Wardrobe On Shuffle: How Spotify Changed The Way Men Dress
Kid Cudi performing on Saturday Night Live, New York, 10 April 2021. Photograph by Mr Will Heath/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
“Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art,” imparts Rob Gordon, played by Mr John Cusack, in the 2000 version of High Fidelity. “Many dos and don’ts.” As the film goes on, he divulges more. “You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off… There are a lot of rules.” We’ve certainly written similar things about getting dressed.
The outfit as playlist came to mind when witnessing Kid Cudi’s recent performance on Saturday Night Live. Yes, he was wearing a dress, which we‘ve spoken about before, but there was more to it than just that. Here was a prominent rapper more readily associated with Mr Kanye West in an item of clothing that was a callback to Mr Kurt Cobain. Part of a collection by Off-White, it was inspired by the grunge rock icon, and worn as a tribute to the late Nirvana frontman.
What we listen to and what we wear are intrinsically linked, as a trawl through the rich history of modern subcultures will reveal. As rock music pulled towards excess in the 1960s and 1970s, so did the attire. The short, sharp shock of punk begat a similarly DIY attitude towards clothing. Hip-hop brought sportswear to the street and ultimately streetwear to the runway. Music informs our wardrobes and vice versa. It makes sense, then, that a shift in the way we listen to music should also manifest in the way we dress.
Founded 15 years ago this week, Spotify was a game changer. True, Napster, iPods and torrents had done much of the groundwork – that week’s UK number one single, “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, was the first to top the chart based on downloads alone. But this new breed of streaming services, as the name suggests, turned on the tap.
A decade and a half on, access to an (entirely legal) infinite jukebox has had a massive impact on our listening habits. And not just in terms of the amount we consume, but also the range. A 2017 report for the journal Marketing Science found that streaming services have broadened our tastes, making us more open to new artists and genres. Data showed that, six months after first subscribing to a service, users’ music consumption had increased by 49 per cent, with the number of previously unknown artists listened to up 32 per cent. Over the long term, this adds up to a dramatic swing in behaviour.
“Founded 15 years ago this week, Spotify was a game changer. Access to an infinite jukebox has had a massive impact on our listening habits”
As you might expect, Gen Z is leading the charge, with nearly all of that bracket (roughly now aged six to 24) reported to regularly listen to at least five different musical genres. What’s more, Spotify is their go-to platform (although they tend to look to YouTube for discovering new acts). Given that the age of peak influence is between 13 and 14, what we’re listening to at this point can shape our outlook for the rest of our lives. But all of us are dipping into new sounds, and music itself has had to adapt. Songs are now on average shorter, and often front-loaded, with a hook or chorus right at the start. And while albums haven’t been jettisoned completely, the playlist – Gordon’s compilation tape again – is often now our entry point.
In a 2019 piece for The Guardian, looking back over the previous decade, the music critic Mr Simon Reynolds wrote that streaming services such as Spotify had had the “curious effect of simultaneously unifying and fracturing”. Unleashing hits the likes of which we had never seen before (Mr Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” has been streamed 2.8 billion times), removing the barriers of geography (the rise of K-pop) and creating a “vast, disordered open-access archive of past pop culture”.
But rather than a homogenous landscape with everyone listening to the same thing, Reynolds argued that each of us had retreated into our own atomised, individual vortex, carried further apart by the platforms’ algorithms. What’s left is a multitude of subcultures, “micro-genres”, that overlap and radiate out until they sometimes contain just one person. “Slowly but surely, streaming is killing the idea of a mainstream,” he reasoned.
Meanwhile, we’re also continually exposed to the music of many decades ago, with deep cuts once impossible to own now available for anyone to hear, for free. This boundless back-catalogue means the concept of time becomes untethered and the present “foggy and formless”, with no obvious, overriding touchpoints or trends. Sound familiar?
“Today’s outfits, like most Spotify playlists, can be an eclectic mix. We all now have so many more genres and eras to draw from”
While still analogue in the sense that you have to physically wear clothes, the fashion industry has seen similar shifts during this time. The famous “20-year rule” – whereby variations of the trends of two decades before, tellingly those from the formative years of the creative directors now pulling the strings, suddenly reappear – has gone into overdrive. Recent seasons have seen the styles of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s all resurface in one form or another, often in the same collection. Even the hoodies with blazers, plaid shirts and skinny jeans of 2006, when Spotify first arrived, can still be found.
Designers from Versace to Raf Simons to SAINT LAURENT have built wardrobes around particular musical artists, but the breadth of reference points now on display in a single show is dizzying. On the launch of CELINE HOMME’s “The Dancing Kid” collection on MR PORTER, for example, we noted the influence of skaters, eboys and TikTok stars alongside the pared-back rock ’n’ roll aesthetic that creative director Mr Hedi Slimane is best known for.
Today’s outfits, like most Spotify playlists, can be an eclectic mix. We all have so many more genres and eras to draw from. And where what we wore, just as what we listened to, previously had us earmarked as one particular tribe, this huge archive has led each of us to carve out our own unique niche.
“Fashion and music are the same,” as Mr Karl Lagerfeld noted, “because music expresses its period, too.” And now every other period as well, all at once.