Culture


Megalopolises

China, home to the world’s second-largest rural population, is expected to add close to 300 million more urbanites by 2030, when Shanghai and Beijing will likely account for two of the world’s top five mega-cities, according to new U.N. research. “We are observing one of the most significant economic transformations the world has seen: 21st-century China is urbanizing on a scale 100 times that seen in 19th-century Britain and at 10 times the speed,” notes a McKinsey paper on cities and luxury markets.

Why it’s interesting

China’s wealth will be concentrated in these urban areas. Over the next decade, McKinsey expects Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chongqing and Shenzhen, in addition to Hong Kong, to join the list of top luxury cities.


New Feminism

Feminism is being rebooted for the digital era, across all generations, with a newly collaborative, open and empowered spirit. Feminist rhetoric is also occupying the center of popular discourse. Examples are multiple and include Sarah Silverman’s viral video about the pay gap in the U.S.; toy manufacturer GoldieBlox championing girl coders; Disney’s Frozen co-opting parents with its female-friendship narrative rather than the traditional prince-rescues-princess theme; and Emma Watson speaking at the U.N., imploring more men to become feminists. The growing crop of female empowerment conferences ranges from Cosmopolitan’s Fun Fearless Life to National Journal’s Women 2020 to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive and Tina Brown’s Women in the World.

Why it’s interesting

There’s a fundamental shift. Feminism today is less politicized and more about community, empowerment and confidence than antagonism. It’s also multigenerational and powered by social media.


Mortal Beings

When artist Doug Wheeler created an illusion of infinite white space inspired by his vision of the afterlife, at Palazzo Grassi in Venice, he pointed to a rising fixation. Consumers, mindful of their life, health and ultimate fate, are starting to focus on their mortality more and more. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art recently launched an exhibition of mourning attire. Dezeen, the popular design blog, recently charted the world’s most avant-garde funeral architecture.

Why it’s interesting

Consumers—mindful of extended lifespans, many living in an increasingly agnostic society—are starting to contemplate their mortality and the afterlife more seriously, linked, perhaps, to the cult of health.


Connected Kids

Three-quarters of American children under 8 have access to a smartphone or tablet, according to Common Sense Media. A poll of U.K. parents conducted by Vodafone found that 93% allow children to use their smartphone and tablets. Kids are more connected digitally than ever, and new toys and services are rising to satisfy their hunger for technology. LittleBits, for example, which makes DIY electronics kits, has introduced a platform that allows kids to connect household objects to the Internet (harnessing the rise of the Internet of Things).

Why it’s interesting

Children under 10 are more technically advanced even than their teenage siblings. Their familiarity with technology, and their expectations of it, go far beyond that of previous generations.


Teetotal Millennials

Millennials are drinking less than older generations and embracing healthy lifestyles and fitness. According to Channel 4, one in four young British people (aged 16-30) say they do not drink alcohol, compared with just one in seven older people (aged 60 and over). Reflecting this, a new range of platforms is offering alcohol-free hedonism, such as Redemption, a new alcohol-free bar in London, and yoga raves.

Why it’s interesting

The face of youth is changing as Millennials become more aware of their health and longevity, and fitness and health are being rebranded in hip, sociable ways.


Retooling for an Aging Population

Companies are quickly retooling for a rapidly aging workforce. Recognizing that older workers have different needs, skills and challenges, employers are changing their educational curricula or adding new features to their factory floors. In Germany, BMW has installed adjustable chairs and special tools to cater to older workers. In the U.S., CVS has a “Snowbird” program that migrates older workers from Northern states to warmer states during the winter.

Why it’s interesting

As our attitude toward age changes, there is rising appreciation of the strength and tenacity of older workers. Companies have been strongly focused on Millennials up to now—but watch out for more recognition of the powerful benefits of a mature workforce.


2015: The Year of the Sequel

As movie theater attendance slides, studios are returning to old favorites, reimagined classics and sequels to attract audiences. In 2015, Twentieth Century Fox is releasing Taken 3—more kidnappings out there, it seems— as well as The Fantastic Four. We’re due the fourth Jurassic Park from Universal Studios. Walt Disney Studios is releasing Marvel’s Avengers:
Age of Ultron, as well as a souped-up 2015 version of Cinderella, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Cate Blanchett. From Paramount Pictures, expect the sixth Paranormal Activity. Lionsgate will release the final Hunger Games and second Divergent.

Why it’s interesting

Aside from studios playing it safe, on the consumer front, this could be an indication that tumultuous times of global protest and economic stagnation are lending familiar classics greater appeal. The other common thread is fantasy: Are consumers seeking escapism as a result of austerity fatigue?


Bacteria Chic

Bacteria is undergoing an image overhaul in food, beauty and luxury as more consumers see the benefits of growable products and as experiments in this field become more creative. For the Festival of Imagination at Selfridges, the retailer collaborated with creative studio super/collider and Suzanne Lee of Biocouture on a series of workshops called “Growing the Future.” Biocouture, a London company, experiments with living organisms such as yeast, fungi and algae to grow garments. And as part of the Central Saint Martins art school exhibit at the London Design Festival, Zuzana Gombosova showcased Invisible Resources, an exploration of the potential of lab-grown materials.

Why it’s interesting

Bacteria previously suffered from the “yuck factor” but is now attracting interest from creatives and innovators for its various properties, including the potential for growable products.


Universal Intelligent Design

Call it the “Pinterest phenomenon”—consumers with open access
to sophisticated lifestyle press and blogs are increasingly expecting intelligent design, even from entry-level products, functional products and mass-market services. On cue, sectors from mass-market food retailers
to pharmacies to budget hotels are being reimagined with new looks. Consider Radisson Blu’s collaboration with avant-garde designer Jaime Hayon or the McDonald’s partnership with Patrick Norguet. Even Lowes Foods supermarkets have been overhauled, by design agency The Variable, to suit the upscale design sensibility of Millennials. Norway’s passports have been updated by the Neue Design Studio in Oslo and now feature chic graphics, while Stanley’s, a pharmacy in New York, is reimagining how the drugstore should look.

Why it’s interesting

Like ethical behavior and sustainability, consumers increasingly take good design as a given, particularly Millennials.


Womenomics: New Definitions of Power

As women rise in businesses across the world, so too a new definition
of power and success—along female lines—is set to evolve. Arianna Huffington highlights this in her 2013 book Thrive, in which she discusses the Third Metric, an increasing sense that balance, well-being and effectiveness are just as important definers of success as money.

Explains Pattie Sellers, Fortune senior editor-at-large and executive director of the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit: “Women think about power much more horizontally, and men think about power vertically—this is a stereotype, but I’ve asked hundreds of powerful women and dozens and dozens of powerful men, ‘How do you define power?’ And women almost inevitably define it in some kind of horizontal way. Often, they use the words ‘influence’ and ‘impact.’ And men tend to talk about either getting people to do things they don’t want to do or achieving something in terms of success, or a level of success.”

Why it’s interesting

Books such as The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, and statistics about women’s education and economic influence, paint a future of rising female influence. Will traditional business structures and reward systems need to evolve?


Experiential Public Spaces

Creatives are helping us explore the outside world with new multisensory experiences that augment nature and public spaces. Moment Factory’s Foresta Lumina in Quebec’s Parc de la Gorge de Coaticook turned a nighttime trail into an immersive experience that included mythical creatures, illuminated trees and a soundtrack. Living Symphonies, a project staged at Thetford Forest in the U.K., created music out of real-time recordings from the forest, which played through speakers placed around the area. A Dutch artist has created a solar-powered bike trail that looks like Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” after dark. And activewear brand Lucy installed a Light Forest in Boston, with 10,000 solar-powered lights and a soundtrack to match.

Why it’s interesting

Increasingly, the streetscape is becoming a rich palette not only for interactive retail and location-sensitive games but experiences too. Clever brands such as Lucy use wonder and experience—and offer a public service—to integrate themselves into consumers’ everyday activities.


Real Aspirations

Beyoncé’s recent “homemade” music video responds to a telling twist in our visual culture. The global pop sensation released her single “7/11” with a YouTube video that could easily have been produced by a fan, from a hotel room in Las Vegas. While elements of wardrobe and choreography were, of course, carefully orchestrated, Beyoncé appears makeup-free, in scenes played out in the bathroom, a messy bedroom and on a balcony, using a mounted camera. As more entertainment becomes grassroots and more celebrities and influencers are initially seen on YouTube, Tumblr and Instagram, so too our visual language is changing to one where the candid and the real become the ideal. Already celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon, Kate Hudson and Gwyneth Paltrow are communicating via social media with seemingly unretouched images.

Why it’s interesting

This is worth noting when considering Millennials in particular. “The Tumblr-generation muse is no longer a flawlessly airbrushed A-lister flashing her pearly whites on the cover of the September Issue while dripping in borrowed diamonds,” writes Jane Helpern, editor at Smashbox Studios and Nasty Gal, in i-D. “Today’s of-the-moment model has dark circles under her eyes, she’s makeup-free, she’s gap-toothed, gangly, and uninterested in being edited into submission."


Avant-Garde Dance Vanguard

Musicians, brands and tech giants are using dance in new, artistic, conceptual and creative ways to create viral media. FKA Twigs’ new collaboration with Google Glass accompanies a reimagined score of her songs “Video Girl” and “Glass & Patron,” which feature the artist acting out a contemporary dance. Sia’s video for “Chandelier” features dancer Maddie Ziegler. The Nowness, owned by LVMH, recently teamed with dancers from London’s Sadler’s Wells to create a shoppable film, Mine, directed by Luke White and Remi Weekes, with items by La Perla, Kenzo and Louis Vuitton. Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project turned the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles into a multistory stage, creating a dance love letter to the city. Abteen Bagheri, creator of music videos for A$AP Rocky and Blood Orange, collaborated with Nike Women, Pedro Lourenço and the Nowness to create a dance video set in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains to showcase a new sports collection. The list goes on.

Why it’s interesting

Brands have relied on music and comedy for viral content. Now dance, especially dance from the high-culture world, is being employed as a new shareable medium.


Broadcast Gaming

Yes, it’s an actual thing. Twitch, a destination for the live broadcast of consumer video gaming, has 55 million unique visitors and a million participating broadcasters. Amazon bought it this year for $970 million.

Why it’s interesting

Increasingly, all entertainment, from books to music to video to advertising and content, is becoming grassroots-led and putting consumers center stage.


Backstage Celebrities

First came the stylists. Now every fashion and beauty industry expert behind the scenes, from makeup and hair artists to store architects, is being feted with books and exhibitions. Beauty retailer Space NK held an exhibition this fall dedicated to the legacy of late makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Meanwhile, luxury store architect Peter Marino (who has designed stores for Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Chanel) was celebrated in an exhibit during Design Miami 2014. Next stop the florists?

Why it’s interesting

Increasingly, all entertainment, from books to music to video to advertising and content, is becoming grassroots-led and putting consumers center stage.


Intellectual, Artistic Gaming

Alongside Broadcast Gaming, we’re seeing an emerging new wave of intellectual, artistic and poetic video games. These focus on learning, self- actualizing and experience over punching out soldiers or whizzing past a virtual finishing line. Nothing of This Is Ours by Alex Myers, for example, is an experiential art piece-meets-installation of “infinite, surrealistic worlds with creatures.” Morphopolis is a poetic hand-animated game involving exploration of a surreal insect world and metamorphosis. The developers behind Morphopolis have also come up with Calvino Noir, which features beautifully rendered 1930s architecture in monochrome and puzzles linked by a noir-esque narrative. Land’s End is a new virtual reality computer game with dreamy landscapes and architectural puzzles, created by digital agency UsTwo for the Samsung Gear VR headset.

Why it’s interesting

Gaming is evolving in many directions for new audiences—women, for example, now make up nearly half of gamers (and slightly more in the U.K. at 52%). Gaming mechanics are also being applied to everything from music videos to retail.


Save Our Subcultures

It started, perhaps, when Vice staff writer Clive Martin wrote a story headlined “Stop F*cking With Our Youth Subcultures.” While Tumblr, social networks and blogs have spread information and inspiration and created communities of teens, they’ve also sped up the pace of discovery and mass co-option of niche urban styles—but there are signs of a move against this. Martin’s article pointed out Rihanna’s adoption of ghetto gothic, Katy Perry’s adoption of seapunk and Harry Styles’ emulation of East London style. Shortly after, The Guardian ran a fashion headline “Chola Style—the latest cultural appropriation fashion crime?,” a think piece on Rihanna, Selena Gomez and FK Twigs’ embrace of Mexican-American gang style.

Sensing a change in mood, fashion brands have made moves to connect with real subcultures. Marc Jacobs has collaborated with i-D to create Tribes, a three-part documentary video series profiling American subcultures. “Combining fashion with documentary storytelling, each of the three videos explores a different subculture that represents rebellion and self-expression,” i-D said. Nicola Formichetti’s fall 2014 collection for Diesel is inspired by subcultures, with Tumblr stars and Instagram influencers featured in the campaign, shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. Cool things really happen working this way, says Formichetti: “I wanted to tap into that and see the real thing again.”

Why it’s interesting

Social media has sped up the rate of trend and niche discovery, and its path to mass exposure, but some celebrities and brands are doing this too fast, and in an inauthentic way, creating a backlash among connected, sophisticated Millennials, who view it as opportunistic. There’s an opportunity for brands to connect with real subcultures, but they must tread a careful path or risk looking cynical.


Digital High Culture

High culture is going digital—using digital platforms, beacon technology and social media to connect to new audiences. Consider the rise of live- streamed operas and theater in the U.K. The Nether, a play in London, was promoted by an interactive game/experience. The Rubens House museum in Antwerp is using Estimote beacons to augment the exhibition and make it more interactive. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the largest
art museum in the western U.S., has teamed with Snapchat to promote its exhibits. Google Art Project, which allows Internet users to view exhibits, has partnered with artist Kara Walker and Creative Time; Walker’s “A Subtlety” installation can be seen all over the world, with 360-degree views.

At the same time, high culture is examining technological capabilities as part of the works themselves: Consider “Digital Revolution,” an immersive exhibition of art, design, film, music and video games, staged at the Barbican Centre in London.

Why it’s interesting

Live streaming and digital technology are opening up high art to mass audiences in new ways. Meanwhile, major art institutions are increasingly examining digital culture and its impact.


Experiences Go Dark

As experientialism hits the mainstream, consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Experience is now a given in stores and hospitality spaces, and brands are having to work harder than ever
to wow customers, wrapping in theater, avant-garde art, gastronomy
and synesthesia. The latest wave? Dark, dystopian and sometimes uncomfortable experiences. Wolvesmouth, the hot invite-only supper club originally based in Los Angeles, plays to the dark side, dressing dishes like roadkill. Apocalypse Postponed, the Hong Kong art bar created by Nadim Abbas in collaboration with Absolut, is a cyberpunk concrete bunker with wall-to-wall sandbags and metal-framed windows—a perfect backdrop for the challenging performances staged there.

Then there’s the rising thread of immersive “escape game” experiences. Escape the Room is an interactive event staged in New York. Guests are expected to figure out how to literally escape the room by finding hidden objects, answering clues and solving puzzles in 60 minutes—the final countdown inevitably ending in panic. Similar games are popping up around the world. In Los Angeles, “The Purge: Breakout” was an immersive game experience staged for the launch of the film The Purge: Anarchy. “It’s Purge Night, and your group is being held captive by a demented torturer ... with only 30 minutes before the start of The Purge. Trapped ...” reads the promotion, with a tagline: “Can you survive the night?”

Why it’s interesting

Not only do consumers want an experience that’s immersive and inspiring, they’re increasingly open to being tested and taken out of their comfort zone, for added bragging rights.


Celebrity Business Partners

Celebrities are moving beyond merely fronting brands to acting as business partners, collaborating on creative, appearing in campaigns, plugging products in social media, and getting a greater cut of the profit as a result. Diageo has launched Haig Club, a single-grain Scotch whisky, in partnership with David Beckham and British entrepreneur Simon
Fuller; they’re all working together to develop the brand, its strategy and positioning. Beckham appears in ad campaigns and also fronts the whisky’s responsible-drinking program. Beyoncé and Topshop have formed a 50-50 joint venture, athletic streetwear brand Parkwood Topshop Athletic Ltd., set for launch in 2015 (Beyoncé’s 19 million Instagram followers will no doubt help promote it).

Why it’s interesting

As more celebrities launch their own lifestyle brands (see Gwyneth Paltrow and Blake Lively, among others), they’re finding direct ways to monetize their influence. Collaborating with brands in a business partnership also means the double halo effect of joint social media buzz and promotion.


Mipsters

There’s a redefinition of femininity among young Muslim women. The hijabistas, hijabsters, mipsters or mipsterz (that’s Muslim + hipsters) are connected, entrepreneurial, fashion-conscious and increasingly visible
in pop culture, from Adidas campaigns to Madonna videos. Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, a Muslim pop singer and songwriter from Malaysia, has appeared on The Tonight Show presenting this new iteration of Islam. The New York Times is inviting stylish Muslim girls to post pictures of themselves in hijabs to Instagram. Mexico-based design agency Anagrama has created hip branding for turban maker T4Turban, while photographer Hassan Hajjaj has launched a blog about hip Moroccan Islamic biker women.

Why it’s interesting

As new Islamic-centric markets, from the Middle East to Southeast
Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, become more influential, marketers are taking notice of the digitally connected, stylish, entrepreneurial new stance among young Muslim women.


Celebrities As Thought Leaders

Channeling the appetite for live events, as well as their own influence, celebrities are expanding their brands into thought-leadership conferences. There was Oprah’s “The Life You Want Weekend” tour, launched this year, held in Miami, Houston, Newark and Seattle, complete with “reinvention tents,” head massages, inspirational talks and appearances from Oprah herself, Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Nepo. P. Diddy’s new Revolt is a music convergence “where technology meets influencers, music executives, entrepreneurs, songwriters, designers, producers, bloggers, students, brand managers, marketing executives, publicists, music artists, and more,” or so the website says. “It is the must-attend, one-of-a-kind forum designed to help guests do one thing: understand and navigate the evolution of the music business.” Expect Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop Summit next.

Why it’s interesting

There is increasing mass awareness of thought leadership and growing consumer interest in it, alongside an appetite for live events. Many celebrities already reinvent themselves as lifestyle brands, and this is yet another way to extend and monetize their influence.