on the map, the Beatles were the architects of how to exploit that desire, and use it to advantage. Men’s advantage, of course.
Then came the 70’s, and suddenly the world was lost in a chaos of free spirits and sexual liberation and hell yeah! The birth control pill! Pink Floyd decided “we don’t need no education” and Led Zepplin thought the key to happiness was to stagger in a haze of LSD up the stairway to heaven. It was all about flower power and freedom and oh, yeah, being complete and total assholes to war vets.
Unexpectedly, women had freedom, even if it wasn’t coupled with any particular power, as of yet. And men started responding to that, and one band in particular emerged with a considered contempt for women and a disdain for sluts and easy access to what had previously been rarified takings.
The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger, that scrawny ugly little fuck was suddenly every woman’s wet dream. Yech! And Mick’s response to that seemed to be a hearty “fuck yeah, I’ll take it, but what the hell is wrong with you whores”? He grabbed all the pussy he could, all the while reminding women he had no plans to be anyone’s “beast of burden”.
Women started going to college in droves. The pill liberated them from the work of raising the next generation and they suddenly thought if the uterus was somehow erased, then it must be that a cock and balls had replaced it, so it was full speed ahead competing with men.
Then we get to the 80s and what the fuck? The 80s are a complete mess. Duran Duran? Men in make-up and flouncy shirts with bouncy hair and pouty lips. “Come and fuck us, ladies, we’re harmless”. On the other side was a caricature of edgy masculinity, personified by David Lee Roth and Bon Jovi and Steve Tyler (all great musicians, by the way), but still with ridiculous spandex pants and flouncy hair.
For me, the band that captured the 80s was U2. In The Name of Love.
There was no real critical response to U2. They were good. They thought war was bad (who likes it?). They were against child abuse (who is for it?), they were socially aware and earnest and likeable and didn’t wear make-up. They were men on edge, but still at home in the world.
The only musician (and I use the word generously) who got any real attention during the 80s was Madonna. Writhing around on the stage in a wedding dress proclaiming to remember what it felt like to be a virgin.
Madonna is the harbinger of what is to come. She parades a comical, slutty persona that encourages women to use their sexuality as a tool for commercial gain. We’re in this to win, ladies! True blue, baby, I love you. As long as by “you” you mean “me”. Madonna is the first real blatant expression of women’s narcissism. This is now going to be all about me and fuck everyone else. Selfishness as a moral victory.
And of course, there is a predictable response to that:
Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. They’re grungy and angry and disillusioned and anti-social. There’s nothing on top but a bucket a mop and an illustrated books about birds. See a lot up there but don’t be scared. Who needs actions when you’ve got words?
He’s not dumb, but he can pretend. Here we are now! Entertain us! I feel stupid! And contagious!
Nirvana was absolutely perfect for that first generation of children chucked under the bus of women’s personal fulfilment. They’re angry and disillusioned and furious and ultimately just so sad and confused. What happened? Ladies happened, Kurt. And you kids? Get out of our way! Be grateful we didn’t abort you!
Now here is where we get to the “everybody freak the fuck out” part of my critique.
Who follows Madonna and the innocuous U2 and angry Kurt who shot himself in the head rather than face another minute of life?
Two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside.
Yep. Eminem. Marshall Mathers himself. Marshall is poor white trash, competing in a black man’s game, hating his mom, his wife, his life – but loving his daughter and determined to make something of himself, even if every force in the world is against him.
An aside for those of you who don’t like rap music because of its cultural insensitivity and misogyny – if you give Elvis and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones a PASS on those fronts, then I’m pretty sure you’re just a giant fucking racist who has no taste and no capacity to appreciate the future when it kicks you in the face.
Eminem responds to the broader culture with anger and defiance and a stalwart refusal to give in, and for all those reasons, I admire him enormously. My favourite Eminem song is full of threats and rebelliousness and he chokes his girlfriend and then decides to let her live and kills himself instead and it’s a fucking beautiful love song that moves me to tears.
More Iraq war vets have died from suicide than died on the battlefield. It makes me fucking weep.
Eminem captures the anger of young men so beautifully, so perfectly. He is the voice of an entire generation of children raised by single mothers in poverty, struggling to find a place in the world.
See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong
Bitch do your song – keep telling yourself that you was a mom!
But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get
You selfish bitch; I hope you fucking burn in hell for this shit
Remember when Ronnie died and you said you wished it was me?
Well guess what, I am dead – dead to you as can be!
Who follows Eminem?
I’m not sure yet. Personally, I vote for ROBYN! God, I love Robyn. She’s the bomb dickie bomb dickie bomb dickie bomb! She’s indestructible. And she knows that the only way she is indestructible is to love. To love a man. Completely. Once you do that, there is nothing in life you cannot face.
I’m a space-bound rocketship and your heart’s the moon
And I’m aiming right at you
Right at you
250, 000 miles on a clear night in June
And I’m aiming right at you
Right at you
Right at you
You need some Eminem. Tonight. And a little Robyn, too.
Lots of love,