Understanding Millennials

By Cliff Ennico

May 24, 2016 6 min read

I was amused to read an article in The Wall Street Journal last week about a human-resources consultant who developed a popular (and apparently very lucrative) program to help corporate HR executives "understand this young generation," the millennial generation.

Apparently, this has become a recognized and respectable field for consultants. A quick Google search for "millennial consultant" (within quotation marks) brings up some 4,000 hits.

What makes this amusing (at least to me) is that hardly any of these consultants are actual members of the millennial generation. The millenial expert quoted in the Journal article is, by her own admission, 41 years old and a member of Generation X.

Personally, I think it's pompous and pretentious for any generation to claim it can crawl inside the mind of another generation and know what goes on, although I do understand the temptation. It's hard to find millennials willing to talk about their generational quirks because, frankly, they don't talk at all. (Maybe they would if you texted them?). Also, I have to admit that when a man reaches a certain age, there is nothing — and I mean nothing — more pleasurable, satisfying or just plain fun than cornering some young whippersnapper and boring the living crap out of him.

In my case, as a professional speaker whose audiences are getting younger by the minute, I am sometimes forced to engage in cultural anthropology so I don't come across as irrelevant or unsympathetic to roughly 75 million of my fellow Americans.

I subscribe to Entertainment Weekly magazine (the pop-culture bible) and listen to Top-40 radio stations weekly, if not more frequently. I can almost tell Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, Meghan Trainor and Gwen Stefani apart without looking at the song ID scroll on my car radio. (Adele is much easier to recognize because of her weird accent that turns "young" into "yehng" and "breakfast" into "brakefist").

Based on my (admittedly nonscientific) research to date, I can report one interesting and rather troubling observation about millennials: The boys and the girls don't seem to like each other very much.

Exhibit A is Meghan Trainor's current hit "NO." It's basically a cute EDM number about a girl resisting the unwanted advances of some bozo geek at a dance club. "If I want a man, then I'mma get a man/ But it's never my priority."

Okay, so far so good. It's your typical female-empowerment song about women taking more control over their lives. Nothing new here. Watch any recent Disney movie and you'll see that the men are evil or they're jerks — trust only your sistahs. But listen carefully toward the end of the song, where she starts repeating like a mantra, "I'm feeling/ Untouchable, untouchable" over and over again.

It seems that Ms. Trainor is saying something more than "Dude, get lost." Maybe, just maybe, she is rejecting the Y chromosome entirely, saying, "I am impervious to male charms. Period".

Perhaps I'm reading too much into it. But take Exhibit B, the male riposte to Trainor's anthem, Justin Bieber's song "Love Yourself."

(Did you ever think a column for business entrepreneurs would reference a guy who relieves himself in mop buckets?)

There's no ambiguity at all in those lyrics. It is a put-down song of the first order in which the Biebs tells his former flame exactly what he (and his mother) think of her. The message culminates in the memorable refrain, "'Cause if you like the way you look that much/ Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself."

Knowing what little I know about the boy with the bronze statue, "love" probably wasn't his first word choice. (Also, does this kid ever smile?).

And these are not isolated examples. Seriously, listen to the Top 40 hits. Literally half of these songs are about telling somebody else off, putting someone down, or pushing someone into the background (practices one of my millennial contacts — clearly a traitor to his class — refers to as "throwing shade"). The idea that romance may involve a degree of sentimentality, or require the object of someone's affections to show humility or vulnerability in the face of a powerful human emotion, just doesn't appear in these songs.

One only hopes that the "Don Quixote" character, Sancho Panza, was right when he said, "There can be no mischief sure when there is music." If these songs are any indication of how millennials really look at one another, the long-vaunted battle between the sexes may soon become a shooting war.

But maybe we don't have to worry. A headline from another recent Wall Street Journal article reads "Scientists Grow Embryos for Up to 13 Days Outside the Uterus." Once again, where culture fails, science comes to the rescue.

Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: Lou Stejskal

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