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Five trends that will be hot (and not) in 2017

Going up are powerful women, political fashion and love droids. Going down are dating apps, celebrity feminists and the album.

At a new year’s party, I had a conversation with some of my mid-thirties friends about trends, specifically music. It consisted of us trying to ascertain if we were ready to succumb to our collective destiny and give up the fight to stay ahead of the cultural zeitgeist. The consensus among our group was that most of us, especially those with children, already had. The playlist at the party suggested this was the case  a mix of Nineties hits with the odd homage to Prince thrown in. It was decent, but deeply unsurprising.

This got me thinking about the concept and allure of newness  the excitement of making a new discovery. The rush of pleasure at feeling you are in on a secret before anyone else. So I decided to become a cultural magpie and unearth a few of the trends that will catch fire this year, as well as those likely to slide onto the scrap heap. 

Music

Hot: Virtual reality

Imagine if getting tickets to see your favourite band didn’t require you spending hours refreshing a frozen web page, shedding silent tears while smug friends share their success on social media. Virtual reality is here to help. While a handful of forward-thinking artists such as Bjork have experimented with the format over the past 12 months, this will be the year the technology moves into the mainstream with a wider range of headsets available at more affordable prices. In terms of music, this means less focus on high-concept videos that conjure artists – and, in Bjork’s case, 30 string players – before your eyes and more emphasis on live-streaming sold-out concerts in VR. While these streams will never beat the spine-tingling experience of a live gig, the format creates opportunities for people who can’t afford to see live music, those with disabilities who struggle with access and people who live miles away from the nearest concert hall. There are educational benefits too – artists can invite fans virtually into the recording studio and share their secrets. The headsets might still look like costumes from a sci-fi b-movie but soon everyone will be wearing them.

Not: The album 

In the age of streaming and sharing, it’s unsurprising that the full-length album risks being relegated to antiquity. Whether it’s due to shorter internet-era attention spans, an overload of choice, or artists preferring to release music as and when they choose, the classic album format seems increasingly archaic. A recent survey confirmed this trend, with playlists overtaking albums as the most popular way of listening to music, and album sales falling to their lowest level since 1991 in all formats except vinyl, which accounts for just 2 per cent of the UK’s recorded music market. While there will always be space for artists in the mould of David Bowie, who used each album as a dizzying act of creative reinvention, the majority inevitably end up as a random collection of tracks with a few standout singles. If fans are focused on streaming services, the question the music world needs to ask itself in 2017 is – are albums really necessary?


Photo: Getty

Food

Hot: Leftovers

Britain’s food waste problem will become a mainstream concern this year. With the UK currently the biggest waster of food in Europe – tossing out 10 million tonnes a year – the scale of the challenge is staggering. But a wave of creative initiatives, designed to raise awareness, tackle waste and combat austerity are springing up across the country – the first food waste supermarket has already opened in Leeds, food waste supper clubs are appearing, and there are plans for a crowdfunded food waste restaurant in Manchester that, like the supermarket, will be run by the Real Junk Food Project and will operate on a “pay what you feel” basis.  A parliamentary inquiry into the issue was launched last September after the government came under pressure to address the issue. Currently, the UK is lagging behind its European neighbours, such as France, where it is against the law for supermarkets to dump surplus food, and retailers redistribute 100,000 tonnes to charity.

Not: Avocado

Avocado porn might be all over Instagram but communities in Mexico are suffering because of our foodie obsession with “green gold”. The problem stems from the fact that Mexican farmers can make more money from growing avocados than from other crops and so are illegally thinning out pine forests to plant young avocado trees. These trees require high levels of chemical fertilisers and guzzle twice as much water as your average pine tree, which has put pressure on local water reserves. If that wasn’t bad enough, the production of this prized fruit is increasingly controlled by a Mexican drug cartel known as the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) who force farmers and landowners to hand over a share of their income, place a tax on fruit sold and launch violent attacks on those who resist. It’s time to find a new fashionable dip that won’t weigh on your conscience – “blood guacamole” will be off the menu in 2017.


Photo: Getty

Relationships

Hot: Sex robots

Could you fall in love and have a meaningful relationship with a robot? The ethics of intimacy with androids have been much debated, but this year the Silicon Valley-based company, Abyss Creations, will attempt to add AI to its range of realistic sex robots. These humanoid figures with moveable limbs, customisable skin tones, built-in heaters and vibrating genitalia could be on sale in 2017. At the Love and Sex with Robots conference, which took place in London in December, researchers from the company said these love droids would be part of their Real Dolls line and would cost around £12,000. It might sound like the plot of a dystopian porn movie, but the sex robot industry is thriving, with some academics predicting that humans will be having more sex with robots than with each other by 2050.

Not: Dating apps

The shine has gone off swiping right. Dating app fatigue has set in, with a new study revealing a significant decline in Tinder user satisfaction. They’ve been getting some pretty bad press too – an article in Vanity Fair in late 2015 identified Tinder et al as having fuelled a culture more suited to no-strings sex rather than lasting relationships. Sexism is also a problem – a recent study suggests Tinder is a breeding ground for misogynistic behaviour. And let’s not talk about dick pics. Ugh. While talk of a “dating apocalypse” is possibly overblown, I would expect the advent of more apps focusing on breeding lasting love, such as the relaunched Hinge, in 2017.


Photo: Getty

Feminism

Hot: Women ruling the world

This trend was one of the positives to emerge from the political shitshow of 2016. OK, we didn’t get the first female US president, and there’s a misogynist in the White House, but elsewhere there are positives, and simplifying Hillary Clinton’s defeat into a referendum on gender is reductive and wrong. Women are now running two of the world’s largest economies – the UK and Germany – as well as heading up the IMF and the Federal Reserve Board in the US. Angela Merkel looks primed to win a fourth term in Germany’s elections later this year, Nicola Sturgeon is fighting hard to carve out a unique position for Scotland in the Brexit negotiations and Michelle Obama blew us all away with her powerful rebuke of Donald Trump’s sexist rhetoric during the campaign. Closer to home, rising stars such as Ruth Davidson, Jess Phillips – who was notably dubbed a “heroine” by JK Rowling – and Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party are just a few of the female talents lighting up British politics. Yes, Clinton’s defeat was a blow, but feminism is bigger than just one woman’s shattered dream. Michelle for 2020?

Not: Celebrity feminism

Some might say this particular creed has done more harm than good in the march for female empowerment. Celebrities such as Amy Schumer, Emma Watson and Taylor Swift have taken advantage of feminism’s new populist wave, helping redefine what was a much-maligned word. But celebrity culture is by its nature shallow and profit-driven, whereas feminism has always been an inclusive social and political movement. Rebranding and packaging it up with a famous, pretty face draws attention away from the less glamorous work that still needs to be done in terms of gender violence, childcare provision and the gender pay gap, which new research suggests will persist until 2069. Instead, energy is being wasted debating whether Watson, as a feminist, should be playing a Disney princess. This year, with the alt right on the rise and an anti-feminist backlash looming, these celebrities need to either jump on another bandwagon or replace words with meaningful action.

Fashion

Hot: Activist chic

Yes, really. Fashion gets a political twist in 2017, with a slew of supposedly empowering slogan tops hitting the catwalk. The pick of the bunch, if you can afford its $700 price tag, is Dior’s “We should all be feminists” t-shirts, which bears the title of the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Beyoncé-sampled TED talk. It has extra girl power significance, being the creation of the French fashion house’s first female director. For a more affordable option, look to the US where artists are giving away free downloadable anti-Trump designs to adorn your t-shirts, stickers and badges. If you’re going to protest you might as well do it in style.

Not: Fitness trackers

More geek than chic, these hideous rubber bracelets became annoyingly ubiquitous in 2016. Pub banter was replaced with dry chat about counting steps, pulse rate and sleep patterns. Yawn. Suddenly every month was dry January. Life is stressful enough without wasting money on an ugly accessory which induces guilt if you fail to walk up the tube escalator every morning. Recent studies have also indicated that they are failing to motivate people to move more and don’t necessarily help with weight loss. If you want to improve your lifestyle then do it the old-fashioned way – drink more water, eat less chocolate and join a gym.

Serena Kutchinsky is the digital editor of the New Statesman.

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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