Borkowski Weekly Media Trends

Social Media | Memes | TikTok's Impact on Music | The Cult of Paris

A new era for social media

One of the many reasons that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency inspired optimism was the notion that his political demise might signal that we have passed the peak of the toxic polarisation which has poisoned our discourse in recent years.

Trump’s Whitehouse exit is a symbolic restoration of the fundamental relationship between actions and consequences, especially when it comes to hate speech and disinformation on public platforms.

And there were encouraging signs that his (in the end) ignominious defenestration would serve as a stern warning to the extremists he emboldened and platformed, and whose views he unleashed on the mainstream with abandon, that the blank cheque Trump wrote them had just bounced.

Parler, a key conduit for the piecemeal implementation of the Capitol insurrection, was de-platformed by the tech giants and seemed doomed. But now it’s back and fears are growing that an even uglier ‘new strain’ of Trumpism will emerge.

Parler is symbolic in demonstrating the danger that, rejected by the mainstream, Trumpist extremism will, concentrated by a collective persecution complex- mutate, intensify, and proliferate in the shadows. The ‘free speech’ social media network, spurned by Google and Apple, has partnered with a shadowy Russian firm in search of a reprieve. Meanwhile a Guardian article today reported an influx of traffic to other extremism-friendly platforms such as Gab and Telegram, as well as even more dangerous rhetoric than even Trump would resort to (such as direct antisemitism) becoming more prominent within MAGA hotbeds such as 8Chan.

The noxious polarisation Trump let loose may have peaked with his exit, but the downwards curve towards a healthy public discourse will be gradual.

TikTok’s impact on popular music

Glastonbury has been cancelled, again. As we continue to see COVID-19 decimate live entertainment, most artists are feeling the impact of this pandemic, as gigs were their biggest revenue source, thus forcing artists to adapt as their audience (us) are stuck at home.

Despite these struggles, there is always opportunity. On the contrary, TikTok has seen users skyrocket – taking the form of countless trends, encapsulated by a musical number.

Whether it’s Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, or Jason Derulo, artists are seeing their popularity soar, thanks to TikTok.

Manufacturing hits for TikTok – like memes – is a difficult game. Most spawn organically, with very few mastering the art of making something viral.

One artists who you will likely find on every TikTok related Spotify playlist, Ashnikko, recently released a mixtape, packed with songs that include catchy refrains, ad-libs and sounds – often over- sexualised – that seem to transfer perfectly to TikTok.

It is very difficult to tell whether she is consciously targeting TikTok, but it is working.

Looking at Google Trends data, between March-June 2020, her popularity / relevancy dipped to her lowest since her initial breakout in November 2019. Since then, it has been climbing after releasing her single Daisy, which trended on TikTok.

She is not the only artist who appears to be gearing her sound to TikTok. We are keeping our eyes on the likes of Benee and Roddy Ricch targeting Gen Zers’ favourite app.

We will likely see TikTok develop its own genre, in a similar way Soundcloud Rappers propelled ‘mumble rap’ to the mainstream – but to a much larger scale, particularly when TikTok is outperforming every other social media apps.

The impact of meme culture

We’ve arrived at a time where every major political event seems bound to result in the generation of thousands of memes. According to the internet, the star of the show at Wednesday’s US Presidential Inauguration was Bernie Sanders, who attended the ceremony in a sensible jacket and huge woollen mittens. Onlookers praised his practicality and seeming unbotheredness. The image of him sat, legs crossed, and arms crossed, on a tiny, lone chair, was soon memed to within an inch of its life. Bernie in Beyonce videos, Bernie next to Anna Wintour at fashion week. Or, indeed, drag-n-drop Bernie wherever you like.

Memes of political events have been around for years, of course. But it is only in these past months, as society spends more time than ever online, that we’ve seen such vast levels of social and political commentary take place and, with that, such accelerated levels of meme production. Remember when Ed Miliband ate a bacon sandwich in May 2014? The subsequent meme remained alive and well for the entire year up to its damning reuse on the front cover of The Sun, the day before the 2015 election.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a public joke standing the test of time like that. Within hours of the Bernie Sanders gracing the inauguration, the internet was alight, sharing every reaction possible to this one image, merging it with other memes of the day, like Melania Trump’s dress, before fizzling out again.

That’s not to say this online commentary isn’t important. Although this moment in the eye of the storm was short-lived for Bernie, the collective fondness of feeling that the production and proliferation of this meme created will undoubtedly have had an enduring impact on his public image.

We cannot underestimate the power of meme culture to impact, and even generate, public mood. Ed Miliband’s notorious sandwich was weaponised to make him look incompetent, and it worked. But meanwhile Boris Johnson has done the very opposite, capitalising on his image as bumbling baffoon to kid the public that he is harmless. Political figures must be savvy if they are to stay on the right side of the internet. But it is worth the effort: fortunes can change quickly, but good (and bad) humour can linger.

Paris>London?!

One Borkowski trends writer has only just started watching Call My Agent (perhaps late to the game) and is struck by the success of recent Netflix series set in Paris. Not just in Paris, but in a kind of chi-chi, slightly abusive, yet undeniably glamorous world of Paris’s boutique agencies. On the surface, they are dissimilar. Many have called out the clichés and cartoonish fashions of Emily in Paris, while Dix pour cent’s realism—both in terms of its Frenchness and in its depiction of the day-to-day tribulations of those paid to wrangle celebrities—has been critically heralded for its authenticity. Taking a step back, we wonder whether this move to Paris (didn’t it used to be all about the City?) reflects a larger shift between Europe’s capitals.

While London, it seems, has been relegated to the category of historical drama (evidently Bridgerton’s regency-era fancy Mayfair holds more interest for the modern viewer than the present-day city), Paris has been picking up the slack. For those who have been watching the ground shift under London’s international pre-eminence (both cultural and corporate) in the wake of Brexit, this cannot be an innocent trend. In 2016, Macron said he would ‘roll out the red carpet’ for London’s bankers if the U.K. voted for Brexit. And a few, including Goldman Sachs, have taken him up on it. Could all this interest in Paris’s chic boutiques and long lunches be reflecting—or driving—a greater interest in the French capital? Is Netflix putting its money on a mass exodus of the yuppie class to the city of love? It is possible those of us savouring Call My Agent are craving for a continental identity—it’s also possible that, during lockdown, we all just want to be somewhere else.