Are College Enrollment Trends Making Marriage Impossible? NBA Players Push Back on Vaccine Mandates, Gen Z Hip-Hop Kids Bring Back 90's Country? Apple's Work Chat App Woes (The Five for 09/24/21)

Hey, welcome to The Five.

If you’re one of the new folks who signed up after hearing my conversation with Vance Crowe, here’s what you can expect.

Tuesdays: Five stories on under-reported, vital hard news.

Fridays: Five stories on Culture & Commentary.

Let’s dive in.

[one]

Soon, there will be two female college students for every male enrolled in a four year institution. This trend is being reported on all over the place, but an article from Newsday went semi-viral this week, thanks to a single sentence that preview major changes in society:

A state university psychology professor told me she was seeing many instances in which married working-class women who earned a college diploma felt they’d 'outgrown' their blue-collar husbands, eventually leading to marriage breakdown.

This bums me out for a lot of reasons.

The first being that I stood around a fire last weekend with my blue collar bros, whom I have far more in common with than any white collar counterparts, past or present…and it just makes me sad to think about them being excluded (or, divorced from) simply for holding a union card.

We can only “choose” our careers to a certain extent. I was never going to be a welder, or an engineer, or a pilot, or a pipe fitter, or a doctor. I’m just not good at any of the baseline skills you need to do those jobs.

For society to move in a direction where a large chunk of the workforce is “un-marriable” is going to create major issues…and the college enrollment numbers are only going to accelerate this.

Journalist Megan Basham put it this way:

Right now, the emerging evidence is that a small percentage of young, college educated, in-shape, high-earning males will dance through many one night stands and casual, uncommitted relationships with an ever growing population of young women…because they’re the only available option left.

It’s hard to see who wins from the current situation…with the exception of an extreme minority of young men who only want a revolving door of women without any burden of responsibility or the hassle of a real relationship.

One of the messages I find most troubling in the modern era, which is amplified by radical feminism, is that career, wealth and status are the most important things in life.

Much of that “being a woman means winning at all costs” ethos was popularized by the mega-hit show Sex and the City in the early 2000’s. However, series creator Candace Bushnell has been more open with her regrets about the lifestyle she glamorized:

"When I was in my 30s and 40s, I didn’t think about it," she recalled. "Then when I got divorced and I was in my 50s, I started to see the impact of not having children and of truly being alone. I do see that people with children have an anchor in a way that people who have no kids don’t."

In my opinion, much of what’s attributed to gender differences are actually personality and temperament differences. More than 150 years of established psychology is slowly being forgotten thanks to pushy people on Twitter who constantly harp on “I am [gender] and [personality characteristic], therefore all [gender] should have [personality characteristic]. Anyone who is against this hates [gender].”

I know women who are incredibly good at the corporate world, and seem quite happy. Some have kids, some don’t. Some want kids, some don’t.

However, when women I know professionally have talked about the lack of dating prospects…I’ve more than once offered to make an introduction to one of my male friends who work in the blue collar world (just cause…that’s most of my friends).

Every time, my offer to make an introduction has been rejected. When I’ve (gently) pressed on why…the answer has always been “a lack of status/what would people think?”

Of course, each person has the freedom to choose who to marry and spend their lives with…but when huge shifts in higher ed mean the majority of women and the majority of men essentially cannot couple…

…that’s going to have huge implications for society.

Speaking as someone who’s one of the most ambitious people I’ve ever met (an awkward sentence, but it’s true), I’m not knocked down by setbacks (nor, hopefully, over-inflated by wins) as much as most people…because business is a tool, not the end game.

When status becomes the ultimate goal…we’re in for a tidal wave of changes in the coming decades.

[two]

Trap/country breakout star Breland.

Walk into any high school on any given year, and you’ll find high school kids who eschew the big hits of the day in favor of the artists of yesteryear.

In my high school experience (1997-2001), Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd were favored by the kids who wanted do differentiate themselves from the mainstream crowd with visor organizers (if you’re too young, these things) full of CD’s from Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, 2Pac, Korn, Backstreet Boys, Enimem.

More recently, I noticed high school kids re-discovering 2000’s Green Day, particularly the album American Idiot.

Now, Gen Z are running towards…90’s country? Personally, I was a huge fan, but 90’s country wasn’t even cool when 90’s country was happening. (Exception: the band formerly known as Dixie Chicks).

Rolling Stone reports:

Breland wasn’t even a year old when Deana Carter released “Strawberry Wine,” her 1996 ballad about the passing of teenage innocence beneath a “hot July moon.” But the country whiz kid who broke out with the viral “My Truck” regards Carter’s song as a touchstone of his introduction to country music.

“It really beautifully describes an experience that we all have: first love,” Breland, 26, tells Rolling Stone. “There’s a universal truth in the song. I can remember being 17 and feeling like I found the one. And as it turned out, it wasn’t.”

Twenty-five years since its release, “Strawberry Wine” and other Nineties-era country songs have become an essential part of Breland’s streaming playlists.

He’s not alone. Nineties hits by artists like Shania Twain, Alan Jackson, the Chicks, and George Strait have all found their way onto the Spotify playlists of Breland’s Gen Z peers. And the streaming service has taken note: On Tuesday, Spotify launched a specially curated “microsite” that amplifies country songs from that decade. It’s an interactive experience with kitschy graphics, deep-dive interviews, and a new Spotify Singles session with Parker McCollum and Tenille Arts covering Nineties classics like Strait’s “Carrying Your Love With Me” and the Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces.” Breland remakes “Strawberry Wine” as a Nineties R&B ballad.

“I have been singing that song kind of casually over the past few years and was like, ‘Would it be weird for me to try to do a cover?’ I’ve heard a lot of women do it beautiful, but I felt like I could bring a different energy to it,” he says.

It’s all part of Spotify’s campaign to satisfy the listening desires of a surprisingly young audience. According to the streaming service, as many users between the ages of 19 and 24 are listening to Spotify’s 90s Country playlist as users over the age of 45 — the very demographic that was hearing Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, and David Lee Murphy on terrestrial radio live back in the day.

Brittany Schaffer, Head of Artist & Label Partnerships for Spotify in Nashville, says the company noted the trend toward Nineties country around the start of the pandemic, when listeners were seeking comfort in nostalgia. It’s since transcended that novelty and become its own phenomenon. Nearly 90 million playlists from Gen Z users include country songs from the era, while streams of Spotify’s 90s Country playlist in the U.S. have grown 70% since 2018 among Gen Z.

I might be reading way too much into this, but from where I’m sitting, there are two notable trends here:

A). Apparently today’s teens feel a good deal of stress, if they’re choosing comforting music than angsty anthems. Obviously, the world blew up around them, and they didn’t see friends for the most peer-focused years of their lives. Teenage angst, it seems, comes from rebelling against your comfortable, suburban, boring life. Remove the comfort, there’s not much reason left for the angst.

B). Trap/country (incorporating the beats of southern hip-hop) is heavily mocked, but growing…and more authentic than the copy/paste “checklist list” songs of the past decade on country radio (the 2010’s were notorious for male country artists in tight jeans who sang vapid party anthems about trucks, Daisy Duke shorts on women, beer, coolers of beer, and coolers of beer in the bed of your truck while a woman in Daisy Dukes rides next to you). Country music is never “cool” in the mainstream, but it’s also unkillable, apparently. And the next wave of artists to pick up the torch…grew up on hip hop.

As someone who devotes a great deal of my listening time to more “purist” country/Americana acts (Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, Morgan Wade) I love hearing authentic voices of the Appalachian culture I grew up in (I didn’t grow up in Appalachia, just born in a place where everyone had descended from there).

But, on the other hand, I totally get why Breland’s “My Truck,” which borrows the ‘skrrrr, skrrrrr” vocal fills from the Atlanta hip hop scene and references Air Jordans…works really well at a Friday night football game and blaring from a teenage sound system.

And (for now, at least) the sub-genre is happening organically, which is a lot more refreshing than the pure garbage filling the mainstream country charts over the last decade.

The kids are stressed…but they’re alright.

And they're making new sounds, drawing from the most unlikely of inspiration (90’s country), which pulls in more traditionalism than most realize, like the pedal steel on Blanco Brown’s “Git With It,” an instrument that has been severely lacking from country radio since, well, the 90’s.

[three]

One of the most unlikely sources of pushback on COVID vaccine mandates is…NBA stars?

This week, superstars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving both pushed back on vaccine mandates (the former is vaccinated, the latter didn’t disclose his vaccination status, although it’s widely assumed Irving is unvaccinated).

However, it was Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic who went viral for his comments.

NBC reports:

"I'm not anti-Vax. I'm not anti-medicine. I'm not anti-science," Issac, 29, said in a Sept. 27 press conference. "I have nothing but the utmost respect for every health care worker in person in Orlando, and all across the world that has worked tirelessly to keep us safe. My mom has worked in healthcare for a really long time. I thank God I'm grateful that I live in a society where vaccines are possible, and we can protect ourselves and have the means to protect ourselves for the first in the first place."

He went on to say it was his belief that whether or not someone gets vaccinated should be their personal choice and that decision should be met with understanding, not bullying.

"I'm not ashamed to say that I'm uncomfortable with taking the vaccine at this time. I think that we're all different. We all come from different places, we've all had different experiences, and hold dear to different beliefs," he said. "What it is that you do with your body when it comes to putting medicine in there should be your choice, free of the ridicule and the opinion of others."

Issac, who said he tested positive for COVID-19 in the past, also said he believed his antibodies, combined with his age and fitness level, put him in a good place without the aid of the vaccine.

Traditionally, the NBA lines up with left-of-center politics, so this trend is surprising.

[four]

The work chat app Slack could be changing working at large companies forever, because workers have a way to connect and share grievances and ideas they previously thought were unique to them…and Apple may be the one of the first high profile companies that goes through major changes.

The Verge reports:

Apple’s remote work struggle is emblematic of a deeper shift taking place inside the company. Since 1976, the tech giant has operated in largely the same way: executives make decisions about how the company will function, and employees either fall in line or leave. What choice do they have? Apple is currently worth $2 trillion, making it the most valuable company in the world, as well as one of the most powerful.

Over the past few months, however, that culture has started to erode. As workers across the tech industry advocate for more power, Apple’s top-down management seems more out of touch than ever before. Now, a growing number of employees are organizing internally for change and speaking out about working conditions on Twitter.

“There’s a shift in the balance of power going on here,” says Jason Snell, the former editor of Macworld, who’s been covering Apple since the 1990s. “Not everyone is afraid that their boss at Apple is going to fire them. They’re saying, ‘I’m going to say some bad things about Apple, and if you move against me, it’s going to look bad for you.’”

The shift is due in part to the fact that the tech giant is two years into a radical new experiment: using Slack. Where Apple employees previously worked in ultra-siloed teams with little opportunity to meet people outside their current project or department, they now have a way to communicate with anyone across the company. Employees have discovered that individual work grievances are shared by people in entirely different parts of Apple.

The details of these grievances vary. Some employees want the company to invest in internal tools to better protect their privacy. Others want more transparency in how much people are paid. Many who’ve spoken to The Verge feel like Apple’s employee relations team has been woefully inadequate in addressing their workplace concerns. The overarching desire — the thing that connects the tenured software engineer in Cupertino with the retail employee in New Jersey — is that employees want to feel heard.

So far, it’s not entirely clear Apple executives want to listen.

It’s unclear where this is going to go…but the genie being shoved back in the bottle doesn’t seem likely. Nor does it seem likely that Apple will be the lone mega-corporation who deals with employee-led revolts.

[five]

Let’s head into the weekend with a pop culture roundup.

  • The hype around Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond in No Time to Die is building. The movie is two years late, due to the COVID shutdowns, but early reviews (and overseas box office, because the film opened internationally yesterday) look like this one is going to be a big hit.

  • Rocky IV will be returning to theaters for the first time since it’s original theatrical run for one night only (November 11th). The fourth entry into the series about a down and out boxer who becomes a world champion was highly divisive when it originally released, because Rocky was so bluntly boxing Communism (squaring off with a fighter from the USSR). However, there’s a lot more character study going on here, with a pugilist forced to enter the ring after his entire “corner” (support team of coaches and trainers) are gone. In my opinion, it’s a story about overcoming loneliness and losing mentors…which Sylvester Stallone has promised the new footage expands on.

  • The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters this weekend…I’ll wait until I’ve watched the original HBO series Sopranos before diving into this prequel…but it’s fascinating that Michael Gandalfini, who is stepping into a younger verion of the character his late father, James, made famous.

  • Saturday Night Live returns this weekend with Luke Wilson (Old School, The Royal Tennenbaums) hosting and Kacey Musgraves filling the musical guest spot.

  • Entertainment Weekly has a great look at fall TV headed our way, if you want to see what shows to add to your (likely ever growing) watchlist. I’m particularly excited about Mayor of Kingstown, a crime drama that pairs Jeremy Renner (Avengers) with Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights), set in Michigan. I’m curious about Apple’s big bet on an expansive sci fi series with Foundation, which is touted as “the story that inspired Star Wars), but I could see it being a giant flop. However, Wheel of Time, starring Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) feels like the next big thing in sci fi/fantasy, to fill the Game of Thrones void…season 1 of the saga hits Amazon Prime in November. And of course…I can’t wait for the return of Yellowstone on November 7th.

    MY PICKS: We’re pretty light on notable album releases this week, so I wanted to highlight two singles that I think are worthy of a spin. The first is “Last one Standing” by Skylar Grey, Polo G, Mozzy and Eminem, which will no doubt be added to countless workout playlists. The second is “William Faulkner” by folk songwriter Tennessee Jet (not on YouTube, so that’s a Spotify link), which is the best story-song I’ve heard in quite some time.

    Until the next one,

    -sth