The city has for a long time been music’s home. All the record labels and big venues tend to cluster there, and it easily holds the sprawling, interconnected networks of people that are conducive to forming a career. Its landscape inspires and then grows to be interminably associated with entire discographies – The Strokes and New York; Arctic Monkeys and Sheffield (or the umpteen other cities where fake rock stars swing their egos across sticky bars); the pill-popping components of 1980s Madchester.
Bands haven’t been the only ones to associate themselves with the polluted potpourri of city living either. The spirit of rap was born on and continues to live in the streets, whether that’s someone like Kendrick Lamar documenting life in Compton, the many tales stretching from Bow E3 to Barking or even as far back as the original music that emerged from the block party culture of the Bronx in the 1970s. Pulling electronic music under one umbrella also reveals a similar backstory: Chicago as the birthplace of house music, the outskirt London suburb of Croydon as home to dubstep, trance seeping in and out of the hedonistic club nights housed in industrial buildings in 1990s Berlin.
Therefore, one fact of life is thus: alternative music has often been a medium born from the metropolis. Second – and this is a more essential truth – the world we currently live in is fucked. You don’t need to watch Blue Planet to know that being a fish in the ocean involves dodging an increasingly horrific amount of decaying plastic. Nor do you need to be a climate scientist to understand global warming isn’t a joke and our earth is slowly dying. As Pope Francis once said to the tune of tens of thousands of retweets “our home is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
The city – with its choking transit systems and electricity and hundreds of thousands of people chucking the plastic straws from their Uber Eats deliveries into the trash – is largely more responsible for the contamination of the earth than the countryside. Out there people chop wood for fire, they plant potatoes in their gardens – ultimately, if you’re a small scale farmer or just the average person living in a cottage on a country lane, the footprint is smaller. From my vantage point in front of a screen in London, I've seen a pastoral aesthetic creep into music videos recently. Whether the clean allure of nature has anything to do with that is impossible to quantify, but it's certainly a thing that's happening.
Take the recent Casisdead video for “Pat Earrings”. Sure, it has a distinct ‘San Junipero episode of Black Mirror’ quality to it and certain scenes mirror 80s movies (with one particular drive-thru diner shot standing out). But the visual opens with an overhead shot of a lush and expansive auburn forest. From there we see Cas and a bunch of pals hanging out in said woodland, walking around with brick phones and wearing Avirex jackets. Fashion and phones not withstanding, this scenery sets it a world away from previous visuals by the mysterious British rapper, many of which have involved A-road industrial estates (“What’s My Name”) and rain-soaked streets (“Walkin’”).
Bonkaz’s latest video “What You Want” opens in a similar manner, an extensive (but green) forest stretching into the distance before giving way to clips where he too raps in a jacket in autumnal surroundings. A 2015 release from Section Boyz called “Came Back” also takes place among trees and features the boys kitted out in camouflaged garms. And then there’s the other emperors of road rap, 67, with last year’s video for “Glorious Twelfth”. In that one, they make an inimitable blend between trapping and hanging out beside a Land Rover or in an exquisite country barn.
Meanwhile on the other end of the spectrum you find the much-discussed trend of white pop stars returning “to their roots” – that is to the countryside where, you’re meant to assume, they were born. Despite spending what looks like at least five other artists’ budgets on two uneasy futuristic videos, Justin Timberlake started the year with a promotional video for an album in which he is the Man Of The Woods. In that short clip we see him bring the corn back into corny, waltzing through fields and talking about the “personal” album he’s made while looking like the result of a moodboard containing the words “Bon Iver”, “horses” and “aftershave”. In doing so he also joins other pop stars who have in the past year also waded through fields of wheat (see: Jessie J and Miley Cyrus) – a bold move in 2018 considering that particular return to the countryside speaks to a mythologised whiteness.
And then – because a trend isn’t a trend unless literally everyone is involved – there are the bands who have gone country. Though we’ve seen lads take to the farm before (remember Larrikin Love and their barn-stomping anthem “Happy As Annie”? Or lol Mumford and Sons?), it’s city based and sounding band Shame who shot the video for “One Rizla”, the lead single from their new album, in the countryside. It’s a muddy, cockerel-baiting affair during which the young and barely bearded upstarts razz around on tractors and throw hay bales and avoid puddles.
So why the move away from the city and toward nature? Is it comparable to the great drone-shots-over-beaches wave of a few years back, where musicians ploughed cash into creating something pretty and some distance away from their usual environment? Or is there a deeper meaning to the reasons why artists across all genres are moving toward a more nature-based aesthetic? My inner optimist – who that believes we’re all somehow connected in a global consciousness – would like to think it’s part and parcel of a renewed celebration and conservation of the earth’s natural beauty. However my inner cynic says it’s just another pretty place to shoot a video, isn’t it? Or – in the case of some pop stars – an easy way to culturally rebrand.
Whatever the answer is, one essential point continues to stand: the earth is wheezing into a smog-induced, plastic-filled coma – slowly decomposing as a portion of people hope for some kind of effortless god-like miracle that’ll turn the lights back on, and help us begin the process of restoration. It’s a stretch to think this trend of music videos taking place among trees and mud will boost any particular love for the world in the way a program helmed by David Attenborough might. Still, there’s definitely a trend here and I’m going to call it nature wave, y’know, because all the videos take place in nature. That’s the vibe for 2018 – more videos, more time spent outside.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.