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Hypervocal   September 6, 2011


What Taylor, Kanye & Jai Ho Say About Generational Change

By Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais


About every eight decades a new, positive, accomplished and group-oriented “civic generation” emerges to change the course of history and remake America. The Millennial Generation (born 1982-2003) — the nation’s largest, most ethnically diverse, socially tolerant, and technologically proficient generation ever — has already made its mark by putting Barack Obama in the White House. Now Millennials are about to redefine American entertainment as profoundly.

Recent Academy Award winners for best song provide an early example of the generational change from Gen X to Millennial programmatic and musical themes. Instead of bemoaning the fact that they had “done seen people killed, done seen people deal, done seen people live in poverty with no meals,” as Three 6 Mafia did in their 2005 Academy Award winner, “Its Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” the young lovers in the Bollywood 2008 award-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire looked at the very same conditions and created an international sensation with its rousing finale, “Jai Ho,” whose English lyrics about their dangerous and impossible love affair translated into the generational statement, “You are my destiny.”
Each American generation develops and adopts a musical genre with which it is forever identified. Students of generational trends suggest that for the Millennial Generation, and therefore for the nation, this choice lies just ahead. To date, Millennial musical preferences have been eclectic, borrowing from older generations and crossing genre lines. When Millennials ultimately choose, their music is likely to reflect their clean cut lifestyle and positive, optimistic attitudes. It will be far more Taylor Swift than Kanye West. Whatever the genre’s name and sound, when it bursts upon the music scene it will represent as sharp a break from today’s rap as Elvis’s rock ‘n’ roll did from Sinatra’s swing jazz crooning.
For six decades — and three generations — that staple of American TV, the sitcom, has portrayed the nation’s families and kids, often suggesting the ideal family in which Americans aspired to live. When Boomers (born 1946-1964) were children it was the white, upper middle class, small town Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) and Anderson (Father Knows Best) families in which a strong dad and wise, warm, stay-at-home mom raised mischievous, cute kids.
During the childhood of the often scorned and occasionally neglected Generation X (born 1965-1981) sitcoms portrayed families that were sometimes blended (The Brady Bunch), sometimes contained only a single parent (One Day at a Time), sometimes were completely dysfunctional (Married…With Children), and sometimes even had no children at all (Mary Tyler Moore). All of this culminated with the snarky, dimwitted, unlikeable Beavis and Butthead.
Now it is the turn of diverse, loving, multigenerational Millennial era families (Modern Family and Parenthood) and upbeat, wholesome Millennial kids like Hannah Montana who adore and rely on both their friends and parents in equal measure.
Cable television channels, such as MTV, have had to adjust their programming to reflect the Millennial Generations’ sensibilities or else risk losing their audience to competitors, such as the Disney Channel and ABC Family, which have had Millennials as their target audience since their inception.
With Millennials becoming the majority of all the generations comprising TV’s 18-49 year old target demo over the next few years, the even larger challenge for the entertainment industry will be to embrace completely new entertainment platforms, such as the interactive, game-like format used in “The Conspiracy for Good,” in order to retain the loyalty of this technologically sophisticated, inherently interconnected and socially concerned generation.

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