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American Subcultures And Music Of XX Century

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Subculture has the most ancient roots. In one of the Egyptian tombs, a papyrus was found 2,000 years ago, in which someone complained that young people began to wear strange clothes and sing other hymns. Subculture, therefore, is an ancient component of human society. The term “subculture” itself was introduced into sociology by the American sociologist David Reisman in 1950.

Most often, the subculture come up from the common tastes and preferences. Fandom – fanaticism – in music, hobbies, sports. To define friend of yours people use the style of dress, hairstyle, slang, attributes, and behavior. Internet sites, shops, clubs, video games are used to popularize ideas. Big business prospers because of the ideas of youth subcultures: fashion, cosmetics, movies, magazines, video games.

In the 50 years West countries came to the period of economic recovery. Parents began giving their children more pocket money for their interests and leisure. Entrepreneurs responded instantly and, as a result, expanded the network of youth clubs, bars, circulation of books and magazines for young people, the concept of youth fashion came into being. In the pockets of young people there were money that they could calmly spend on travel, cultural rest. Many of the young people sought higher education, which means the later creation of their own family and increased requirements for recreation. The process developed at an extremely high speed.


People get interested not only at spending their money on clothes or new video games but also at getting new emotions and unforgetble moments. Therefore, already in the late 30s, the first subculture in history was found – “zooties”. Her name originated from the phrase “zoot suit”, which meant a suit from a long jacket and narrowed trousers to the bottom. Afro-Americans quickly adopted the style, since wearing a zoot suit, a black man challenged white. That is why, in the first half of the 20th century, bluesmen and jazzmen could be seen in just such a costume.


A distinctive feature of this subculture is that it had neither racial nor social boders. Hipsters were those who did not accept the desire of American society to be ‘normal’ and were looking for the truth in, first of all, drugs, jazz and, often, free love. In general, hipsters are a synthesis of Afro-American culture, the streets and the desire for individuality. Hipsters had their own jargon, called ‘jive’. As for music, in the heyday of the hipster subculture, a new direction of jazz appears – bebop, which marked the end of the zooties era. Bebop, in contrast to swing, was a fast and experimental direction. It can be said that he personified a return to experiment and African traditions – formlessness, speed and unlimited improvisation. The most prominent representative of this trend was Charlie Parker. Thus, hipsters almost determines all subsequent subcultures. It was the hipsters who not only went against public standards by alternatively referring to “forbidden” topics, but began to study life on their own, individual experience, without rejecting it, in the opinion of the conservative society.

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Beat Generation

The “broken ones” took a lot from the hipsters – worldview, love to jazz, drugs and forbidden literature, but still, this is another episode in the history of subcultures. There are two main differences between broken and hipsters: the first is that hipsters carriers the idea and the “broken ones” took the fundament of this idea, transformed it and began to disclose it to the young people. The second difference is in the appearance , if the hipsters tried very hard to dress up to match, then the second ones never worried about how they looked. This is how appears very revolutionary and important trend in American literature of the 20th century, which has influenced and still affects everything that fits the category of ‘alternative.’

Hard Bop and Cool Jazz

While the USA was experiencing the rise of subcultures, the musical sphere of life also did not stand still. Gradually pushing back the swing into the past, new jazz trends take hold of people’s attention and soon, in addition to the radical bi-bop, two more phenomens appeared in jazz. The first is a different look at bi-bop. The musicians of this direction tried to bring more blues to the be-bop, they also tried to give more importance to the rhythm section, speeding it up. The second is the opposite of “hot solo,” which is also indicated by the name “cool,” what means cold. In other words, this is discreet jazz with almost no improvisations. Thus, these three new directions of the 40s – 50s are the way out of stagnation, in which jazz appeared in the second quarter of the 20th century.

Bluegrass, Honky-Tonk and Jump Blues

Bluegrass is a synthesis of all musical styles of the XIX and XX centuries that influenced the development of music: folk songs, ragtime, blues, jazz and country music. The style appears in the late 30s and expand in the 40s. Bluegrass is played acoustically – almost no amplifiers are used for it. The most popular bluegrass band of the time (which is considered the founder of the style) was called the “Blue Grass Boys”. At the same time, another new style appears – honky-tonk. Honky-tonk is child of ragtime. Only now the piano has become the lead instrument against the background of the accompanying band, vocals have also been added. This style is very similar to boogie-woogie, if it’s not the same thing at all. A great example of honky-tonka is the charming Fats Domino. Jump Blues is a very fast and powerful jazz mixed including blues. All these new phenomena in the world of country, jazz and blues, as well as the combination of the last two styles with the firsts, contributed to the emergence in the 50s of the father of rock and roll – rhythm and blues.


Hip-hop culture appears automatically, have become popular for a short time in the funk era, but since the 1970s has been rapidly fading since the early 1970s. But young peool didn’t worry about that and therefore decides go back to the streets. Here the street style, the sound of funk and the need to get a livelihood, either by crime. The first record, which is considered to be the fundament of hip-hop, dates back to 1979. Then a certain team called “Sugarhill Gang” records their track “Rapper’s Delight”. After that, the Afro-American world of music takes on a new breath and breathes this music to this day. The members of the hip-hop teams of the lates 70s-80s were called “B Boys”. “B” here means the word “beat”. They were dressed in the ‘pimp’ style, get from funk – gold jewelry, huge fur coats, caps. Only the lower part of the costume has changed – wide trousers or jeans and Adidas sneakers have become fashionable. Also, “B Boys” everywhere carried with them huge stereo systems, which they put, for example, on basketball courts when they played street version of basketball – streetball. Streetball, along with breakdance, became the sporting “trick” of early rappers. In the 90s, the situation in the hip-hop world is changing. He already goes to the masses, and the bits and texts become more interesting and diverse. There is also a conflict between the East and West coasts after the 1994 assassination attempt on California rapper Tupac. This era of enmity between the West and the East can be called the saddest, but also the most interesting episode in the history of hip-hop, since the 70s-80s were a time of much more harmless classics, and in the 21st century hip-hop music is simplified and primitive. There were also teams who perceived hip-hop not as a means of self-affirmation, but as an art, therefore they valued the traditions of both coasts. Souls of Mischief is an example of one of these teams. Despite the fact that Afro-Americans tried very hard to protect their culture from the white invasion, there were many respected white teams: Beastie Boys (which start off the repcore), Cypress Hill, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. Hip-hop is one of the most unique musical movements in America. Unfortunately, the fact that he began to the end of the 90s has become less and less like hip-hop. Even the word “hip-hop” is gradually becoming old-fashioned and the movement is increasingly called “Swag”, which is wrong, because the word “Swag” initially means a separate direction based on hip-hop, rather than the entire movement as a whole.


American Underground for 30 years took over those musicians who were uninteresting in the world of show business or were not interested in commerce . All of them became more noticeable with each decade, and now, in the late 80s, the underground groups began to go upstairs. At this time, the following groups appear in Washington State: Melvins, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Nirvana. All these groups did not came out of the underground till a certain point. Someone created hits on a local scene, someone went on tours in the USA and Europe, but they all formed a style that will create the last revolutionary subculture of the XX century – grunge.In 1991 it appears from the shadow, with the release of the album ‘Nirvana’ – ‘Nevermind’ and his title song ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. This song caused an explosion in the youth consciousness of America – it shows all the thoughts of American teenagers of the 90s, this album instantly became the voice of generation. People begun to listen and sing grunge, all kinds of newspapers, magazines and music channels are full of interviews with singers of the grunge scenes, and presents new fashion of the season – ripped jeans, long sweaters and worn Converse sneakers. Grunge groups are played on MTV for whole days. Across Americ teenagers wear clothes similar to their idols and reject everything that society expects from them – they just want to spend a good time with their favorite music. After 1999 a lot of changes happened with musicians: the transition from small clubs to huge stadiums and festivals like Pinkpop or Reading, fans jumping on the stage during the concerts, pressure of manager, journalists which always waiting for opportunity to show your personal problems and addiction to drugs. On the one hand, the popularity of the style stimulates its success , and increasing financial ability of musicians and labels contributes to the development of new interesting projects. On the other hand, constant attention destroys the personalities of musicians. The sense of grunge was also lost – the atmosphere of small clubs without any barriers between fans and musicians. Grunge was destroyed after the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994. After that, the popularity of the direction falls until it disappears completely. Even today, grunge is considered to be the last powerful wave that shook the entire musical world. In fact, grunge was the same punk, only updated, more powerful and slightly mixed with other styles.

One thing distinguishes them: the punks were desperate young people who gathered to be self-destructed together, when the graners were cheerful romantics, without political, nationalistic, racist, sexist and homophobic background and get together, just to be happy.

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American Subcultures And Music Of XX Century. (2021, September 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“American Subcultures And Music Of XX Century.” Edubirdie, 13 Sept. 2021,
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