The mists of eternity wafted over my Twitter feed the other night. Okay, not quite — but talk of eternity, or at least of the pop scene in thirty years, did make for a lengthy and spirited group exchange. It started when a friend who’s not fond of singing competitions asked whether Kelly Clarkson will be remembered in 2042. The conversation rolled on from there, with some mounting passionate defenses of Clarkson’s commercial impact and vocal talent; others casting alternate votes (Kanye West and Beyonce got the most hugs, Justin Bieber the loudest groans); a few stumping for sideways icons like The Velvet Underground or rehabilitated ones like Duran Duran; and still others rightly questioning the question itself.
This same idea was recently discussed by one of my favorite prognosticators, Chris Molanphy, on WNYC’s Soundcheck, as a way of thinking about what hits of today would play on oldies radio stations of the future. But while it’s fun, this game of tracking future legends is perennial and, in its moment, futile. The future’s not ours to see, as Doris Day once crooned; everything from a star’s early demise to changes in demographics or technology can enhance or detract from staying power. I’m not here to tell you what aging or departed star will appear on college kids’ t-shirts in 2042 or produce legions of acolytes, any more than I could have known that Duran Duran would be hot at Hot Topic in 2012. Still, it’s an apt moment for such debates to resurface.
Bob Dylan has released an new album that shores up his late-career efforts to become a walking, croaking electrical transmitter of American songlines; the sea chanteys and saloon stomps of Tempest encompass the centuries and further the old bard’s quest to become not just one generation’s favorite figure, but a living embodiment of the nation’s full folk consciousness.
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