In my book I’m trying to locate “hip” in the context of metaphysics. How does the idea of being fashionable, cool, etc. correspond to our existence? We talk about it as a cultural construct all the time—and certainly this is important—but is it more elemental than that? Is the ephemeral in fashion and “cool” paralleled or derived from the ephemeral in our own very existence? In other words: is it a coincidence that 1) we all desire “cool,” 2) “cool” is necessarily an ever-changing, constantly cannibalizing phenomenon, and 3) we are all aware of death and the urgency of living?
On August 29, Michael Jackson celebrated his 50th birthday. It was a low key affair, with the King of Pop hanging out with his three kids, eating candy, giggling, “watching cartoons” and “just relaxing.” No Macaulay Culkin, no Elizabeth Taylor, no Chris Tucker. Just Michael and his kids (Prince Michael, Paris, and Prince Michael II). Just like a normal family.
It’s crazy to think that Michael, the kid who not so many years ago blew our minds with the insane dancing of “Thriller” and “Beat It” and repeatedly set records with album sales, is now a half century old (joining Madonna and Prince, who also turned 50 this year), living in relative obscurity somewhere in Bahrain (and recently Las Vegas), supposedly working on a new album. Will he ever return to the glory days again?
Probably not; not in this day and age when the new royals of pop are Disney Channel stars (Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, etc) or otherwise talentless prefab teen-pop confections. Being a superstar is not about talent anymore; it’s about being cross-marketable and cute. Michael Jackson was once adorable (back in the Jackson 5 days), but now he is a haunting, disturbingly post-human specter. I’ll be surprised if he ever has a hit record again.
It’s funny what happens to pop stars after they peak, after they grow up. We’ve already watched Britney loose her grip on reality after she left her teenybopper days behind; Lindsay Lohan is fast on her heals. These are the kids who were once the icons of sugar-pop, Disney kitsch. Now they are grown up and trying to remain relevant, often to little success (at least Britney seems to be on a semi-upswing… she’s readying a new single and staying out of the headlines).
Alas, it must be immensely disorienting for a person to reach such high levels of fame and fortune at such a young age. When you reach the top before you are 20, where do you go from there? Perhaps this is why aging popstars are always trying so hard to be edgy and new, to remain in the public consciousness. Did you see Christina Aguilera at the VMA’s? Her remix performance of “Genie in the Bottle” was kind of cool, but does anyone really care about her anymore, when there are new singers like Rihanna and Jordan Sparks to worry about? And can anyone really believe that the New Kids on the Block have reunited and attempted a comeback? Is there anything sadder than that?
Actually, I shouldn’t pity these people. I’m sure I’ll be like them one day, trying to remain cool and relevant even when I’m clearly out of touch. I already feel that way, actually. Neither I nor Michael Jackson will ever again be as cool as the Jonas Brothers are now…