Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Post-Kanye: Cher Lloyd

I've just read a short post over at my friend Nico's blog Breakbeats, Beatitudes, & Becomings called Cher Lloyd and the Proletarianization of a Generation, and I thought I should respond to it. So here's what I've written.

There are certain obvious musical predecessors to this song - Ke$ha's "the boys linin up cuz they know we got swagger / but we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger" line, most immediately, and people's subsequent inability to find another word that rhymed with swagger is here made vacuous even of the cultural reference, but also moments of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" (particularly the beginning of the second verse), perhaps some Diplo/Afrojack*, or a chorus that seems to be cribbed from My Darling Clementine. I think it's interesting that the song isn't called the nearly-homophonous "Swagger Jacker;" the rhyme there is admittedly at a (very slight) slant, but that seems to be much more descriptive of what the song is talking about. In that sense it's actually a deeply stupid chorus ("Swagger Jagger, you should get some of your own" - as though the Ke$ha similarities weren't obvious enough already - and, I mean, fuck, even the video seems like a real low rent version of the "Your Love Is My Drug" video (or, you know, one of many shitty consumer technology commercials from the early '00s)).

But I'm really interested in this song as an extension of the claim I was trying to make about a Post-Kanye aesthetic in rap, defined by a structural shift from the hater as antagonist to the hater as primary site of value production. This song seems to possess that shift as an already complete ideological imprint - it is, as it were, the "common sense" of the song that the ephemeral "hater" is a source of value.

There is something unclear, here, however, a seeming muddling of the addressee. When the song makes recourse to that least-ironic of all dance music injunctions: "get on the floor," the idea that this song is addressed directly to haters (see: every other lyric) gets a bit confusing. The musical tradition that that trope comes from is an utopian one, or one in which the assumption of the audience is of one preaching to the choir; it is a musical tradition which operates in a very specific space, and has a respect for that space's sanctity. When it gets transposed, as in "Swagger Jagger," into the context of being addressed to an audience that is both generalized and explicitly heretical, there is (or, perhaps, should be) a bit of cognitive dissonance.

The point of recognizing the (possibility of**) cognitive dissonance in this song, in relation to the claims I've tried to make about the paradigm shift in rap music that Kanye epitomizes/enacts, is to say that this is precisely what we would expect to happen if my "post-Kanye" were the new norm. Common sense is not a form of knowledge, but a particular structuring of understanding; common sense (as an ideological construct) is not, that is, how you understand the world, but rather how you understand what you are capable of understanding. When someone says, for instance, that "you should stay off that street at night - it's just common sense," what is common sense about that is that one should hate the poor. And, to continue with this example, if 'hate the poor' is one specific kind of 'common sense,' then it is clear that common sense is not something that gets expressed unambiguously. All kinds of 'aspirational' films - a movie I find personally intolerable, Slumdog Millionaires, springs immediately to mind - reinforce this exact common sensical view of reality precisely by expressing it in its inversion, that poor people can be just wonderful too.

And this is not quite exactly how Cher Lloyd's song works - there is still a bit of strain in insisting that haters are monetized, a bit of the stench of rhetoric about the whole mess - but it is much less strained about it than, say, Kanye's "Stronger," or other similar "I <3 Haters" anthems, and is willing to let itself devolve into babble (her swagger's in check, just so you know!).

The main thing I'm interested in responding to though, in terms of Nico's response to the video, is the way in which he points to swagger as commodity. Many of his individual points I tend to agree with - that there is the scent of planned obsolescence about the whole endeavour, and the mirroring that it shares with consumer electronics, especially - but, as a whole (and as I've tried to write elsewhere on this blog), I tend to be more convinced by the argument that swagger is a reference to work, rather than product. Which, I mean, isn't to fetishize labour - "Labor is a commodity, like any other," after all - but simply to say that when one talks of swagger, one talks of entering a (head)space in which commodities and surplus-value can be generated. Swagger, that is, is not what is being sold, but the simultaneous avowal and mystification of where what is being sold came from. There is a difference between a "swagger ja[ck]er" and a "biter," after all.

These two points - that of the "hater" as primary creator of value, and swagger as (might I go so far as to say fetishized?) labour - seem to me to be indispensable to an understanding of this song, and the milieu out of which it rises. The particulars of the political economy - that is, how it produces value and allocates resources, and how this is inextricably tied to the regulation of its sociality - of the contemporary entertainment industry (in all its blazing glory) are well worth investigating, precisely because - well, actually, fuck it, I'm sure the reasons you can imagine me saying here are better than the ones I can come up with right now, I've just listened to Swagger Jagger probably a hundred times in a row, fuck it.

Happy fucking #based day.

*Actually, if you google [Cher Lloyd Swagger Jagger Diplo] you get a bunch of results claiming that he produced it, though both discogs and wikipedia disconfirm that.

**I make no claims on how others experience this song.