George Gershwin, renowned pianist and composer, once stated: “True music must repeat the thought and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today.” His remark highlights an ongoing issue that is often found at the center of musical debates: the historical relevance of today’s popular artists. Many recognize that music is certainly representative of society but often times neglect to realize the extent to which this can be true when artists shower them with “Call Me Maybe” and “Drunk in Love.” This trivialization of music has ultimately facilitated an increasingly cynical and, at times, unwarranted, flippancy towards mainstream artists. With this growing contempt toward popular culture, it becomes easy to dismiss certain acts altogether as simply irrelevant.
To me, there is ultimately an inherent generational dimension to music, one that gives insight into the politics, attitudes and overall atmosphere of any given time period. When we look back at present cultural phenomena, what will we choose to remember. And what will be lost to the decay of time? The act of finding artists that reflect our current collective consciousness may seem lofty — unnecessary to some — but it remains an integral part of articulating to future generations the human condition as it exists now, in 2014.
Few artists manage to seamlessly weave samples of a generation’s social paradigm into their musical pursuits, but those who do consistently set themselves apart from the musical masses. In the 1990s, for example, we witnessed the solidification of Radiohead’s presence as the voice of Generation X with its 1997 tour-de-force “OK Computer,” an album I consider among the greatest of all time. Part of the reason I hold it in such high regard is its integration of the era’s evolving cultural climate into each individual song. With lyrical content ranging from globalization and anti-capitalism to death and insanity to the technological innovation that defined the ’00s, the album’s music echoes the cultural dynamism of the ’90s. I’m not English, nor was I old enough at this time to understand these social, cultural and technological developments, but “OK Computer” provides me with a glimpse into this turbulent age.
Rarely has an album elicited the same response within me as “OK Computer,” but recently I’ve noticed numerous musicians looking to our culture for musical inspiration. One artist in particular caught my attention, not only because of his undeniable talent but also because of his role in capturing a vital snapshot of the resurgence of perhaps one of the most important cultural movements of our generation: the gay rights movement. Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known by his stage name Hozier, gained notoriety last year after releasing an EP entitled “Take Me To Church.” Immediately upon its release, “Take Me to Church” produced a standout single, bearing the title of the EP.
The song itself is centered on an extended metaphor relating the narrator’s adoration for an unnamed lover to the type of worship associated with religious practice. Intertwined within this elaborate comparison are subtle indications of Hozier’s discontentment with the church’s tendency to antagonize those who identify with alternative lifestyles, namely homosexuality. While the track implicitly addresses the disapproval of homosexuality often attributed to religious conservatism (“We were born sick/You heard them say it/Command me to be well.”), it is through the accompanying music video in which the genius of Hozier’s songwriting and overall message manifests. In it, a fictional gay couple falls victim to a fatal hate crime, presumably after members of the community discover their relationship. It was filmed in response to the string of hate crimes that occurred in Russia last summer, supposedly as a result of Russia’s controversial “anti-gay propaganda” law that made headlines in 2013. The contrast between the song’s intimate lyrics and the video that overlays it constructs a brief account of a seemingly imminent change in humanity’s attitude toward this movement.
Hozier may not be the voice of our generation, but his music will undoubtedly serve as the lens through which future generations will be able to witness this historical paradigm shift.
Joy Jackson is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Finding the Offbeat appears every other Friday in the guide.