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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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Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett asks how we shape history and how much is beyond our control

In Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, the wealthy build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least they try to. 

The great cutting heads of the Crossrail tunnel-boring machines were engines of the future drilling into the past. The whole railway project entailed a crawl back into history as archaeologists worked hand in hand with engineers, preserving – as far as possible – the ancient treasures they discovered along the way. One of the most striking finds, relics of which are now on display at the Museum of London Docklands, was a batch of skeletons, unearthed near Liverpool Street Station, in which the bacteria responsible for the Great Plague of 1665 were identified for the first time. Past and present are never truly separable.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s ambitious first novel ends in 1665 in the aftermath of that plague, and it, too, dances between past and present, history and modernity. Like those skeletons buried for centuries beneath Bishopsgate, it is rooted in the ground. The eponymous “peculiar ground” is Wychwood, a great house in Oxfordshire, a place where the wealthy can build walls around themselves to keep out ugliness, poverty, political change. Or at least that is what they believe they can do; it doesn’t spoil the intricacies of this novel to say that, in the end, they will not succeed.

It is a timely idea. No doubt Hughes-Hallett was working on her novel long before a certain presidential candidate announced that he would build a great wall, but this present-day undiplomatic reality can never be far from the reader’s mind, and nor will the questions of Britain’s connection to or breakage with our European neighbours. Hughes-Hallett’s last book, a biography of Gabriele d’Annunzio, “the John the Baptist of fascism”, won a slew of awards when it was published four years ago and demonstrated the author’s skill in weaving together the forces of culture and politics.

Peculiar Ground does not confine itself to a single wall. Like Tom Stoppard’s classic play Arcadia, it sets up a communication between centuries in the grounds at Wychwood. In the 17th century, John Norris is a landscape-maker, transforming natural countryside into artifice on behalf of the Earl of Woldingham, who has returned home from the depredations of the English Civil War. In the 20th century a new cast of characters inhabits Wychwood, but there are powerful resonances of the past in this place, not least because those who look after the estate – foresters, gardeners, overseers – appear to be essentially the same people. It is a kind of manifestation of what has been called the Stone Tape theory, after a 1972 television play by Nigel Kneale in which places carry an ineradicable echo of their history, causing ghostly lives to manifest themselves through the years.

But the new story in Peculiar Ground broadens, heading over to Germany as it is divided between East and West in 1961, and again as that division falls away in 1989. Characters’ lives cannot be divorced from their historical context. The English breakage of the civil war echoes through Europe’s fractures during the Cold War. The novel asks how much human actors shape history and how much is beyond their control.

At times these larger questions can overwhelm the narrative. As the book progresses we dance between a succession of many voices, and there are moments when their individual stories are less compelling than the political or historical situations that surround them. But perhaps that is the point. Nell, the daughter of the land agent who manages Wychwood in the 20th century, grows up to work in prison reform and ­observes those who live in confinement. “An enclosed community is toxic,” she says. “It festers. It stagnates. The wrong people thrive there. The sort of people who actually like being walled in.”

The inhabitants of this peculiar ground cannot see what is coming. The novel’s modern chapters end before the 21st century, but the future is foreshadowed in the person of Selim Malik, who finds himself hiding out at Wychwood in 1989 after he becomes involved in the publication of an unnamed author’s notorious book. “The story you’re all so worked up about is over,” he says to a journalist writing about the supposed end of the Cold War. “The story I’m part of is the one you need to think about.”

A little heavy handed, maybe – but we know Selim is right. No doubt, however, Wychwood will endure. The landscape of this novel – its grounds and waters and walls – is magically and movingly evoked, and remains in the imagination long after the reader passes beyond its gates. 

Erica Wagner’s “Chief Engineer: the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge” is published by Bloomsbury

Erica Wagner is a New Statesman contributing writer and a judge of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. A former literary editor of the Times, her books include Ariel's Gift: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the Story of “Birthday Letters” and Seizure.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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