DO IT FOR THE CULTURE
It’s impossible to overstate the effect that just two seconds of dancing can have on a culture, especially when it involves Michael Jackson. Here at The Culture Crush, we fancy ourselves to be culturally clever. We spend our days prospecting and digging around to find where trends and movements start and we’re always searching deeper into subcultures that you don’t see in the mainstream. So after reading this week’s new column by Torry Threadcraft on the Memphis jookin’ dance and rap music scene, we were floored to learn it was all started by the King of Pop himself. It was Michael Jackson’s earth-shattering-ground-breaking-world-changing moonwalk in his debut television performance of Billie Jean on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever that served as the origins and inspiration for jookin and its musical offshoots, as MJ has in some way inspired us all. Read Bluff City Memphis Moves Here!
This talk got us thinking about subcultures and how and why they get subsumed into the bigger monster of the mainstream. This isn’t necessarily a chicken or the egg type question, but to us, it seems like there is a give and take when it comes to the mainstream and the alternative. It’s not who came up with the idea first, but more like a never ending societal game of tag between David and Goliath.
It can’t be said enough how important that performance was. You can’t really get more mainstream than MJ. Of course, everyone knows how heavy the King of Pop’s influence was and still is, but it is interesting to hear that even the name “jookin” comes from the Memphis slang for Jackson’s name. Like Threadcraft said, “the essence of Memphis jookin—extravagance, humor, nonchalance in response to heartbreak, and hardship—is still present in the Memphis rap scene.”
After our first reading of the piece, we were overwhelmed, but excited, with the number of names, links, and videos of the original artists who contributed to the development of Memphis’ hip hop culture, and from there, the rest of the world. There are so many important people to mention that we actually decided to create an index. Michael Jackson’s mainstream moonwalking tagged back to a giant subculture of people that were in need of an outlet. From there, the rap scene developed along the Mississippi River.
In his essay, Threadcraft connects the dots between Three 6 Mafia and mainstream megastars like Drake, Juicy J, and Plies, who all cite the group as inspiration. And meanwhile, brands like Apple and KIA have featured jookin dance moves in their corporate propaganda. The local subculture was now re-consumed right back into the mainstream.
We find this game of tag between the broader pop cultural world and the many local subcultures it inspires to be endlessly fascinating. It’s interesting to see how one influences the other and in a time where nothing feels original, it’s cool to look back and realize it’s all just give and take. A cultural waltz. After Cardi B’s Bickenhead release, Memphis, TAG! YOU'RE IT!
If Michael Jackson is the King of Pop, then John Carpenter is definitely the Master of Horror. From The Thing to They Live, his movies have left an indelible mark on both the horror genre specifically and culture at large. Not only has he inspired countless other directors and films, but entire clothing lines borrow from the aesthetics of his movies. Arguably, the best example of his impact can be seen in Halloween, which not only inspired future masked slasher films such as Friday the 13th, but has transcended the bounds of being a simple genre flick for horror nerds to being part of mainstream pop culture. It is hard to imagine someone not knowing who Michael Myers is in the modern day and part of that iconic status is attributable to the music that accompanied each of his appearances.
While many know that Carpenter is an accomplished filmmaker, a lesser-known fact is that he is also an accomplished musician, having composed many of the scores for his own movies. His talent for composing simple, yet effective music to accompany his films undoubtedly contributed to how memorable are. After all, who can forget his most famous work, the theme to Halloween? Obviously, it made an impact on Three 6 Mafia, who sampled it for their song Lolli Lolli, but they are far from the only rappers to borrow the track. You can find the iconic melody in songs by artists such as Dr. Dre, Biggie Smalls, Ice-T, and countless more. That is because the simple piano melody is both instantly recognizable and unerringly creepy, cementing itself in the minds of many. A feat that becomes even more impressive when you realize that Carpenter liked to improvise his compositions while watching the film and that the theme that has become so iconic was done on the fly. In any case, Carpenter still has not won an Oscar, for either his films (or scores), while Three 6 Mafia has.