097 :: Fracking Whitney

Last weeks podcast was about ‘cultural fracking’ and how the purveyors and controllers of mass media culture can only continue to make money by fracking the past. Content from a time when mass culture still existed. As their business model relies on their audience being inside a shared reality or shared cultural grammar.

When I murdered Gramchi saying “The new cannot be born whilst the corpse of the old is being constantly ressutated to perform again and again onstage“. I was speaking figuratively. But with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino being de-aged for The Irishman. I suppose… I was also speaking literally too?

So this morning brings the news that Kygo has released a track with the late great Whitney Houston. Now, it’s only because of the video that I find this out the song has been on the radio all summer apparently. Anyway the video is tool that we need to think with further.

Higher Love is an (almost unreleased) cover of Steve Winwood’s 1986 track of the same name. Originally recorded for her album ‘I’m Your Baby’. Her segue into R&B queen from pop queen had already begun in the marketing so it was left of the release.

I’ve listened to the track a few times this morning already. Kygo is obviously the perfect necproducer to take the vocal tracks from 1990 into 2019. After all his Marvin Gaye Sexual Healing remix launched his career back in 2013.

(A track he produced when he had only just turned 21. His entire career of tropical pop vibes has been built from this foundation)

Everything about this Whitney x Kygo track is fascinating:

In the podcast last week I also talked briefly about with the breaking down of our ‘shared cultural grammar’ that has actually caused an explosion in creativity. This new Kygo track is a prefect example of this (remember he did the Marvin Gaye track without permission, the new Whitney Huston track is an opportunity-as-extension of that track tbh)

Observations about the track:

I mean.. It’s a Kygo track – enough said? The tropical Kygo sound I can usually take or leave tbh. I overdosed on it in 2014/5. But it’s Kygo, so you know what you’re get.

He largely leaves her vocals alone in the verses, which I totally understand. )Side note: If you have ever tried to construct a track around Hustons vocals A common challenge on music production forums. Usually with the isolated vocals from ‘How will I know’ – I have two versions of my own attempts from the early 2010’s in deep storage)

In the post chorus bridge he pops in with chopped vocals repeating the ‘higher love’ refrain. Plus this section makes it extremely 2019 with all the big room compression going on around the snare.

The track sonically is 2019 obviosuly. If you listen with a good pair of headphones it is kinda clear that the vocal recording was done with different aesthetics in mind. I suspect that he had to work with the reverb.

The tracks great and would be a stand out Kygo track in his catalogue but I really wouldn’t say its that ‘special’ though – Apart from the inclusion of Whitney Houston from the archives. All in all its a great track. I bet he’s really proud.

About that video tho..

The video isn’t just a nostalgic love fest for a time before Kygo was born (1991) – its vocal track is older than he is.. The video directed by Hannah Lux Davis is fracking our cultural grammar.

Go back and watch it again. This time hear your brain ping with subconscious nostalgic Grammer every time you see something you know.

OMG HUGE MOBILE PHONE

OMG SHARP GF 9191 Radio Cassette

OMG AEROBICS VIBES + DELORIAN!!!

OMG FLASH DANCE

There’s loads of other dance refrences from movies etc + many other visual ones. I just can’t be assed to list them all.

Plus, let’s not forget that the video stars Vanessa Morgan from Riverdale. A show that plays with atemporal cultural grammar in a way that is extremely effective – See also its cousin show Sabrina.

Basically I don’t like the video at all.


Nostalgia is an emotion. In the middle ages it was considered a disease. This videos attempt to conjure 90s nostalgia but feels ‘fracked’. Leveraging blatantly transparent (to my eye) cultural cues. It try;s an evoke an emotion from the viewer around the setting, its place and time. Of Whitney in her early ascendancy.

Now, It may be that I was actually alive when all these references were current – so maybe im just old and this is the tropey 90’s setting feels the same way to me as war films about WW2 would have felt to my grandad.

But I’m not so sure.

It ‘feels’ to me and I’m going to use the word ‘fracked’ again that the reason it is so pronounced is A Because the song itself uses 30 year old vocal tracks. B it’s a world contained inside a 5min music video which means all the tricks used to sell you a coherent world that no longer exists are compressed and tightened heightening the compression.

Alternatively, Now I’m running out of steam on this thought – that cultural fracking works as a metaphor at cultural level: Reboots of home alone, starwars, transformers, MCU from 70 year old comic book characters, etc

But becomes a different sort of thing at the low end when crafting a world. On the other hand for example the movie MID90S by Jonah Hill felt far more natural in its temporal setting, and not trying to evoke any forced Nostalgia or profit from shared expectations.

So I dunno.

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