I know some young adults in NYC who are crazy about “tough mudding.” So when I got this email I really wanted to pass it along. It definitely has the Millennial thematic going for it—raising money for wounded veterans and showcasing teamwork and party-style challenge rather than finishing first and doing whatever it takes to win. Yet it also shows plenty of Xer overtones, including the whole super-tough, warriors-never-show-fear line. (Note: I did see one mudder in one video below holding a sign, “It’s OK to Cry.”) I think the video, below, nicely balances these Millennial and Xer notes.
He’s certainly correct that you won’t meet here any Boomer-like young people trying to teach the world to sing.
Anyway, here is Andrew’s brief testimonial:
I’m a 27 year old first wave Millennial (1984) and a recent fan of yours.
I discovered Generations last year, and I’ve been slowly working my way through the generational history, trying to apply it to my experiences. I was having mixed feelings about the theory’s validity for my generation, particularly the questions of what it means for my generation if the latest crisis has already arrived (early) and whether my generation really values team work as you and William predicted.
Those doubts were lifted this past weekend, when I attended the latest Tough Mudder challenge in New Jersey.
If you are unfamiliar with Tough Mudder, take a look at their website. This year, 500,000 people (mostly Millenials) gathered to partake in physical challenges all based around the theme of teamwork. Here is their pledge, which they repeat in unison, military style before the challenge begins:
I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge.
I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time.
I do not whine – kids whine.
I help my fellow Mudders complete the course.
I overcome all fears. —Tough Mudder Pledge
It got me thinking: Half a million (mostly) young people, from a single generation gathered in a field, covered in mud. Woodstock? The parallels are amazing. Except instead of self-expression and spiritualism, my generation values teamwork and physical prowess.
Just thought I would share my experience with you.
BBC news home editor Mark Easton writes: “Adolescents are increasingly turning their noses up at drugs, booze and fags, with consumption by young people the lowest at almost any time since we started measuring these things.” He cites data from the Home Office and the National Health Service showing large declines over the last fifteen or twenty years in the share of young British teens who use illicit drugs, smoke cigarettes, or regularly drink alcohol. Easton also notes that the number of “juvenile delinquents” (youths with a criminal record) has fallen by half in England and Wales since 2001.
Boomer and Xer parents, who now do most of the drinking and misbehaving, wonder why “teenagers no longer seem to define themselves by wild disobedience.” Maybe, he suggests, today’s teens think it’s just so stupid to do what their parents did. Here’s a nice line by Easton: “Could it be that teenage rebellion needs to look different to what your mum and dad did? Smoking, boozing, dropping pills and hooliganism – that’s so Generation X.” Note also his surprise that so many kids showed up with parents to watch a Beach Boys concert
Yes, there is a European Millennial Generation. Teens in the UK and throughout much of Europe are today showing many of the same behavioral and attitudinal trends—a strong movement away from personal risk taking and toward family—that teens in America showed a decade ago. So why is it happening a decade later in Europe? We actually addressed that question at some length way back in 2000 in our book Millennials Rising (see pp. 291-293). In surveying teens abroad back then, we pointed out that many feature stories on European youth were not showing any of the same trends that we noticed here at home. We actually quoted a 1998 British study of a so-called English “Millennial Generation,” which found youths between the ages of 16 and 21 to be cynical and risk taking, much more interested in leaving home and starting their own businesses than in being with their family or helping their community.
The explanation, we posited, was that most European recent generations are dated 5 to 10 years later than their American counterparts due to the later end of the World War II crisis in Europe. That’s why their baby boom came later; their “sixties” sex-drugs-divorce-crime waves came later; their deregulatory and tax-cut wave came later (more around the fall of the USSR than back in the early ‘80s with Reagan); and—what’s most relevant here–why their rediscovery of family and moral panic over children came later. As we wrote in 2000 (italics in the original): “Abroad, the leading edge of a new Millennial generation, in most countries, probably has not yet reached its teens.” Today, perhaps, they are just reaching their early 20s.
My son has just turned 13 and I made him a card to mark the moment he became a teenager. I put a picture of him as a choir-boy next to a Photoshopped shot of him as a saggy-trousered gangsta rapper – the innocent child mutating into a growling ball of rebellious fury. But a series of recent official statistics are making me question whether the old joke is true any more.
Teenage rebels are not what they were.
Adolescents are increasingly turning their noses up at drugs, booze and fags, with consumption by young people the lowest at almost any time since we started measuring these things.
Drugs: Last week, the Home Office published analysis which suggests the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds that have ever taken illicit drugs has fallen from 54% in 1998 to 38% now. Among 11- to 15-year-olds the figure has fallen from 29% to 17% in a decade.
Tobacco: Last month, NHS analysis suggested the proportion of English 16- to 19-year-olds who have never smoked has risen from about two-thirds in 1998 to three-quarters now. And the data is just as striking among their younger brothers and sisters. In 1982 most 11- to 15-year-olds (53%) had had a sneaky cigarette at one time or another. Today, just a quarter has ever spluttered over a fag behind the bike sheds.
Alcohol: It is a similar story with booze. In 1998, 71% of 16- to 24-year-olds questioned said they’d had a drink that week. Today it is 48% – far lower than their parents (about 70%). Among 11- to 15-year-olds there are similar big falls. A decade ago, 26% reported they’d had alcohol in the previous week. Now the data suggests the figure is 13%.
So what is going on? When it comes to smoking and drinking and taking drugs, British teenagers are behaving better than their parents.
That’s not to say there are not still real challenges, of course. But the trends are encouraging enough to question whether the archetypal teen is evolving.
The concept of adolescence goes back to the 1900s and the American psychologist G Stanley Hall, who argued that the biological changes associated with puberty drove problematic behaviour. He described it as a period of “storm and stress” when young people demanded freedom but needed discipline.
The theory was embraced in 1950s Britain, where the establishment had become seriously concerned about the threat from rebellious youth. Along with exotic clothes and loud music, a new word had crossed the Atlantic – teenager. It was a term that inspired the development of a new economically independent sub-culture, simultaneously exciting and terrifying.
Over the next four decades, teddy boys, bikers, mods, rockers, hippies, punks, ravers and grungers put two pubescent fingers up at authority in their own fashion and took delight in watching the staid grown-ups flinch and frown.
Today, though, where are the rebellious sub-cultures?
No-one is suggesting that young people don’t misbehave, but teenagers no longer seem to define themselves by wild disobedience. If anything, we are in the middle of a period of increasingly good behaviour.
A simple measure of “juvenile delinquency” is the number of youngsters who enter the criminal justice system as a result of a police reprimand or conviction. The figure for England and Wales has halved in 10 years – from about 90,000 in 2001 to 45,000 young people in 2011.
There are going to do be many factors that contribute to this trend. Those people working in schools and youth services will argue that their work on smoking, alcohol and drugs is the reason all the arrows are pointing the right way.
The police, probation and social services may claim that they have been responsible for improvements in behaviour.
But I wonder if there is something else going on here. Could it be that teenage rebellion needs to look different to what your mum and dad did? Smoking, boozing, dropping pills and hooliganism – that’s so Generation X.
These days, perhaps, adolescent identity is defined more by the use of social media rather than the use of illicit drugs. It might be that texting and messaging, Facebook and Bebo provide the exclusive amity once provided by gangs and musical sub-cultures.
In my day, the classic bored teenager hung around the bus-stop with a few mates and someone produced a packet of 10 and a bottle of cider. Nowadays they are upstairs on the laptop, PS3 or mobile, gossiping and playing and flirting. It is a digital world where grown-ups are not allowed, a playground for the virtual teen rebel.
Over the weekend I went to see the Beach Boys perform at Wembley Arena. I don’t know whether it made me feel very old or very young. The original teenage boy band put on a good show, but there was something disconcerting about the line-up of pensioners, some of whom bore witness to a misspent youth.
The age profile of the audience was far more mixed than I had expected. There were thousands of teenagers among the baby-boomers. What was going through their minds as they looked at Brian Wilson trying to focus and Mike Love dad-dancing?
I wonder whether the word “teenager” is being redefined and the card I sent my son for his 13th birthday is an example of a prejudice that has had its day.
James Vaughn is a Washington, DC, consultant who specializes in using social media metrics, quantitative tools, and political theory to help clients (good guys only!) assess and improve their reach and influence. He’s a Kennedy School grad and has served with lots of good-government initiatives. I know him through our common affiliation with CSIS.
A couple of days after the election, James sent me the following text and chart, which I am reproducing here as is. Beyond that, I will let him speak for himself. Otherwise, I can only say, I am Neil Howe and I approve of this message…
As someone who incorporates generations theory into my work, I was curious to see how it would predict the actual results of the presidential election. As far back as July 31 of this year, Neil Howe was predicting likely voter preferences by generational cohort. After the election, I compared the results of the exit polls by CNN with Howe’s predictions.
The chart below breaks down the exit polls by age. The first column shows the CNN age group, the percentage of the electorate they comprised, the birth years for this age group, and the generational tag associated with those birth years. The match wasn’t always perfect, but it is close enough for our purposes. CNN had two age charts and I have used a hybrid between the two to make it easier to compare Howe’s predictions with the exit polling.
In the second column, I list Howe’s prediction for how that generation would likely vote. This is taken from his July 31st blog post. The third column is the actual margin of the vote based on the preference expressed in the exit polls. (Columns 4 and 5)
In every case Howe’s predictions closely tracked the exit polling results. The biggest discrepancy was in the Generation X category. Howe predicted First Wave Xers would vote more heavily for Romney than they did. As a first wave Generation Xer, I voted for Obama as did many of my normally more GOP-leaning peers. Our views are more pragmatic about how the fiscal crisis needs to be addressed and put us in Obama’s corner. Howe was spot on with his predictions for Boom and Silent Generations. The outcome for the 65+ category possibly reflects the difference between the 15% preference for Romney being weighed down by the predicted 3% lean for Obama by the G.I. Generation.
The post-election analysis has focused on demographics as destiny with most of the emphasis on the growth in minority populations, but perhaps the greater predictor will be the generational model with the first wave of Generation X serving as the swing demographic in the next presidential election. Political strategists in both parties should add the works of Neil Howe to their reading list as they plan for the next election cycle.
Three further thoughts about ’12, in no particular order.
First, I mentioned that the positive correlation between voter age and Romney share definitely showed up, as predicted. Without exception, every age bracket identified by the exit polls had a higher Romney share than the age bracket beneath it and a lower Romney share than the age bracket above it.
Yet there is one particular age-cleft that I have often discussed in past posts and that I would like to highlight here: the stark contrast between first-wave Xers in their 40s (more conservative, came age with Reagan) and last-wave Xers in their 30s (more progressive, came of age with Clinton). In the following table, I list the additional share of each age group that went to Romney as you move to each older age group:
Note that the jump in the preference for the GOP from last- to first-wave Gen Xers is larger by far than between any other two adjacent age brackets. Last-wave Xers voted for Obama by 55 to 42 percent. First-wave Xers voted for Romney by 50 to 48 percent. That’s an 8-point swing.
If the exit poll had a finer-grained measure of the Boomer age brackets, we might even be able to detect a backward bend toward Obama as you move from first-wave Xers in their late 40s to first-wave Boomers in their late 60s. We’ve often seen that in prior elections and party ID surveys.
Second, I’ve read some excellent reader answers (both in comments and by emails) to the questions I raised about the stunning swing of Asians to Obama. More than one reader pointed out that it may be less due to any special Asian animus against Romney and more with their special attraction to Obama. If so, this may pose special problems for the Democrats in 2016, especially if they go with someone older and whiter. Morley Winograd told me that the Asian swing took him by surprise as well. He thinks part it was partly due to very well organized get-out-the-vote campaigns among young minorities, Asians especially, and the effective use of social media. Many Gangnam-style vote videos went viral, and several have been posted on youtube. Let me show one of them here (from Atlanta’s Asian-American Legal Advocacy Center):
Third, one reader made the interesting observation that however well Romney did among whites overall, Obama still managed to take a number of white-dominated New England states like New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. A great point, because the flip side is that outside New England and the blue-zone coasts, and especially in the red-zone south, the state-wide white shares for the GOP are even more lopsided, in the 65 to 75 percent range. It’s hard to say exactly, because the exit-poll media consortium chose not to include any deep-south states. But if you look at many of the more rural counties in Texas, for example, you find most of them are 80+ percent for Romney, which may translate into close to 90 percent whites for Romney.
When I occasionally talked to friends in Texas earlier this year, some were amazed that Obama might be re-elected since they literally did not know anyone who intended to vote for him. I know others in blue-zone enclaves who have felt the same amazement, in reverse.
I find this growing alignment of geography and ideology to be a very disturbing trend as America moves further into a 4T. There was much talk in ’08 about the emergence of a “purple” America. What I see, in ’12, is redder reds is some parts and bluer blues in others. Could political regionalism or outright separatism be looming in our not-too-distant future? While many of us may think we already resolved that issue in the 1860s, my late co-author Bill Strauss had his doubts and once even wrote a futuristic novel about a dis-integrated America. Let us hope we never go there.
On November 7, Americans were just beginning to assess the magnitude and meaning of President Obama’s ’12 victory when the Dow dropped over 300 points, its largest daily plunge of the year. The next day, November 8, it plunged again. It’s almost as if history doesn’t want to give us time to contemplate what happened. But now, at the risk ignoring the rush of events, let’s take a moment to put some closure on the election season.
Overall, as my readers know, the ‘12 results were pretty much what I anticipated.
I said the election would be a lot closer than in ‘08, but that Obama would win. The margin would be narrow, but the outcome would not be an all-night cliffhanger. That turned out to be about right. In ’08, Obama won by 7.3 percent of the popular vote, just about the median margin for all elections in U.S. history. (It was just shy of FDR’s margin over Thomas Dewey in 1944.) In ’12, Obama won by only 2.3 percent of the popular vote, which is the fifth smallest since 1900. (It was just under George W. Bush’s 2.5 percent margin against John Kerry, an election that was also considered a squeaker.)
I said there would be a 15-to-25 percentage point gap between under-30 young vote for Obama and the 65+ senior vote for Obama. In ’08, the gap was 21 percent; and in ’12, a preliminary survey by Pew projected it would be 20 percent. In fact, according to exit polls, the ‘12 gap between young and old was 16 points. So age polarization did moderate slightly. From ’08 to ’12, all age groups voted about 3 percent more for Romney. But Millennials tipped somewhat more steeply to Romney (about 5 percent) and the Silent a bit less. Let me go back to the postwar history of the presidential “generation gap” and update the Pew chart here. My edits in red show the actual ’12 exit poll results.
Why the moderation—or shrinkage—of the Obama youth margin from ‘08? Pre-election surveys identifying this youth shift away from Obama found that it was generated mostly by young whites (especially non-college young whites who have been hit hardest by the post-2008 economy) and only to a lesser extent by young minorities. The CIRCLE crosstabs on the exit poll, shown below, confirm that this is indeed what happened. Note that this time, unlike in ’08, the majority of young whites (51 percent) voted for the GOP.
This should not be a surprise. Unlike McCain, who struck many Millennials in ’08 as simply “too old,” Romney came across as more youthful and did not present the same obvious age contrast with Obama. Also, as I have mentioned in previous posts, Millennials are attracted to Romney’s cool, analytical, consensus-seeking persona—just as they have been attracted to many of these same qualities in Obama. The huge positive shift to Romney among under-50 whites after the first debate was largely attributed to the popular discovery that Romney was not an eccentric hothead like McCain or committed culture warrior like Rick Perry. This discovery brought Romney back into the race and hugely complicated Team Obama’s campaign strategy. Ultimately, however, it was not enough to put Romney over the top.
Although I’ve reported on several surveys pointing to declining youth enthusiasm for the election, I’ve also insisted that the Millennial Generation is destined to be a civic force to be reckoned with. My entire generational model points in that direction. True to my model, Millennials pulled through—surprising many who had predicted they would stay home. In fact, according to the latest CIRCLE estimates, the ‘12 youth voter participation rate (at least 49 percent, the count is not over yet) was nearly as strong as it was in ’08 (52 percent). This rate is already higher than ’04 (48 percent) and much higher than in the last election in which Gen-Xers totally filled the under-30 age bracket (1996: 37 percent).
In ’12 as in ’08, the youth vote determined the outcome—meaning that if the under-30 vote had simply split 50-50, McCain and Romney would have won. This cannot be said of any election earlier than 2008, going all the way back to the 1930s. The youth vote likewise determined the outcome of all the major battleground states that went this time to Obama: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Many who expected a GOP victory clearly hoped that a lot fewer youth voters would show up at the polls this year. This did not happen. Or, if it did happen to some degree, declining excitement probably kept home precisely those young voter categories (noncollege white males) who would have been least likely to vote for Obama. Either way, no advantage for Team Romney.
More generally, the ’12 results showed that the Democrats were mostly right, and the Republicans mostly wrong, about the composition of the turnout. The GOP-ridiculed “D+6” model turned out to be dead on. Also, futures markets like Intrade once again demonstrated their uncanny ability to hone in on the most likely outcome, even when real-time voter surveys were jumping all around. Conservatives who normally praise the virtues of markets should have known this all along.
Let me turn to two further perspectives on the results—income and ethnicity. Each sheds some interesting light on where Romney went wrong and why he fell short.
First, income. As discussed in a previous post, a major Pew survey recently revealed that the significant overall voter shift away from Democratic (and toward Republican) party identification over the last four years has been generated entirely by lower- and middle-income voters. Reason: They have been hardest hit by the economy. Affluent voters, by contrast, actually lean more to Obama and the Democrats in 2012 than in 2008. For Romney to win, it was absolutely essential for him to exploit this opening and harness this disaffection. He had to persuade these voters that the Obama economy had failed them and had stripped them of their security, dignity, and independence. And he had to make his biggest gains (relative to ’08) among lower income brackets.
In this effort he failed. The GOP preference by income bracket in ’12 was even steeper (slightly) than in ’08. Among > $100K voters, Romney won 54 percent; among < $50K voters, he won 38 percent. Compared to McCain in ’08, Romney did better over $100K and worse under $50K. To be sure, Romney faced some unique challenges in appealing to lower-income America—starting with his image as a very wealthy Wall Street wheeler-dealer. But these were surmountable. (Obama too is regularly criticized as an elitist Ivy League legal theorist, yet over time he has learned to handle the issue deftly.) What killed Romney was not the image, but rather the substance he regularly delivered that perfectly matched the image. Notorious example: the surreptitiously taped “47 percent” monologue, which was exactly the wrong message and which remained attached to Romney until the end of the campaign. The remark did untold damage. At long last, Jimmy Carter’s humiliating 1980 loss to the GOP was avenged by his grandson!
Second, ethnicity. And here I’m not sure I have the answers. Romney was the decisive favorite of all white Americans (59 percent). He was even the decisive favorite of all white American women (56 percent). Yet Romney was also distinctly unpopular among nonwhites: He got the vote of only 27 percent of Hispanics, 26 percent of Asians, and 6 percent of African-Americans. Despite his better overall showing compared to McCain in ‘08, Romney actually lost 4 points among Hispanics and (incredibly) 11 points among Asians.
What’s going on here? Of course, everyone points to John McCain’s and George W. Bush’s conciliatory stance on immigration reform as one reason they didn’t suffer as badly at the hands of minority voters. Maybe. But I don’t think that’s a complete explanation. Romney and Obama actually agree on most of the basics of immigration reform—and though minority immigrants widely approve of Obama’s Dream Act and selective enforcement policy, they also know about his relentless deportation agenda. (Obama has deported more immigrants than any other President.)
I think something deeper, more cultural is at work. An 11 percent decline among Asians? That’s a catastrophe for the GOP. Asians are not known to obsess over immigration reform. They exceed whites in median household income. They are socially conservative, aspire to own property, and admire successful business leaders. In recent elections, I haven’t found one in which they didn’t give the GOP at least 40 percent of their vote. In 1996, when Dole lost badly to Clinton, Asians actually preferred Dole to Clinton, 48 to 43 percent. So what happened in 2012?
Perhaps this is where Romney’s Mormonism ultimately hurt him—not, as once expected, among white evangelicals (who ended up ignoring theology and voting for him anyway), but among nonwhite minorities (who could not look past the long LDS heritage as a white-only church). Again, I am simply suggesting possibilities. I welcome your suggestions.
We can make two fairly certain predictions for how Romney’s defeat is going to play out for the future of the GOP and for the Republican candidates likely to be running in 2016. One prediction is generational. Romney is likely to be the last Boomer to run as the GOP Presidential candidate. After all, by nearly everyone’s post-mortem consensus, he was the ablest Boomer contender in ’12 and still he lost. In 2016, by contrast, a huge new influx of first-wave Gen-Xers will be flooding onto the GOP primary stage. They are smart, charismatic, and (mostly) have plenty of hands-on executive experience. I’m talking about Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz. And maybe we can add on late-wave Boomers (both born in 1959) Susana Martinez and Scott Brown.
To be sure, not all the these will run for the White House in ’16. And, of those who do, many have sharp edges and as-yet unvetted secrets that could prevent them from going all the way to nomination. But it is an impressive field, and the Democrats have nothing like it in the bull pen.
In fact, it’s easy to imagine a generational reversal in party candidates. The Democrats in 2016 could very well move back to a Boomer candidate (Hillary, we know you’ve been waiting!), who might encounter little serious competition from Xers. Meanwhile, the Republicans are clearly going to put an Xer at the top of their ticket. Moreover—and this is my second prediction—this Xer is very likely to be nonwhite or Hispanic. (Of the contenders listed above, three are Hispanic and two are Indian.) Given Romney’s exit polls, many GOP leaders will regard the elevation of a minority standard bearer for their party as not just a nice-thing-to-do, but as a must-thing-to-do.
I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes
This is f***’n awesome!
I look incredible.
I’m in this big ass coat
From that thrift shop down the road. –Macklemore
OK, let’s all get our minds of the upcoming election with something completely different. This post requires just a bit of wind up. In 2006, Bill Strauss and I wrote a book with Pete Markiewicz, Millennials in the Pop Culture. Somewhere along the way in this book, we explain that every new entertainment genre develops through distinct generational phases.
So to get this started, let’s think back on, e.g., rock ‘n roll. Silent Generation bands got it going in the 1950s, performing mainly to Silent youth fans (Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Elvis). By the 1960s, as the popularity of rock music grew, the Silent were performing it for mainly Boomer youth fans (Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Peter, Paul, & Mary). By the 1970s, Boomer bands were performing it for Boomer youth, often first-wave performing to last-wave (Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin). By the 1980s, Boomers were performing it for Xer youth fans (Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Madonna). And then by the 1990s, Xers started taking over as performers (Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers) to younger Xers as their fans. And so on.
The point here is that every phase is characterized by some very new innovation in style, mood, or theme. Think, e.g., how the emergence of Boomer fans in the mid- to late-60s made possible the huge emergence of protest rock, soul, and “acid” rock—unknown in the ‘50s, and pushing the “generation gap” to its acrimonious apogee. Or how Boomer performers in the ‘70s gave rise to a new privatism and hedonism unknown to Silent song writers. Or how first-wave Gen-X fans in the ‘80s made possible the new energy and pragmatism of “new wave.” And let’s not even talk about the dark pall of edginess and death descending over the ‘90s once Xers started performing for Xers… Such was the intense collective self-derogation of Gen-Xers that no one even wanted to be “mainstream”—hence terms “alt” and “grunge” rock were born. Along with colors like plaid brown and Raider’s-Jersey black. And so on.
OK, forgive me for this long digression. Now let me extend this schema to hip hop as an entertainment genre. Hip hop too has had its generational phases, only these have occurred just about exactly one generation behind those of rock:
Phase 1: During most of the 1970s, rap was performed by Boomers for Boomers (“old school” MCs like Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang). Hip hop remained an informal and largely unprofitable “street fad”—with a huge emphasis on spontaneity and urban authenticity.
Phase 2: In the 1980s, the genre accelerated once Boomers (like legendary promoter Def Jam’s Russell Simmons) started performing to Xer youth. That’s when Platinum “rap” albums began making real money. Hip hop began pushing the edge on violence, sex, and drugs—and acquiring its trademark edge and swagger. Late in the ‘80s, Boomer performers like Ice T and Public Enemy’s Chuck D (along with some first-wave Xers like Dr. Dre) harnessed hip hop to a critique of white racism and calls for a new-style black assertion. Hip hop had become a national “wedge” issue.
Phase 3: In the early ‘90s, a new and younger batch of Gen-X performers emerged who would eclipse the remaining Boomers, dominate the rest of the decade, and take hip hop to unprecedented levels of notoriety and, ultimately, acceptance. All were born between 1968 and 1972—including MC Ren, Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dogg, P. Diddy, Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Missy Elliott—and thus came of age at the height of the violent urban crime wave of the early ‘90s. In their first hit CDs, many glamorized “gangsta rap” and pushed the hip hop lifestyle to outrageous extremes of brutality and cynicism. Several (most famously, Tupac and B.I.G.) perished in shootouts.
Phase 3.5: The tone started changing in the late ‘90s, with the rapid decline in urban crime and the arrival a new generation of Millennial fans. The most popular hip hop artists began blunting their edges, lightening their messages, accepting their prestige, and taking pride in—even boasting of—their success and affluence.
Phase 4: Since 2000, a gradually aging galaxy of rap artists has been performing to virtually all-Millennial youth audiences. In the early 2000s decade, hip hop was at last accepted by mainstream corporate America (recall Micky D’s break-danced-themed “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign) as a legitimate genre–much as Ronald and Nancy Reagan legitimized rock music twenty years earlier (in 1983) by defending the appearance of the Beach Boys on the Washington Mall. By 2004, billboards began showing rap stars dressed in suits reading the Wall Street Journal. By the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, later-wave Gen-X performers (born, 1973-1981: 50 Cent, Nas, Ja Rule, Ludacris, Kanye West, Ma$e, The Game) were emerging from the shadow of their fabled “elders,” who were now in their mid-30s.
So how to sum up Phase 4? And where does it seem to be leading? Let me quote directly from our 2006 book—as far as we could see at that time:
Regardless of the age or generation of the performers, hip hop is changing during the Millennial youth era in a direction sometimes chided as “hip pop” or “pop rap.” While rappers like Nelly or Lil’ Kim remind listeners that the genre clearly remains on the dangerous side of the Millennial experience, down and dirty is no longer cutting edge. In theme, the new style is more open to humor, to manners, to commitment, to religion, and to success. In sound, it has a denser and more digitally overdubbed “produced” feel. Background melodies are returning. The mood is often playful. Often, today’s rap is hard to distinguish from rhythm and blues.
OK, here finally is where I would like to start a conversation on Phase 5 of hip hop—Millennial rap artists performing for Millennial fans. It’s now the 2010s. And just to get the conversation going, let me start by introducing the following song by Macklemore (Ben Haggerty, born 1983), a white rapper from the Seattle area. This is—no joke–a rap song about how great it is to buy from a thrift store. I found this hysterical. Thanks here to Bob Filipczak for the heads up:
Let’s get started. What’s Phase 5 about Macklemore? I suggest the following:
> OK, he’s white. Yeah, so were Beastie Boys, Kid Rock, Vanilla Ice, eminem, and a very short list of other Xers. But among Millennials, hey, it’s no longer pioneering. It’s just not any big deal.
> He’s very local, a big Seattle guy, often performing locally and writing songs about local culture heroes. He recently performed a rap-obituary to legendary Seattle baseball announcer Dave Niehaus before 50,000 Mariner fans. Hip-hop meets major league baseball. Conventional loyalty to the community. Yes, Millennial.
> He’s grown his music, merch, and fanbase entirely on his own on the web, without any music label support. If you’re interested in his career, see this interesting bio-video. Sure, he’d love big money and a high national profile—but not unless it grows out of his own talent and connections. He’s clearly patient about success.
> He’s musically eclectic, wandering wildly from the austere Xer rap beat. In “Let’s Dance,” he merges rap with EDM (Electronic Dance Music), which has become infectiously popular in his generation. I know that some would say EDM is like an auto-tuned cancer, but (again) no one can deny its popularity.
> Ever notice that Millennials just don’t do swag like Xers? It’s there, but somehow just doesn’t have the same don’t-care-if-you-die-or-I-die intensity. Millennial rappers so often like to reveal their hopes, fears, and vulnerabilities that half the time they veer into R&B or self-deprecating satire. Macklemore talks freely about his problems with addiction—like it’s a real problem, you know, that with maturity he will eventually outgrow. In “Thrift Shop,” he parodies the vintage hip-hop obsession with costly bling.
> He’s progressive about gender roles—unlike first-wave Gen-X rappers, who were often just about the most homophobic “gangsta” braggarts you could imagine. Take a look at “Same Love,” certainly too polemical for my tastes (as a song), but a good idea of where his head is at. Meanwhile a new generation of female vocalists (most recently, Angel Haze, in a searing new take off on eminem) is using rap—of all genres—to take devastating aim at mysogyny and rape.
> Finally, let’s explore this whole “thrift shop” angle. OK, it’s one thing for songs around 1990 to obsess over the luxuries I don’t possess, and for songs by 2000 over luxuries I do now possess. But now, young people can no longer pretend. Hey, we just can’t afford it, but maybe we can still be happy without it.
And if you still doubt that Millennials are turning hip hop in a fundamentally different direction than where Gen-Xers took it, let me just leave you with the following rap video—this one by last-wave Millennial Amor “Lilman” Arteaga (age 9), officially endorsed by the Brooklyn Borough President.