The Manchester dead and the primacy of pop

Men dedicated to mass slaughter don’t distinguish attendees at the Bataclan from Ariana Grande fans. But what made the choice of a Grande show particularly gruesome was demographics: Grande’s audience consists mostly of young women and gay men, two groups whose tastes are condescended to, mocked as frivolous. Deluxe and sensual, Grande’s music at its best was pop at its most essential. Pop matters because its purported ephemerality strengthens fan loyalty; it becomes the soundtrack of one’s teen years, of early adulthood. Pop, serious people claim, is what we’re supposed to mature away from.

Words fail:

Stuart Aspinall, 25, said he was trying to find his friend Martyn Hett after they were separated towards the end of the gig. Aspinall shared photos of the 29-year-old, from Stockport, on Facebook to help track him down.

He wrote: “The more news that is coming out, the scarier this is getting. There was an explosion at the Ariana Grande concert tonight in Manchester and I haven’t seen my friend Martyn since.”

Greg Southern told the Guardian he was sitting on the same row as Hett. “I don’t know him but he was on the row I was on. He was stood on the exit steps on the end of our row,” Southern said. He recognized him from photos shared on Twitter. “We were at the other side of the arena from where the explosion took place. The concert had just finished and the lights had just come on. There was this absolutely tremendous bang and everybody panicked at that point.”

The audience included many young teenagers, he said. “I was there with my boyfriend, but next to us there were maybe three groups who must have been young teens, 15 or 16. In the row behind was a mother with children. The majority of people were quite young.”

This Henry James devotee has spent a quarter of his writing life defending the primacy of the ephemeral. I’m not swathing the Manchester victims in kitsch; I’m mourning the deaths of the young men and women whose average age tells me that Ariana Grande occupied a place as essential as Radiohead do for their parents and older siblings. Had they lived, they might have recognized that their music listening would never again be so unencumbered by expectations; maturity often encompasses the expectation of maturity, which is a real drag. Grande called her last album Dangerous Woman. We’re less likely to make such statements as we set our anchors down in our late twenties, but in pop make believing is the real thing; the wearing of masks and the assuming of poses plumb the depths of our identities. To learn that the Manchester dead will remain in eternal impermanence ranks among the most heartbreaking developments with which their mourners must deal.

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2 Responses to The Manchester dead and the primacy of pop

  1. jerfairall says:

    Beautiful writing here. Thanks for helping illuminate this tragedy a bit for me.

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