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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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Man in the mirror-ball: Simon Armitage's The Unaccompanied

With this mature, engaging and empathetic work, the poet softens the pain of passing years. 

The Unaccompanied, by Simon Armitage
Faber & Faber, 76pp, £14.99

“The centuries crawl past,” Simon Armitage notes in his new collection, “none of them going your way”. After a decade of acclaimed travelogues, transgressive prose poetry, and above all translation, Armitage has combed those centuries to produce innovative versions of ancient and medieval texts: Pearl, The Death of King Arthur, Homer’s Odyssey, Virgil’s Georgics. In The Unaccompanied he returns, refreshed from his sojourn in the past and bringing the classics with him; in the book’s dystopian present, in “Poundland”, Odysseus meets the ghost of his drunken comrade Elpenor not in the Underworld, but “slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Products display”, the poem’s pseudo-archaic English underscoring its ironic rewriting of Homer. Meanwhile, the protagonist of “Prometheus”, holed up in a post-industrial wasteland, sees his father retrieve not fire, but a Champion spark plug.

To lighten its nightmarish visions, The Unaccompanied offers the same beguiling playfulness that has characterised Armitage’s verse from his 1989 debut, Zoom!, to the “Merrie England” of Tyrannosaurus Rex versus The Corduroy Kid (2006). “Tiny”, for instance, reads like an old-school Ladybird Book (“Simon has taken his father, Peter,/to the town’s museum”) and “The Poet Hosts His Annual Office Christmas Party” makes a mischievous nod to Yeats. As ever, there are pinpoint references to popular culture; in “Gravity”, it is the “six-minute-plus/album version” of Fleetwood Mac’s “Sara” that plays on the stereo in the sixth-form common room. Yet Armitage’s concern for the socially excluded – the “skinny kid in jeans and trainers” from “The Ice Age” to whom the poet offers a spurned coat, “brother to brother” – burns unabated.

This collection articulates a new anger that is more personal, a lament for individual mortality, the sadness of time moving on too far and too fast. In “The Present”, the poet attempts to take an icicle home to his daughter:

a taste of the glacier, a sense of the world

being pinned in place by a
diamond-like cold

at each pole, but I open my hand

and there’s nothing to pass on, nothing to hold.

Armitage’s fluid poetics are pitch-perfect and his imagery remains incisive. The bare winter larch trees become “widowed princesses in moth-eaten furs”. In “Poor Old Soul” an elderly man sits, “hunched and skeletal under a pile of clothes,/a Saxon king unearthed in a ditch”. This is the measured poetry of late middle-age, in which only the promise of more loss fills the “white paper, clean pages”. In “Kitchen Window”, the poet’s mother taps the smeared glass before she falls away “behind net curtains” and then further “to deeper/darker reaches and would not surface”. “Emergency” (published in the NS in 2013) could almost be his audition for Grumpy Old Men. “What is it we do now?” he asks as he details the closed banks, and pubs where “tin-foil wraps/change hands under cover/of Loot magazine”. W G Hoskins’s gentle topological classic is referenced in “The Making of the English Landscape”, though a very different country is seen at dusk from a satellite:

like a shipwreck’s carcass raised on a
sea-crane’s hook,

nothing but keel, beams, spars, down to its bare bones.

In “Harmonium”, the poet’s father – who, in 1993’s Book of Matches, berated him for having his ear pierced – helps his son lug an unwanted organ from their local church and reminds him “that the next box I’ll shoulder through this nave/will bear the load of his own dead weight”.

Armitage’s poetic world is instantly recognisable, always inclusive. We know the faded ballrooms that turn into even sadder discos in “The Empire”. Or the clumsy children’s shoe fitter of “The Cinderella of Ferndale”, who leaves her own footprints of disappointment. As the poet stumbles on a farmers’ fancy-dress parade for a breast cancer charity in “Tractors”, the slight incident bleeds into the universal shock of diagnosis: “the musket-ball/or distant star/in your left breast”. Critics often cite Philip Larkin as an influence on his work, but Armitage’s highly tuned sense of such “mirror-ball” moments – small but refracting repeatedly across time and lives – is all his own. Thankfully, with this mature, engaging and empathetic work, he is back to record them for us, softening the pain of passing years. 

Josephine Balmer is a poet and classical translator. “Letting Go: Mourning Sonnets” will be published by Agenda Editions in July

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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