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Is Pop Culture The Difference Between Millennials & Gen Z?  - 1 26 2022 11 06 37 AM

The title of this essay says it all: “It’s Time to Accept Millennials and Gen Z are the Same Generation.” When it comes to pop culture, teens, 20-somethings, and 30-somethings share more similarities than differences. (The Ringer)

NH: When 18-year-old Olivia Rodrigo released her megahit debut album Sour this spring, music critics hailed her as one of the first blockbuster artists of a new generation.

The recurring theme in these commentaries is that Rodrigo grew up listening to artists like Taylor Swift (age 32), Hayley Williams (age 33), and Avril Lavigne (age 37)--in other words, Millennials. But Rodrigo is different; she’s Gen Z. The same has been said about other young stars like Billie Eilish (age 20) and Lil Nas X (age 22).

But why?

As this essay notes, this distinction seems simply to be based on the assertion from certain organizations that Generation Z (or as I call them, Homelanders) begins in 1997.

These artists are all talented, but they’ve hardly broken from Millennial culture as much as they are amplifying and remixing it, whether it’s Rodrigo's anguished ballads, Eilish’s moody, atmospheric songs, or Lil Nas X’s embrace of being an openly gay rap artist.

While they’re putting their own stamp on the music world, they’re following in the footsteps of the Millennial artists that inspired them in sound and style. Author Justin Charity writes that today’s teens and 20-somethings are “eager to co-opt every bit of culture once embraced by millennials. They listen to the same music, watch the same cinematic universes, and obsess over the same apps.”

One of the key ways to determine when a generation begins and ends is by noting differences with those that came before--in attitudes, experiences, and yes, pop culture. What’s most often cited as a distinction is that Homelanders are more immersed in technology.

But that actually makes my point. A cohort characterized by more of the same attitudes and behaviors does not make for a new generation. IMO, all of these artists are late-wave Millennials, not Homelanders.

To be sure, every generation has its own trends moving from first wave to last wave. The bubblegum pop that dominated the airwaves when first-wave Millennials were coming of age has given way to artists who are less packaged and more "messy" and emotionally resonant for last-wavers.

This is a difference, and it surely plays better among today's young Homelander teens.

But in order to qualify as a generational break in the pop culture, the shift has to be something noticeably jarring and essentially new. Think thrash metal in the early 1980s when transitioning from Boomers to Xers, or bubblegum pop in the late '90s when transitioning from Xers to Millennials.

That’s what we’re waiting for. When a Homelander releases his or her first megahit, it will sound more like a wake-up call than an echo.

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