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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.

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa in Black Panther
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Marvel’s Black Panther and the politics of diverse superheroes

For a young child whose blackness is more important to them than mine was to me, the film will be a seminal moment.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved superheroes. I’m not sure what came first: the animated adventures of Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men or Superman. But it was the X-Men – humans who have evolved to have superpowers – that I fell in love with. The first film I saw multiple times in cinemas was X-Men 2, and the first comic book I ever bought, aged 14, was Astonishing X-Men.

The opening roster: Cyclops (white), Emma Frost (white), Kitty Pryde (white), Wolverine (white), Colossus (white) and Beast (blue). It never particularly bothered me that none of them were black. What I liked about the X-Men was that I recognised something of myself in them. They were social outcasts, feared and distrusted by humanity – the superhero community’s equivalent to the chess club in a school full of all-star athletes.

Perhaps that was why I never particularly cared for the adventures of T’Challa. A rare black superhero, by day he was the ruler of the secluded and hyper-sophisticated African country of Wakanda, and by night he protected his nation from its enemies as Black Panther. Empowered not by mutation but by magic, and aided by his vast wealth and martial arts training, T’Challa is as far from a social outcast as it is possible to be.

Unlike the X-Men, who tended to have an antagonistic relationship with the rest of the Marvel universe, T’Challa is a power player. Just two years after his introduction in 1966, he had joined the Avengers series, Marvel’s line-up of the world’s mightiest defenders, formed to defeat threats that no hero could tackle alone. In the 1970s, he was even asked to join the Illuminati, the secret cabal of Earth’s most influential superhumans, but declined. He is Wakanda’s defender, and his opponents operate on a global scale. In one memorable scene during Christopher Priest’s 1998 tenure of the title, the Black Panther saw off the full force of the American government, including its superheroes. I first encountered him in a gentler 2005 storyline, in which he briefly married the X-Men’s Storm. (It didn’t last. Marriage, rather like death, is only ever temporary in the world of Marvel Comics.)

Perhaps if I had been raised somewhere different, T’Challa would have excited me more. But in the hyper-diverse part of London where I grew up, being “black” was never rare or interesting enough to form part of my identity. If someone had been asked to find me at school, describing me as “black” would have been only marginally more useful than picking me out as having two arms and two legs. Instead, my identity came from the things that set me apart, and defined my friendships: a love of indie music, video games and science fiction, all of which put me firmly in the “social outcast” category along with my beloved X-Men.

For me, blackness was incidental; for T’Challa, it was essential, even though his creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, were both white. Part of Lee and Kirby’s genius was that they were continually borrowing from other places and ideas in a bid to keep the Marvel readership growing and to see off threats before they arrived. They already had a large nerdy and predominantly white readership: they wanted to reach out to a new audience, and so the first black superhero in mainstream comics was born.

The Black Panther name came from an African-American tank battalion that fought during the Second World War. In an astonishingly poor piece of timing, Black Panther appeared in stores in July 1966, and in October 1966 Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panthers, a far-left black nationalist political party, in Oakland, California. In the 1970s T’Challa’s alter-ego was briefly changed to the Black Leopard to avoid the association, but the rebrand didn’t stick.

As a result, T’Challa is one of just four Marvel heroes whose character is inextricably bound up with his race. (The other three are Captain America, an ordinary, white Second World War soldier given extraordinary powers; Patriot, the black present-day teenager who adored him; and Magneto, the X-Men’s greatest opponent, whose experience as a Jew during the Holocaust convinced him that humans would never accept mutants such as him as equals.) To my teenaged self, all of that bored me: better to save my money and spend it on X-Men.

So why am I so excited that Black Panther is the latest Marvel superhero to make his way from the comics to the big screen? Partly because the year I turned 18, two important things happened to me: the first was that I went away to university, and the second, not-unconnected thing was that I spent what at the time seemed an extravagant amount of money on a Batman costume. 

People often talk about their time at university in a series of clichés – I learned how to think, I found myself and so on – and here’s mine: I became black at university. Not because I experienced any racism worth talking about but simply because for the first time in my life, anyone describing me could mostly get away with “black”. At the same time, liking indie music and science fiction stopped being a distinguishing feature and became almost as everyday as my blackness had been.

As to the Batman costume, so desperate was I to ensure I got my money’s worth that I actively sought out fancy-dress parties and wore it under the thinnest of pretexts, adding the cheapest of modifications to make it fit the theme. At one point, I donned a Hawaiian lei and attended a holiday-themed party as “Batman on vacation”.

During that time, I discovered two things: the first, happily, was that a surprising number of people had a thing for Batman. The second, less happily, was that a surprising number of people felt very strongly that a black man couldn’t be Batman. Up until that point, I had seen Black Panther as an essentially dull character enlivened by a series of writers – Christopher Priest, a legendary graphic novelist, and the television producer Reginald Hudlin – who, much to my surprise, chose to slum it on the title. But as a student I began to understand why these two talented black writers found Black Panther so appealing. (Since then, the journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates has taken over the title, foregrounding the political question of whether T’Challa has a right to rule.)

The appeal of Black Panther only grew after I exchanged one crumbling and largely white Victorian institution for another in Westminster. The recent commercial success of Hidden Figures, a Hollywood feel-good film with a largely African-American cast, and the critical achievement of Moonlight, an art-house film about a black gay man, have begun to change the landscape.

If Black Panther, which not only has a black lead but a majority black cast, succeeds, my dream of seeing a screen superhero who is incidentally black – an X-Men film with a black lead; a reimagined Tony Stark/Iron Man; or perhaps even a mainstream Miles Morales, the young black teenager who in 2011 replaced Peter Parker as Spider-Man in one segment of the Marvel Universe – might get a little bit closer.

But I appreciate now that for a young child whose blackness is more important to them than mine was to me, Black Panther will be a seminal moment not because of what it might portend, but because of what it is. 

“Black Panther” is in cinemas now

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist