pop culture

Stuff Sydney urbanites like … in winter

Whenever I’m in a funk about winter, I alleviate my discontent with esoteric pursuits.

Summer is for basking in the sensuous Sydney sun. It’s about the great outdoors, breezy chatter and trashy beach reads.

Winter is for keeping my tropical blood warm via the grey matter, with jazz, theatre, stand-up comedy, and issues worthy of public debate. I become positively Melbournian.

In this more reflective mood, I’ve sought out entertainment based on big ideas and quirky collaborations.

First up, the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s and The Presets’ journey through the history of music – suitably titled, Timeline. The playlist for Timeline starts from the imagined sound that was the Big Bang, then rockets through to Mozart, Gershwin and, of course, Justin Bieber.

Then more recently, at the Opera House, rapper Baba Brinkman with Jamie Simmonds on the turntables, gave the best biology lesson I’ve ever taken, stepping through Darwinian theory, the history of hip-hop and politics with the Rap Guide to Evolution.

Both were satisfying diversions. If not for the timing, I would have considered each unique. Seen within weeks of each other, I couldn’t help but wonder about whether the uncanny similarities manifested because both events applied a certain formula.

What’s more, reversing the gaze from the performers onto the audience, the consumer demographics at the two shows were similar. Mainly people around my age, plus a sprinkling from the grey market, presumably invited by dutiful sons and daughters who had assumed that any performance in a recital hall or the Opera House should be fit for parental consumption. I’ve learnt that this is not always a safe assumption. (I once brought my mother to a play that featured nudity and simulated sex, embarrassingly. To my surprise, she was more offended by the cigarette smoking onstage)

I’ve always liked the compilation Stuff White People Like and other lists it has spawned since the 1990s.

So in a somewhat similar style, I present to marketers who are looking to appeal to the Politically Aware, Urbane, University Educated, Pop Culture Vultures aged 30-45, with things that we like:

1. Democratisation of high culture. The Australian Chamber Orchestra’s (live) musicians taking a collective pause to pay their respect as Michael Jackson’s and Moby’s (recorded) music blasts through the speakers. Likewise, rappers like Brinkman and Kanye West in the hallowed halls of the Opera House.

Side note: While Brinkman’s more fringe show is economically priced, events fronted by bigger names sell for around $100 and therefore not really affordable for everyone, only the middle class … alas, democratisation is not equivalent to egalitarian access.

2. Feeling relieved about applying our expensive education. Tapping into that classical music knowledge gained from piano lessons (obligatory for an Asian child). And that compulsory biology class which was part of a temporary foray into a Psych degree – which I dropped after I started to self-diagnose way too much. But hey, years later I can get jokes about natural selection, so the HECS fees weren’t a total waste.

3. Politically correct, liberal with a small ‘l’ or sensitive messages about anything ranging from race, gender equality, sexual preference and the environment. For example, both shows take the Big Bang and the theory of evolution as fact (all human beings descend from Africans, and African percussion is the first type of music produced by man). More conservative audiences would have found these scientific ‘facts’ difficult to swallow. There wasn’t one raised eyebrow amongst the urbane, liberally-minded and probably mostly atheist audience.

4. Politically incorrect jokes, as long as they’re ironic. Actually, as long as it’s ironic, we probably like it. (Justin Bieber makes it onto The Presets’ playlist for Timeline – ha!). And of course we most likely watched Reality Bites in the nineties and recall the scene where grunge’s cinematic dreamboat Ethan Hawke provided a succinct definition for irony.

5. Anyone with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music/culture, to make us feel good about our astonishingly broad musical tastes (aren’t we all clever!). We’re the MTV generation who also listened to our parents’ Bob Dylan, Beatles and Santana collections, then became early adopters of the iPod and Spotify. When you say, THE NINETIES ARE BACK! – or the eighties, seventies etc – we say they never really went away.

6. Audience participation. We have opinions and like to give feedback. This is where Brinkman excelled, integrating question time and sing-alongs in his show. The Presets’ Julian Hamilton played a cracking set on the turntables but all to polite, silent, seated appreciation.

7. Good selection of premium wines pre- and post-show… and during intermission. Don’t try offloading the cheap stuff you can get at $5 wholesale. Our age group has real jobs and can live a little, and we are well aware of the price points for various categories (thank you Dan Murphy’s).

As consumers in my demographic increase our net worth – and let’s be honest, as we age some more – we consequently become more valuable to marketers. Some businesses are flirting with directly appealing to us more than others: Telstra with their Ginger & Smart uniforms and hipster music on their TVC, and Virgin Money giving away experiences like concert tix on their Facebook page.

Who else can you think of that targets this generation well?

Feature image sourced from events.ua.edu