Damon Albarn’s stance on ‘woke’ culture is a bit of a blur

National World p1 July 31National World p1 July 31
National World p1 July 31 | National World
Has Damon Albarn hit out at wokeness - or is it more nuanced than that?

People may remember Blur for being… well, a bit of a blur. Yes, a staple of Brit-pop nostalgia that will live long in the memories of generations to come but it’s hard to recall what Albarn & Co really stood for? Their cause wasn’t helped by tabloid-fuelled campaigns to brand the group as smarmy posh boys, rivalled against the working class backbone of two brothers raised in Burnage. 

The truth was always far from it. The band’s third studio album, Parklife, highlighted the tepid day-to-day stupefaction of post-Thatcher Britain with songs like ‘End of a Century' and ‘Jubilee’. A theme the group homed in on their next release, The Great Escape. It’s therefore not surprising to see drummer, David Rowntree, become a Labour Party councillor years later.  

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With Gorillaz, Albarn has been adamant on showing he has a progressive backbone to bear, from the eco-friendly messaging of ‘Plastic Beach’ to ‘Humanz’, which likens Trump’s presidency to ultimate damnation. Despite speaking through a selection of cartoon delegates, it’s clear to this point at least, where Albarn sits on the political aisle.  

Fast forward to 2023 and Albarn - recently branded ‘Trumpian’ by superproducer Jack Antonoff -  has decided to weigh in on the ‘woke’ debate. A privilege typically withheld for characters like Laurence Fox, whose political highlights include being outperformed by YouTube prankster and joke candidate Niko Omilana, at the 2021 London mayoral election.

Speaking to French magazine Rock and Folk, Albarn says wokeism ‘risks being a problem’ and likens the phenomena to throwing ‘oil in the fire’. At first glance, it could appear like Albarn is following the well-trodden path of ‘cancelled’ celebrities drifting ever closer to sensationalism and right-wing hysteria - think Kanye West, Charlie Sheen, Louis C.K… 

But he is not throwing a ‘culture-war’ hissy-fit, instead the Blur frontman is worried about the parallels between ‘wokeism’ and a ‘similar divisive effect’ used by right-wing politicians. “The victory of Trump rested largely on this antagonism, and we’ve seen the danger close-up,” he says.

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The jury is still out on whether ‘wokeism’ can be used to stamp a political trend or if it is simply a pejorative epithet weaponised by right-wing actors. And to suggest one side is merely ‘antagonising’ the other is dismissive of the values of those who often, unknowingly, partake in ‘woke culture’.

In 2010, Albarn recalled seeing plastic littered on a beach in South Devon near his home. This spurred the artist to conceptualise an imaginary island populated with debris and radically changed by pollution. The vision manifested in the Gorillaz’s third album, Plastic Beach.

20 years ago, Thatcher may have called the vision a ‘doomist’ prediction. Today, she may have even opted for woke.

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