Culturel movements and fashion trends born from the Internet have quite a short life-span. Their death can usually be recorded at the exact moment that the phenomenon finds itself being covered by big media. “Seapunk“, a graphic design, sartorial and musical trend that first appeared online only one year ago is a perfect example- having a big debut into mainstream culture this weekend, under the disapproving online eyes of its creators. It’s safe to say that many a tumblr will find itself with no new posts as of today, and trend-setting teens will quickly need to find themselves completely new ironically themed wardrobes.
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live featured a live performance by Rihanna. Nothing new here except that pop’s new favorite heroine decided to step away from the format that the comedy show’s viewers have been used to watching week after week, for over 20 years. Instead of the deliberately small and cosy show on the NBC studio’s stage, Rihanna’s performance was transformed into a live music video, thanks to a green screen, and a host of visuals, reminiscent of our favorite Windows 98 screen savers : aquatic scences, graphic design from the beginnings of 3d computer imagery, psychedelic colors and “rave” inspired visuals. The result was an impressive and never-before-seen esthetic hold-up for a musical act on a major show on a major channel, even if the graphics themselves are nothing new to the internet-saavy, familiar with sites like http://dump.fm/ or fans of musical and visual artist like the LOL Boys.
Certainly as a quick response to the big splash that Rihanna had made on SNL, the next day, Azealia Banks, the young rapper who in true Venus fashion, emerged from the sea of YouTube videos in September 2011, released her new music video, ”Aquarius” with an interestingly similar esthetic.
Newest single from her latest mixtape Fantasea released this summer, the video, directed by the French artist Fafi (who has notably directed japanese singer Mademoiselle Yulia’s video for “Gimmie Gimmie” in 2011) is a pretty celebration of these same visual themes : swirling colors, greek columns, planets, bad 3D CGI, and of course, Ecco The Dolphin – (a classic for all former owners of a Sega Genesis- most likely the game that your parents felt it was “safe” to buy you because of it’s lack of violence, but also of any type of action whatsoever…)
However the visual choices in Rihanna’s performance and in Azealia’s video did not go over well with a certain internet population, particularly those who associate themselves with the creation of the “Seapunk” movement, expressing their outrage on Twitter, furious that the mainstream media has now stolen and ruined the esthetic they had carefully crafted.
Amusement spoke to a certain “Bebe Zeva” , one of the spearheads of the seapunk movement, who is not amused in the least with seapunk’s dive into popular culture :
“This aesthetic movement was developed as a reaction to the mainstream. It’s called “seapunk” not “sea” for a reason. Expressing an interest in the images Rihanna and Azealia incorporated into their respective acts BEFORE they went viral on the internet meant that one belonged to a very exclusive cyber counterculture. Now that Rihanna and Azaelia Banks have claimed the aesthetic for their own, it no longer represents countercultural membership. It represents allegiance to the mainstream brands of the artists. This means that anyone who once associated with the cyber counterculture, seapunk, must now create a new aesthetic with which to visually represent themselves. That’s a lot of work, and it shouldn’t have to be that way. That authentically seapunk artists like Zombelle and Ultrademon had their creative property usurped by wealthy, privileged artists with no credit or monetary compensation is equally tragic. The OG artists devoted time, energy, and financial investment to this movement and they have garnered nothing but social currency in return. That isn’t fair (…) Zombelle is still struggling to purchase a new laptop, meanwhile, Azaelia is metaphorically swimming naked in a pile of $100 bills, laughing at all the creative hard workers she scammed. Rihanna didn’t intend to subvert seapunk. She meant to glamorize it in a way that made her look like an innovator. She and her team had no right to do that because they didn’t play any role in the genesis or curation of this movement. Above all, the movement is fueled by and for people who are skeptical of the world they live in. It is a punk movement. It is not to be exploited by The Man. And it regrettably was.”
It’s strange. I was happy and touched to see Rihanna, who is as commercial an artist as one can be, bring this strange little counterculture into the mainstream arena. Yeah, imagining housewives in rural Kansas being exposed to Seapunk’s visual codes puts a smile on my face. However, Azealia Bank’s new video leaves me less enthusiastic. For a young singer whose success is directly linked to the internet, and who’s video will be seen on YouTube more than on any other media, and by an audience of Digital Natives, I feel like she could have pushed the envelop a bit further, she seems to arrive at the cusp of the seapunk wave (and I promise the Aquatic word-play stops here).
This “movement” that appeared online in 2011 has made a progressive ascension in the cultural sphere – profiled by the New York Times in March, and spawning its very own record label: Coral Records. In the art and music world this revival of “retro internet”/ lofi graphic inspiration has been around for while – in M.I.A and Santigold’s videos as well as the superb “Que Que” by Dillon Francis & Diplo, feat. Maluca, released in 2011.
But in the end, is it not rather the good people over at the website Download 3D screensavers who should be up in arms about people copying their style ?
After all, their Aquatic Dolphin animated screensaver seems to be the origin of it all!
(THE NEXT ISSUE OF AMUSEMENT MAGAZINE WILL BE IN NEWSSTANDS EARLY 2013- EXPLORING THE DEPTHS OF INTERNET CULTURE. STAY TUNED)