Pop Music as an Economic Indicator: Changing Tastes May Reflect Market Mood

Article excerpt

That long hemlines accompany a bad economy is an old saying in the fashion industry. Today, most experts regard hemline theory as fanciful, but a number of social theorists agree that trends in fashion, movies, or music do reflect public sentiment, which can influence stock market direction. Theoretically at least, new fads could point to shifting economic conditions. But finding the exact correlation between changing music tastes and economic performance is anything but easy.

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William Higham, author of The Next Big Thing: Spotting and Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit (Kogan Page, 2009), argues that the down economy and grumpy public sentiment forecasts an angry music wave in the coming year. However, economics is not the sole cause, says Higham. The next music fad will take more than one form, he believes.

"Consumers' current mood, which blends confused, afraid, angry, and determined, is due to a mix of financial hard- ship, anger at being let down by politicians and big business, continuing fear of world events, the speed of technological/social change, and a reassessment of work/life priorities," Higham told THE FUTURIST.

Jon P. Avlon, author of Independent Nation (Three Rivers Press, 2005), agrees that the public mood is bad and getting worse, and mainstream media will only exacerbate the grumpiness. The angry rhetoric rocking the airwaves and cable channels across the United States, the protestor clashes outside the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change, and the Tea Party rallies that have lately sprung up in Washington, D.C., are a "reflection of a larger trend, the fragmentation of modern media, which has had an ironic effect on the way we get our information," he wrote to THE FUTURIST. "The best ratings are achieved by [TV and radio] hosts who cultivate narrow but intense niche audiences. This has helped pump up the hate and hyper-partisanship we see today."

Higham argues that previous eras of socioeconomic flux had two distinct and separate effects on pop culture. Mainstream music (which appeals more to baby boomers) became more quiet, subdued, and quaint, whereas "alternative" music, marketed primarily to younger people, became louder and more primal.

"Socioeconomic problems drove rock in the 1960s, heavy rock and punk in the 1970s, gangsta rap in the late 1980s, and grunge in the 1990s. So the new consumer mood will, I believe, drive a rise in both more aggressively patriotic mainstream roots music (the soundtrack to Tea Party anger) and more angry, dissonant Alternative music (the soundtrack to environmental protest)," he said.

Visible changes in fashion, television, movies, and particularly pop music can not only reflect a nation's economic circumstances, but predict them as well, according to scholars with the Socionomics Institute.

In the October 2009 issue of The Socionomist, authors Matt Lampert and Euan Wilson claim that the commercial success of particular types of popular culture items--the music, movies, and TV shows that big-name clothiers and studios market to the public--can indicate stock market changes. …