17 April 2014

On the Zeitgeist of Youth Culture, Virality, and Selfies

As I am wont to do on a constantly insane basis, it's time once again to take one of the worst dregs of popular culture and apply some ridiculously rigorous analysis. I first heard this on radio play, because I'm a D-I-N-O-S-A-U-R dinosaur, but after a few hundred times listening to it via YouTube, I've come to the conclusion that "#SELFIE" by The Chainsmokers is probably one of the most important songs of our generation, at least at this moment. That's probably not true, but it's interesting to think of this mess from a few different angles. First of, if you haven't heard it:



According to its Wikipedia page (because how else do we learn about this shit), the song was very intentionally intended to capitalize on the growing cultural popularity of selfies and attempts to position itself for maximum re-purposing and re-distribution, the essence of all Internet meme culture. So, let's first talk about selfies.

Selfies, for those of you over the age of 25 (maybe 22), who don't know what selfies are, it's the act of reversing the lens of a camera phone and taking what amounts to a self-portrait. That's all, really. We can add in selfies taken during ridiculous acts, with famous people, or a legendary combination of both to create the most re-tweeted image of all time.

This is where the narcissism inherent to this act become all the more apparent. It's one thing to self-portrait. I do it when fixing my hair on the go all the time (obvi), but the main objective of a selfie is to take it and then put it online - for the 28 year olds that's probably Facebook, for the 25 year olds it's probably Twitter, but all the really cool 20 year olds put that shit on Instagram. I Pinterest, so screw all of you. This is kind of an insane act that I can't really figure out. I get big selfies - you want evidence of you at an event, or meeting someone cool, or at a big moment of your life - because apparently no one would ever believe you if you just told them. But these sort of random innocuous typical Saturday night bar hopping selfies? It's almost as if it's a way to remind people of yourself - a kind of on-going update of the banality of other people's lives that has an increased in perceived importance due to the ubiquity of social media and the great time consumption it takes.

Positioned in "#SELFIE", though, it takes on a slightly more advanced meaning. The unnamed narrator is ostensibly playing peer selfie analysis to her advantage in order to secure a hook-up with someone named "Jason." The selfie in question comes as just another part of her nighttime routine, in between going to the bathroom and smoking a cigarette. It's as if it's a natural part of her life. Picking a filter for Instagram and coming up with a caption becomes a huge decision. It's faux-art (arguably something that doesn't exist), selfies from Van Gogh are priceless and immemorial, selfies here are based on narcissism and indulgent self-interest.

So much of this song hinges on both the importance of the selfie in driving the core narrative as well as its complete inconsequentiality. The spoken monologue probably stands out the most in this thing, and whoever is saying it seems to be just as interested in expressing an unbroken train of thought concerning random events, feelings, or observations from the night ("Why is the DJ playing 'Summertime Sadness'?" "Is that guy sleeping over there?" "Who goes out on Mondays?" "I feel like I'm going to throw up. Oh wait, I'm fine."). She also makes up passable slang like "that's so ratchet." I just wished she had said "fetch."

The narrator is incredibly conceited, breaking down why she hates everyone else in the club for superficial reasons like a girl's dress ("Who wears Cheetah?") or passing out with their shoes on. It's an intense spotlight on a culture so absorbed in itself that outside influence is foreign to the point of painful. It's not that much of a step-up of Jersey Shore-type funny business. These kind of self-sufficient yet painfully temporal cultural pockets fascinate me - just wonder for a second how many current High School students actually know what Jersey Shore is? MTV may have seemed to jump the gun cancelling it when they did, but they had a keen eye on when the zeitgeist was getting old.

I think "#SELFIE" is everything right now. It's painful, but it's everything. It's satirical, sure, and "The Chainsmokers" are virtually destined to wind up in the trash pit of every other shitty EDM duo out there. I'm not sure if its 68 million YouTube views are out of adoration, enjoyment, or horror, but it may also be expected that next year we'll listen to this as much as we listened to "Gangnam Style" in 2013. I don't really think it's there in viralness, yet. It's too manufactured and conscious of itself. That's the thing about viral videos, there's really no predicting them - an integral component of their shareability is the fact that they're so ridiculous as to acerpose some hapless misconstrued intent upon the part of the author. Black Ninja, Chocolate Rain, and especially the Sneezing Panda aren't really conscious of their ridiculousness, which is vital to their popularity. Likewise, no one expected Baauer or PSY to suddenly bounce haphazardly into relevance, because, here's a hint: they never were relevant. Viral videos don't really make significant long-term impacts on culture. More, nostalgic memorials to September 2012 and January 2013.

And that's all "#SELFIE" will be reduced to. It's important now, but won't be next week. 

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