On Lollapalooza Brasil and American Greatness
São Paulo, Brazil
Staggering atop the Budweiser stage in São Paulo’s Interlagos Autódromo, a seemingly sloshed, but many years sober, Julian Casablancas paused The Strokes’ headlining set for a little light crowd work.
Looking out at the throngs from behind his nighttime sunglasses, he became transfixed not with the beautiful adoring Paulistanos but the garish brand installations that dotted the landscape. To his right was the Coca Cola EDM activation, a massive plastic gazebo with epilepsy-inducing strobe lights. Straight ahead, the Doritos Lounge, a two-story adult fun house presumably sprinkled with nacho cheese dust.
“I’m up here trying to focus but I can’t think about anything except this fucking LSD tent mall,” he riffed.
This gave me a bit of a chuckle. It was a ludicrous scene. But none of my neighbors seemed to follow the frontman’s attempt at humor given his garbled speaking-style, the language barrier, and their lack of schooling in Gen X’s disdain for corporatism.
For them, this bit of cultural imperialism from Uncle Sam was standard fare. Kind of the point even.
The twenty-somethings roaming the racetrack grounds in Gregory Peck glasses and crop tops were there for the express purpose of reveling in an overwhelmingly American cultural jubilee.
Sure there was some local flair that separated the event from its stateside festival counterparts—Latin main stage acts, açaí treats, and the like—but the talent that drew them originated stateside, as did the Coachella culture that has become universal.
They came for Doja Cat, a mixed-race Jewish Californian who as a child lived for a bit in a Santa Monica commune run by Alice Coltrane. They came for Dave Grohl’s Seattle grunge, Casablancas’s New York cool, Jack Harlow’s Poppin’ white-boy Kentucky rap (apparently this is a thing), A$AP Rocky’s Harlem hip hop, all topped off by Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.”
And amidst the singing and shouting and chanting they chugged Bud heavies while satiating the munchies with 3D Flamin’ Hots or a little Mickey D’s, all without feeling the need to project a hipster’s ironic distance.
I met a guy from Belo Horizonte who spoke basically no English, but knew every word to the Lana Del Rey set break song. Another local I spoke to had pretty good command of English, which he credited to listening to Miley and her peers. I myself brought American journalism, Thomas Friedman style, to the scene, chatting with my taxi driver: he immediately tagged me as an American there for Lollapalooza and began excitedly shouting about how he wanted to see the Foo Fighters.
The average Brazilian attending this festival ended up with a more real view of American greatness as it actually exists in the world than that of the red-hatted patriots who don’t want to celebrate their country as it is but as they imagine it once was.
They see and appreciate the outgrowth of a country that’s free spirit and creative energy incubates everything from Planet Her to the Doritos Flamin Hot Cool Ranch Cheesy Gordita Crunch.
None of this is an original observation of course, and American cultural hegemony has been documented, observed, and bellyached about for decades.
But over that time it has become rather out of fashion to brag about it, at least directly.
In part because those who have traditionally liked to beat their chest the most about America have grown to kind of hate it. McDonald’s and Doritos and Coke have gone “woke.” The songs Harlow produces are satanic. Miley’s twerking is too racy. The Strokes aren’t down with The Thin Blue Line.
Meanwhile the types to stan those musicians end up focusing more on all the ways America could be better instead of its relative awesomeness. America’s greatness is denounced as corporate cultural imperialism, snuffing out local products.
As a result, America sometimes finds itself lacking in full-throated defenders right at the moment when despots who offer a less creative, less free, less LSD-tent-mall realness vision for the world are feeling emboldened.
And that’s bad!
This should be a time for America Inc. to win back some minds and hearts and send a neon shining light to the world reminding them of the seven things they like about us.
While our learned instinct might be to roll our eyes at the corny brands and politicized bands, the reality is that they are out there doing this important work for us.
Anyone who actually cares about American greatness should embrace their evangelizing. It’s one of the best things we got goin’.
Update: An earlier version of this article said Casablancas was “seemingly sloshed” without qualifier, when in reality he’s been sober for many years. Seemingly sloshed is just his style.