on this day 10 years ago, august 7th 2009, kesha (then still going by ke$ha) released her massively acclaimed single TiK ToK, which has since proven to be one of the most culturally significant pieces of music of the past decade. not only does it signify the essence of the party-hauntological paradigm to its fullest, but can also, in hindsight, rightfully claim its position as a highly accurate prophecy of the following cultural shifts of the 2010s. keshas debut album animal, featuring TiK ToK, literally inaugurated the new decade by hitting the shelves on january 1st of 2010. it eerily suggested the embedded irony of its own party saturated subject matter by making its presence known to a maximally hungover global population, who had been partying in the new decade. produced by dr luke, one of countless men publicly taken down by metoo, the song could further exemplify the type of inflammation that has come to be central in the representational identitarianism defining both political and cultural discourse of the latter half of this decade. also, hiding in plain sight, is the prophetic projection of TikTok, the social media music platform hybrid that is the most overt product of changes in the music industry symptomatic to technological and algorithmic acceleration. during the summer of 2010 a clip was uploaded to youtube, in which in-service israeli soldiers can be seen performing a choreographed dance to TiK ToK, fully armed in the streets of hebron, palestine. to mtv kesha described the viral IDF clip, as well as the song being featured on an episode of the simpsons, as “dreams”. “dj blow my speakers up” echoes with dissonance, despite the heavy autotuning, against the active war zone backdrop.
the decade as such is ephemeral, and usually not easily captured in a best of-list, but incidentally major cultural shifts instigated by economic, technological and sociological factors happened to take place just around the new decade. the leaks of snowden and manning, occupy wall street and the arab spring are all formative events affecting the general conception of modern society that took place within a period of time with 2010 as the middle point. while culture is a process impossible to construe as predetermined segments, a decade might actually be a reasonable amount of time to let pass in order to more concretely discern the significance of any event or phenomenon. it may generally be an appropriate distance for more contextualised analysis of the effects of innovations. if so, now would be a good time to revisit the artefacts of early 2010 pop culture to see in what ways it points to where we are now. not to set up a definitive narrative as an “explanation” to how weve ended up where we are, but to find points that can be analysed and connected to the contemporary, and our memories of the past.
in an essay titled another grey world mark fisher describes the 21st century domination of party pop music as “party-hauntological”. hauntology as such is a notion, attributed to derrida and written on extensively by fisher, which tries to articulate the ways in which life is haunted by the possible futures that never occurred. it can be argued that this is one of the major coping mechanism for a modern society on the brink of climate destruction, entrenched with anti-radical neoliberalism. what the party-hauntological is then, is when the canon of mainstream pop music is so dense with calls for throwing your hands in the air that it, despite its overt optimism, starts signaling melancholy. fisher references hugely popular tracks like j-los on the floor (2011) and the black eyed peas time (dirty bit) (2010) that both filled countless dancefloors but regardless, through their sampling of older dance tracks (lambada respectively ive had the time of my life), incorporated a paradoxical form of sadness. the actual presence of a fragment of the 80s might be a tool to insert the music into an alternative flow of time – in a hauntological manner; a way of resuscitating the hope for a future that in present time is long dead.
audio retouching, such as the autotune which the utilisation of is perfectly exemplified in TiK ToK, creates a sonic landscape that fisher describes as “a perverse yet ultra-banal normality, from which all flaws have been erased”. the cultural incentive to turn to party music as a proxy for any real life partying continues to escalate in a neo-liberal paradigm that favors free market excess but prohibits any hedonism in praxis. mourning the passing of past rave culture, among increasing regulation and surveillance, is sublimated into a performative cpr of the most streamlined version of the party. to bear living under conditions predicated by platform economic interests on the rise, one has to resort to entrancing oneself by simulating an imagined pre-reagan-thatcher optimism. no matter how little support it may actually give, or how connected it actually is to actual historical social conditions.
TiK ToK, i perceive, was one of the major final gasping breaths of the party-hauntological music paradigm, that soon were to be entirely engulfed by platform agendas. the party-hauntological was concerned with establishing an alternative time frame as relief from the despair and pressures of, among other factors, the integration of the online and the social. the following dominance can be attributed to a music consumption as one part of the desensitising-distracting algorithm driven model of profitable social media feeds. in this new form, music is consumed in snippets, often in company with viral videos, limited to the two minute 20 second limit of a twitter video, the one minute limit of instagram and tiktok, and the even shorter time frames of platforms such as snapchat. the success of lil nas xs old town road has much less to do with whatevers evoked by its nine inch nails sample, and more with its memetic compatibility with the platforms and a general current moral direction of media.
katy perrys last friday night (t.g.i.f.), is another 2010 track that in all its optimism (after a tirade of all the sick things one can recall from previous night the chorus ends by assuring us “this friday night, [we will] do it all again”) showcases the approach of its own obsolescence in plain sight; it really does signify the last friday night. the explosion of early 2010s party-hauntological music marked the end of the party as such and it seems like we now must endure an infinitely stretched out saturday morning hangover where one cant seem to do anything but scroll ones thumb up and down the phone – the festivals are shut down or gentrified, the clubs and raves likewise. by the time lorde sings shes “kind of over gettin told to throw [her] hands up in the air” in 2013, the paradigm shift is already taking place. lorde herself exemplifying the way in which the attention economy easily will disguise the convergence of viral events and its own economic interests as american dream-esque diy culture. in the music video for tennis court she is merely looking into the camera, only lip syncing the scattered “yeahs” throughout the song. it seems nearly avant garde at first glance, maximally effective at second. she sings “its a new art form showing people how little we care”.
today the resampling of old dance music (recently icona pop sang over a remade gypsy woman beat, french montana and city girls rapping over push the feeling on by nightcrawlers which previously also has been sampled by pitbull) seems to be less a depressed longing for the future and more a desensitised accumulation of content. its almost like the past is invoked by random now; the data that happened to be at hand was once a cultural artefact but is incorporated into the present music canon because it was convenient, lucrative and fit for the platform. so what is unfolding here, really? a critique of the state of the current, that is nostalgic for performative nostalgia? besides arguing for the determination of TiK ToK as the defining track of the decade, both in it being the epitome of party-hauntological music and a prognosis of the years it preceded, i would also emphasise the potential of the melancholic streak of its time, if one is looking for tools. a regression to the mindset of a time where a future that wasnt ecologically, politically and culturally disastrous could still be glimpsed at the horizon undoubtedly can, and maybe must, be bound to a depressive repetition – eventually escalating into suicidal tendencies. but the sampling that is emblematic of the party-hauntological may also be a resource towards building better alternatives. as news are consumed from minute to minute instead of week to week or day to day, the speed inhibits the stretches of time that have allowed past generations to cultivate culture and theories. the average lifespan of an internet meme is only a fraction of, say, even the relatively short fashion trends of the 00s, and infinitely shorter than the decade long cultural eras of the 20th century (look, here we are, still pretending that decades exist and havent been replaced by minute-short online time frames). when there is no longer space to let culture develop in slowness like before, turning toward both past and future to collect and assemble fragments that can piece together a culture that is comprehensible and beautiful because of its self aware contextualisation might be the only viable option. such structure, if executed with passion and esthetic engagement, ought to be a prolific one, of wide scopes, spectrums of emotion, full of enjoyable contradiction and inadvertence.
the beauty in TiK ToK lies in the perspective it is perceived from. that is, it now has 10 years of content between itself and us at this point in time, and its position in relation to the entirety of cultural production preceding and succeeding that position stands for its cultural value. as a piece of little over three minutes of recognisably structured 120 bpm pop, it now passes as a definitive representative of pop music around the switch of the decade as an experiment in pushing the threshold of unsophistication. as opposed to the current state of cultural production, in which artists entire lives and personal philosophies are picked apart in order to determine their value as creators based on their (most often optical) morality, a full on disintegration of complex thought was being explored (way before that same tactic would be politically mainstream). kesha and contemporaries of hers churned out music that spoke volumes of the crumbling state of societys stability by blatantly turning its face away from issues, ridiculing them, belittling them. seeing her, and others, attempting to adjust to the newfound value of morality and “taking a stand” during more recent years is uncanny. praying, the ballad released at the close of her contractual dispute with her producer-abuser dr luke, is abruptly disconnected from her earlier output. somewhere along the way of the legal process she dropped the $ from her mononym to symbolise a removal of “facade”. lady gaga transitioned from her space cowboy produced dancefloor anthems like just dance to jazz, high brow acting and abuse awareness projects. nicki minaj pushed the braindead aesthetic to its most unconventional and trollish with stupid hoe. but even as soon as she dropped anaconda in 2014 the (female) rap was now politicised, in a field where the necessity of any given song “empowering” the marginalised was growing more prominent. nicki has since been more concerned with figuring out the attention economy. one of the final death twitches (and perhaps one of the best products) of the hands up pop movement, we cant stop by miley cyrus, was met with suspicion already at its release in 2013 – narratives of cultural appropriation and privileges were already on the rise on social media at the time. miley has since had to (re)turn to country esthetics. as early as 2003 the black eyed peas released lets get retarded, now an obvious hyperstition for the a coming mechanism to cope with the state of the late 00s. they would eventually put out their essential two-part party music odyssey, starting in 2009 with the e.n.d. (short for the energy never dies) featuring indispensable songs like i gotta feeling and boom boom pow. as the beginning dropped one year later, one might wonder if they were not predicting the way their relevance would end at the instigation of a new technological and social paradigm.
when listening to TiK ToK in 2019 its 8-bit nostalgic carefreeness sounds like a trace of what music was before cancelling, before vine trimmed the general attention span to a matter of seconds, before the end of the world was being talked about as a process already well underway. this is what the distance that the past decade comprises charges an artwork with. it becomes crucial, when struck with the potency of well aged art, not to surrender to a nostalgic loop of failed resuscitation, but to incorporate the significance of that distance into conditioning art for a new decade. still, it is 10 years later this very distance that now renders the previously epic TiK ToK a song now on the verge of sublimity.