5. DISRUPTING MORAL CODES
The music industry is no stranger to moments of moral panic. At this year’s Grammy awards, conservatives jumped on the opportunity to slam Sam Smith’s Satan-esque costume/performance to express outrage at popular culture and push anti-vaxx theories. Republican Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted “The Grammy’s featured Sam Smith’s demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer…American Christians need to get to work.” Ted Cruz called it “evil” and even Elon Musk had something to say about it, tweeting “End of days vibes” under a clip of the duo. This isn’t the first time musicians are being accused of satanic messages, Madonna’s Like A Prayer received similar reactions. These theories spread through conspiracy theory groups like QAnon. When Madonna introduced Sam Smith and Kim Petras to the stage, she said “If they call you shocking, scandalous, troublesome, problematic, provocative or dangerous, you are definitely onto something.”
Reflecting on these moments of moral chaos, writer and podcaster Sarah Marshall pointed out what these performances mean to young fans: “Youth can find strength in being exactly who you are, whoever that is.” Many conservative narratives come from a place of fear and are perhaps reacting in this way as a response to more transgressive, powerful youth culture moments.
Why should brands take note? Culture wars are persistently driving political and social debate at high speed, with online discourse in particular dissecting every element to prove a point. Brands need to think deeply about what they’re putting out into the world - everything from the colours, the language used, style, backgrounds, context - and also to not be afraid to stake a strong stand one way or another. You are always going to alienate somebody in today’s cultural climate, so the wisest advice is to be steadfast and assured in your own values.