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#TheFutureByDesign: Pop goes your culture

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Everything gets recycled, so don’t be surprised if you see yesterday’s #TheDress meme become today’s advertisement or tomorrow’s painted fingernails. That’s the thinking of writer and pop culture junkie, Charl Blignaut, who is a senior journalist at City Press and whose work populates the paper’s #Trending section.

“Everything we get on our radar is pop. It’s the way we privileged, wired-up people tune in,” says Blignaut who describes pop culture like this: “Everything that is anti-pop (indie, underground, normcore) is the future pop. Pop is born from counter-pop. Pop is the capitalist project that buys the counter-pop and puts a marked-up price tag on it. Former taboos are tomorrow’s pop,” Blignaut explains.

For the uninitiated, ’normcore’ is a mash-up of the words ‘normal’ and ‘hardcore’. It was brought into being by a group of friends from Manhattan who realised that trend forecasters were creating trends instead of making them, largely because media culture was trend obsessed.

Crayons

The group published an arbitrary report of their own, one chapter of which was headlined ‘Normcore’. A journalist picked up on the report and wrote about it. ’’Normcore’ became the subject of debate, and before long it was a trend and a fixture of popular culture. The friends subsequently created a trend agency called K-Hole.

What is ‘Normcore’? K-Hole describes it thus:

#Normcore finds liberation in being nothing special, and realizes that adaptability leads to belonging.

But let’s get back to South Africa, shall we? When asked whether pop culture could be some sort of window into what it means to be South African, Blignaut exclaimed: “Fucking absolutely!”

Pop culture, says Blignaut, “is us”. “It’s capitalism emerging from struggle. Look, let’s start with porn. We all watch it, but few of us admit it or talk about it openly. Guilty pleasures. True consumption. In SA pop, Afrikaans singers and films dominate the buy-in. Ka-ching. Obviously because they are threatened and are investing in their language and lifestyle. But the contested black middle class rises. Look out for SA hip-hop going kaboom.”

“We are in the grip of a wage gap, a gender gap, a poverty gap, a technology gap,” explains Blignaut. “There’s pop like Bonang, there’s pop like the woman who lost her baby in the looting. There’s pop like the zombie maskandi artist, there’s pop like Spoek Mathambo’s Control.” In short pop culture is a mirror into everything that is here, and happening, and now.

Blignaut warns brands about trying to exploit pop culture saying: “It will bite you in the ass.” His advice to brands is to rather “study entropic cycles, not fashion. But also fashion. Ironically. Also not.” Contradictory advice but being relevant is about taking risks, but not being risk dominant. It is about intuitive flex rather than rigid rules.

Which brands are relevant from a pop culture perspective right now? “Brands that speak to  attainable affluence and that deliver on quality,” Blignaut says stating the reason for this: “We are all in recession. Value for money and meaning is becoming more and more important.”

What’s Blignaut’s list of what’s hot right now? “I like the music and the fashion and the gender-blurring and also the photography. We are sooo fresh out there. Yannick Illunga aka Petite Noir. On. Dean Hutton. On.”

The Future By Design reckons that Charl Blignaut is on right now too. Follow him on Twitter at @sa_poptart

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