In 1999 I was driving back and forth between school, the trading floor, and work. I had a CD Discman that I hooked up through one of those adaptor things to the cassette player in my 1995 Toyota Tercel. The Discman and a bunch of miscellaneous CDs sat on the passenger seat, and if I hit the brakes, all of it would go crashing onto the floor.
The number one record I was playing at the time was Underworld’s Beaucoup Fish. My favorite track on that album was Jumbo. Here’s the radio edit on YouTube.
If you could wear out a CD, I would have worn out that one.
That isn’t what most people were listening to, obviously. Most people were listening to things like Britney Spears:
Source: Entertainment Tonight
Or the Backstreet Boys:
Source: Backstreet Boys Wiki
In other words, all bubblegum pop. Really happy music. Right when the markets were at the all-time highs, and people were at their happiest. Y2K was a really happy time. I should know; I was there.
Contrast this with 1994, one of the darkest years I have ever experienced, coming out of a deep recession. People were listening to things like Nine Inch Nails:
Source: Juliette Jagger
And Nirvana (up until Kurt Cobain’s suicide), which I would not characterize as uplifting:
Source: Tone Deaf
Even the electronic dance music had an edge to it—here’s The Prodigy:
Source: The Bass Music Awards
The stock market and pop culture are both a reflection of the national mood.
People have toyed with this idea for decades, but very few people have tried to make a science out of it.
(It’s not a science. It’s voodoo. But still great to think about.)
Nine Inch Nails
I think Nine Inch Nails is the most fascinating band to exist, ever. Now, for ages there have been subgenres of metal like grindcore and goregrind and speed metal and industrial, where people sing about all kinds of warped, disgusting stuff.
But Nine Inch Nails was the first to mainstream it. The Downward Spiral went platinum four times and sold 3.7 million copies. It had songs about assault, torture, mutilation—just a lot of bad stuff. This was “pop” music in 1994.
You could accuse me of being selective—after all, Boyz II Men also was around in 1994, but the Nine Inch Nails phenomenon is interesting because some dark stuff was making the Top 40 charts. If Nine Inch Nails formed today, they’d be playing Elks Lodges in Eastern Ohio, not clogging up MTV with music videos.
What about today?
Well, lets look at some of the top music of 2017:
Bruno Mars. You don’t do the Super Bowl halftime show twice by being subversive:
Source: The Beijinger
The Chainsmokers. If you think “Adulting is hard,” these guys are for you:
And of course, Taylor Swift, who sings about bad break-ups:
Seems like bull market music to me.
How You Will Know We Are in a Bear Market
You will know we are in a bear market if metal, industrial, or some of the harder genres of hip-hop return to the scene.
But that will be a severely lagging indicator, not a leading indicator. The leading indicator is that we have so much bubblegum pop around. Music today is not quite as silly as it was in 1999—but it’s almost there.
Part of being a good investor is having a good memory for this kind of stuff. Not just the kind of recall that helps you remember someone’s name from 20 years ago, but experiential memory, where you remember moods and feelings from decades ago.
I think everything means something. Nine Inch Nails coincided with the movie The Crow, an extraordinarily dark revenge fantasy, which I saw at midnight in Times Square, back when Times Square still had movie theaters.
A lot of this fits in with the work that Neil Howe does—he would probably describe this time period, this music, and this culture as the unraveling.
Some other time, we’ll talk about bull market movies. I’ll give you a sneak preview: Jerry Maguire.
By the way, check out my podcast with CAPT Michael Hudson, USCG which is not about finance. It is about the Coast Guard, and the future of the service. Please tune in.
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