Music’s mockery of glamour marks the decline of decadence

Backspin to 1996. The state of hip-hop is in shambles. Deeper than the Biggie-Tupac divide, two classes of rappers begin to materialize: the moneymakers and the rhyme-sayers.

The Roots’ video for their single “What They Do” distilled their distaste of the rise of the rapper-turned-businessman. The video depicts typical stereotypes of hip-hop glamour and excess: the mansions, the money inexplicably flying around and the over-eager, the bikini-clad girls gyrating to the groove. Yet The Roots are clearly disenchanted with their surroundings, capping off the video by glaring off into the distance and shaking their champagne glasses as if they were toasting to the end of an era.

The satire drew such ire from big-name rap artists that Puff Daddy called a special discussion, mediated by Q-Tip, with The Roots’ drummer, chastising him for “shitting on [Biggie].” Though P. Diddy and The Roots have long since become allies on the hip-hop battlefield, the capitalist culture of big-money hip-hop has continued to engulf radio-ready artists.

Just as The Roots felt alienated by their peers, fans have become disconnected to lifestyles they cannot hope to relate to. Femme fatale Lorde is the perfect example of the breed of pop stars that will dominate charts in the future. Lyrics like “we live in cities you’ll never see onscreen/not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things,” reflect the rise of the down-to-earth, homegrown archetypes that are replacing the decadent, pop-hedonist narratives of the past.

Lily Allen’s recent return to the spotlight hosts a number of similarities to the disenchantment of “What They Do.” The video for her single “Hard out Here” opens with Allen being urged to lose weight following the birth of her two kids, and transitions to her dancing half-heartedly as a twerking posse flanks her. Champagne bottles flow in excess, and even Allen’s straight-laced manager begins to flash money and join the twerking brigade. Allen’s satire has been championed for its lighthearted disparaging of out-of- touch indulgence.

Even though “What They Do” and “Hard Out Here” are 17 years removed, both videos reflect the same core criticism: The glamorization of excess is becoming unpalatable to listeners. And finally, mainstream artists are starting to respond accordingly.