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The rise of non-English-speaking pop

If someone says ‘pop music’, you think of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or the Spice Girls. Or perhaps you think of the Bee Gees or U2. Whoever it is, they speak and sing in English because pop music is, at its heart, English. That seems to be changing and why wouldn’t it, with the internet and digital formats, which allow music to spread around the world faster than the Beatles ever did.

People like Psy, the South Korean who has topped charts all over the world with ‘Gangnam Style’ – a song and a dance – are the beginning of a less anglocised kind of pop. There is schlager in Germany, cantopop in China, K-pop in South Korea and shibuya-kei in Japan. But few English people could name even one non-English speaking pop star until recently. Most exports come from North America and Britain generates 13% of music sales worldwide each year, so it is easy to understate the influence of global pop.

The article mentions one German singer, Herbert Gronemeyer, who is practically unknown outside Germany but has just made an English-language record with Bono and Antony Hegarty. Coincidentally, he was playing in London at the end of October this year. This seems to buck the trend as it looks as if we cannot handle German music unless it is sung in English and backed up by big English names. Perhaps we are more accustomed to German in opera.

More revealing is that pop music tends to sound much the same wherever you go, whatever language is comes in, and that is a function of the internet and the global market – towards homogeny. Or perhaps Gronemeyer was right when he said: “pop is very English; you can try and make German pasta but you have to accept it is an Italian dish”.

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 13-14 October 2012, 'Is pop going polyglot?' L Hunter-Tilney.
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Search words: Macarena, Gangnam Style, Psy, YouTube, dance, South Korea, Schlager, Cantopop, English, Adele, Eurovision Song Contest, Germany.
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Blowing the Chinese property bubble

The middle class Chinese love luxury brands and companies like Burberry, Prada and Louis Vuitton cannot open stores fast enough. They also love their luxury cars and 60% of the rise in sales of BMW and 74% of Audi sales come from China. On the face of it, it looks as if the Chinese economy is, well, bubbling along.

It turns out China is sitting on the biggest property bubble ever. How did this happen? China started printing money to buy dollars and keep its exchange rate pegged then, to prevent inflation, the government set interest rates so low they were negative after inflation. This was unpalatable for investors, so they bought into real estate. After the 2008 stimulus program, lending for infrastructure, housing and construction rocketed up. By 2011, residential housing was a whopping 10% of GDP.

According to one study, house prices rose 140% in three years in the biggest Chinese cities and official estimates were 18% of households in Beijing owned two or more properties (many of them vacant). Now that is changing. Prices fell 6% in the 20 major cities in the first quarter of 2012 and transactions were lower by 27% year on year. Total floor space of units for sale was up by a massive 47% and housing starts were down 15% year on year.

What does this mean for luxury brands? First, there is evidence that rich Chinese are starting to move their money out of China into, for example, Vancouver, and some 60% of millionaires (claimed by the Shanghai-based Hurun Report) are considering emigrating to escape worsening conditions.

This means the much-loved luxury brands are exposed to the biggest of all credit and housing bubbles. Share prices of these brands have already started to show it. Who’s going to buy handbags next?

Ref: Financial Times (UK), 28 July 2012, 'The caustic soda connection'. M Somerset Webb.
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Search words: China, luxury, Burberry, Prada, cars, BMW, Audi, Shanghai, caustic soda, property, deposits, interest rates, infrastructure, housing, credit, property bubble, house prices, Beijing,
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Return of the fridge raiders

Here is a topic close to our hearts: one third of young men and one in six young women live with their parents. The number of young people 20-34 still living at home in Britain has gone up 28% to 32 million since 1997. In the last year, 6% more joined mum and/or dad. Do they really love their parents that much?!

There are some good reasons. From 2008-2012, the number of 18-24 year olds who were jobless rose from 13% to 20% - it’s no surprise this saw a doubling of young people living with their parents. But even young people with jobs still live at home, because of high rents or the problems of getting a mortgage.

Another reason is going to university, which prompts them to go back home again (to boomerang). In fact, young people with degrees are more likely to live with their parents. Women, who are 35% more likely to get a degree, tend to start relationships later and stay at home for longer. Since 1998, the proportion of women staying at home has increased twice as quickly as it has for men.

While this picture looks a little like Italy, where families like to keep their children at home, British parents are not quite as keen. The same is true in Australia. Children come and go according to the success of their relationships, as well as their educational status. Some stay at home purely to save money, ostensibly for a house, but it looks like they enjoy a few luxury items along the way.

Ref: The Economist (UK), 13 October 2012, 'The boomerang generation.'.
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Search words: young people, benefits, home, jobless, rents, mortgage, boomerang, degrees, women, Scandinavia, Mediterranean.
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Living alone, being alone or feeling alone?

The trend for being single is no longer new, but it is certainly gaining pace all over the world and no longer confined to the West. It is easy to underestimate the wide ripple effects of this phenomenon. What does it mean for having children, for the type of housing needed, the supply of food, or even for the stability of the world? The experiment is still in its infancy.

The United Arab Emirates’ Marriage Fund, which provides financial assistance to couples and even sponsors mass weddings, is concerned that 60% of women over 30 are unmarried (20% in 1995). America’s Healthy Marriage Initiative is spending $US150 million a year to encourage singles to tie the knot. It is doubtful whether throwing money at singles will be conducive to good relationships or just attract those looking for financial security (the original reason for marriage).

Singletons will be the fastest growing household in most of the world by 2020, according to Euromonitor, and there will be 48 million of them.

Why are there so many singles? First, women are marrying later because of their education and career opportunities; second, bereaved spouses are living longer, and third, changing social attitudes make it acceptable to find financial security, sex and stable relationships outside marriage. In China and India, selection for male babies will create a whole generation of women unable to find a partner and, tragically in America, one in nine young black men are in prison.

You cannot assume singles are unhappy being single. There is a big difference between living alone, being alone and feeling alone. The trouble with one-person households is they use more resources, tend to have fewer children (to later support the aging population), and seem more psychologically vulnerable (especially men, who seem to benefit from marriage more than women do).

We are wondering if this is a decline in marriage itself or simply a reflection of the startling trend for individualism and narcissism. Single people can think, say and do what they like, especially if they have incomes to support it. Rather than be concerned about healthy marriage or marriage guidance, perhaps we should be more concerned about healthy singledom?

Ref: The Economist (UK), 25 August 2012, 'The attraction of solitude.'
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Search words: singledom, United Arab Emirates’ Marriage Fund, Euromonitor, Brazil, readymade meals, Japan, education, prison, black men, professional, bereaved, social attitudes, carbon footprint, children, networks, mass weddings, Healthy Marriage Initiative, financial security.
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Death of the wild child

Cat Stevens’ song, Where do the children play?, has never been more apt than today. Sometimes it looks as if children have stopped playing altogether – at least outside the home. As George Monbiot writes, if children do not experience nature, then how will they know it is worth protecting for the future? Not only that, what effect does it have on their growing minds and bodies?

Children do not have the same opportunities for outdoor play as they used to, because of fears of what can happen to them if they are unsupervised – traffic, strangers – so the area where they can roam has fallen 90% since the 1970s. Over half of children used to play often in wild places – now less than 10% do. At the same time, British 11-15 year olds usually spend half their waking moments in front of a screen, in the virtual world.

Being outside in wild places changes the way children play. They become more creative, and are more inclined to revel in fantasy, take normal physical risks, and notice what is around them. Taking children away from nature (and keeping them sedentary) makes children – and adults too – less creative. US research shows playing among trees and grass is linked with lower indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to boost them. Richard Louv, who wrote Last Child in the Woods, thinks the symptoms of ADHA may even be worsened by not being in nature.

Finally, the rise in child obesity and diabetes makes sense – if children spend half their waking moments in front of a screen, they spend at least half their day not moving. Coupled with heavy doses of fat-laden and sweet food, it is no surprise they are starting to experience the same lifestyle-related diseases as adults.

This article is a wake-up call. We certainly need to protect the environment in as many ways as we can. But it sounds as if we need to protect our children too – not by keeping them away from imaginary dangers in the forest – but by recognising their physical and spiritual need for contact with the natural, not the virtual, world.

Ref: Guardian (UK), 22 November 2012, 'Children must experience nature in order to learn it's worth saving'. G Monbiot.
Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, Algonquin Books.
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Search words: children, nature, National Trust, wild places, outdoor hobbies, traffic strangers, obesity, ADHD, creativity, Outward Bound, Natural Connections.
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