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Culture Bubbles: Is Trap the Disco of the 2010s?

Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

The tipping point in the 2015 film The Big Short, based on Michael Lewis’s book on the 2008 financial crisis, is when it dawns on Steve Carrell’s character upon traveling down from New York City to Florida, that a plethora of unstable loans had been granted to people with very little prospects of paying them back. Despite the consensus that mortgage loans are stable because everyone ultimately pays them back, this realisation runs contrary to the prevailing Wall Street logic of the time. Yet less than a year later, with the crisis in full swing, Carrell is financially vindicated but philosophically troubled as he looks over the Manhattan skyline.

Talk of bubbles are not exclusively within the remit of economists. Less we forget, the financial system is a social phenomenon, with some of the same mechanisms that influence the flow of capital also being influential on musical preferences. This is reflected in trends and crazes, with the most infamous being the rise of Disco through the second half of the 70s. In 1978 and 1979, almost a third of songs in the top 100 were Disco, a trend that had been building solidly since 1973. To be an A&R in 1978, you would believe this would last forever—that Disco would continue to take over the charts. Indeed, the Simpsons parodied this idea through this clip of Disco Stu seeking investment.

If Trap is not already at this stage then it cannot be far off. In 2017, 17 songs in the Billboard end of year top 100 could be considered at least somewhat representative of the sound. Additionally, as of July 2018, five out of the nine songs that have topped the Billboard 100 this year (three by Drake), at least feature elements of Trap. The sound, which emerged out of the southern states in early 2000s as a much slower take on Hip-Hop, shares with disco its emphasis on style and feeling, rather than emphasis on lyricism and message. In that sense, Trap also shares with Disco its derision by purists of the genre from which it emerged, with Disco being routinely criticised as a sanitised version of the funk, soul and Jazz music from which it was originally derived. It also generated a strong reaction from rock purists, one of whom was a local radio DJ that organised the infamous ‘Disco Demolition Night’ in Chicago. Disco records where symbolically destroyed in a baseball stadium (difficult to replicate in the streaming era).

The counter argument of course is that Trap is rather an extension of a much wider occurrence; it is the latest iteration of hip-hop and as such will simply transform into something else by taking in other genres. This may be true, but that is unlikely to constrain major label A&R budgets from being spent on artists who are joining the game at a stage when we may witness a swift shift in music tastes, one that sees Trap witness a similar fate to Disco in the 1980s.

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