Pop culture is power - memes, viral content, influencers, and advertising constantly construct narratives around products, ideologies, and personas to create modern tales that captivate audiences worldwide. Its power comes from its broad influence and the message, more often than not, is a prettily packaged soundbite of joy.
In this way, pop culture leaps from decade to decade with a familiar and consistent aesthetic that conveys happiness and excitement — it is upbeat, colourful, and triumphant. But that’s only ever part of the story. Beneath the veneer of jubilance lies a complex interplay of emotions.
In the Pop Culture issue we deep dive to discover elements of irony, satire and escapism, and we look at how Pop’s ultimate meaning lies in how it unifies, how it breaks the boring binary, and how it offers fans a temporary reprieve from the challenges and complexities of real life — and not just a peripheral ‘aside’. Critics can condemn pop culture for its commercialism, and for prioritising narratives and visuals that are merely uplifting and entertaining. What the sternest of detractors undervalue, however, is the relief such distractions from harsh realities can bring; the psychological calm amidst the worst of upheavals that a piece of pop refuge provides. And in times like these, when we all feel so divided, confused and scared, this feels like a crucial reminder that a common-ground amid division can still exist.
From the music of Serge Gainsbourg and Taylor Swift who The New York Times now refers to as the “cultural event of our lifetime" to the design creations of Yinka Ilori, honey & bunny and Freddy Mamani, one can read about how creatives today use Pop to challenge, and even hold up a mirror to, our broader social values, or at least to capture our “collectively cultivated temperament,” as contributor James Dyer expresses it.
We invite you to reflect on TikTok’s extraordinary influence on fashion, on the rise and rise of micro-trends, and to sit in with Al Hassan Elwan and Ruba Al-Sweel for their fascinating conversation on what post-modernism looks like and the pervasive effect it’s having on cultural production. The only conclusion can be that binary thinking is dangerous and must die, or to be more pop-positive: binary thinking needs a remix! In the colourful world of creativity, let’s ditch the black-and-white thinking and embrace a vibrant spectrum of ideas.