Recently, R.E.M. were back on the campaign trail discussing the reissue of their seminal record, Out of Time. Naturally, discussion turned to politics. Andrew Marr, his ears twitching and his inquisitive burr hitting Paxman-esque passion, asked Michael Stipe and Mike Mills about campaigning. “You both campaigned for Hilary and it failed,” he said. “Do you think now is the time famous figures like you took a step back and say that your involvement in politics hasn’t been helpful?”
Mills and Stipe, for a moment, looked deep in thought. It’s a point that seems to provide a neat blanket outline of 2016. It has been the year culture, politics and everything surrounding it have been distorted and debased, where the majority voters have favoured a myopic mass refusal of traditional authority, where middle-aged rappers and politicians are being paid to embarrass themselves and where we begin spending a six-month shrine to an assassinated ape. If you’ve been living under a rock for 12 months, you might want to extend the lease.
It all started when one of culture’s most idiosyncratic, distinct demigods sadly fell from the earth; David Bowie may have left us one of the year’s finest albums, the oblique, elegiac Blackstar, but his passing became a pivotal part of the year’s massive mortality rate – all of a sudden, the tabloid birthday branch became an obligatory obituary, where we had to face our fears and find out which of our revered, talented figures had fell victim to the sword. Alan Rickman, Prince, Terry Wogan, Leonard Cohen, Victoria Wood…this is a mere precis of the passings of the last 12 months.
And yet 2016 also proved to be the year of an underground backlash, where gallows humour and keyboard conflict resulted in one of the year’s most mourned deaths being that of Harambe. Soon, the great ape’s weather-beaten features were frosted onto the cover of Loveless and given a rap-rock tribute by some of YouTube’s most prevalent performers. Unlike many memes, the primate’s presence lasted a considerable time, and even now Harambe’s hardest followers still shudder in sorrow when they see a banana skin. Then, lest we forget, we had Arthur’s fist.
Harambe, in a perverse way, represented the refusal to bend to political whims, a thought that was further hardened by two big, potentially devastating, decisions. In the world of politics, there is always the thought that such big situations, where each vote is as vital as the last, shouldn’t be opened up to the majority, but then if not are we as a generation been deprived of a chance to speak our minds?
The Brexit decision was one that most millennials, initially at least, took with personal anguish; we all campaigned hard, some externally, some internally, to see the fabric of our culture stay stitched. Instead, we felt betrayed and belittled by a generation who probably won’t even be alive when the true repercussions rumble. Everywhere we went, the presence of propaganda wrapped around our nostrils like old newspapers around chips. Every pre-drink party was an adolescent wake. Months later, we’d feel cultural compassion for America as people vetoed traditional politics and the ‘Establishment’ by eschewing Hilary Clinton and running into the pussy-grabbing arms of Donald Trump.
Of course, it wasn’t all dysfunctional – 2016 has produced some classic albums. Like Bowie before him, Antipodean gloom merchant Nick Cave struck black gold with Skeleton Tree. Newer outfits like Frankie Cosmos, The Goon Sax, Quilt, Spring King and The Lemon Twigs produced stellar albums. And then we had some cracking return-to-forms – Weezer’s The White Album was a wonderfully nostalgic slice of summer candy, Dinosaur Jr. blended bittersweet bathos with bludgeoning guitar riffs, DIIV showed their dark side and Radiohead continued their renaissance.
2016 will forever be the year that everything got tilted on its head. We’ve been living in a snow globe. But one thing’s for sure…it hasn’t been boring.