"You can plan a pretty picnic," raps Andre 3000 on the Outkast hit Ms. Jackson, "But you can't predict the weather." And as far as soothsaying goes in a pop song, that's definitely on the safer side. Others have attempted far grander proclamations, either by explicitly implying something might happen or by creating visions of future worlds. Sometimes, they get things eerily right, sometimes they're miles off the mark, and just occasionally artists who enjoy conspiracy theories are proved to be not quite as paranoid as they may initially have seemed...
Songs that were good at predicting the future
1. The Who - Relay
What the song predicted: The internet
In what year: 1972
Relay was a Pete Townshend-written, non-album single that The Who had a minor hit with in 1972. It's an interesting song, with lyrics that speak of some kind of all-powerful futuristic network, much like the internet: "Every single dream / Is wrapped up in the scheme / They all get carried on the relay."
Townshend hadn't plucked the idea out of fresh air - computer networks had been around for a while by 1972 - but to imagine the network as taking a control of our personal lives is nonetheless impressive, as is the concept of the project that Relay was written for: Lifehouse, a rock opera that Townshend planned for The Who as a follow-up to 1969's Tommy.
"It's a sort of futuristic fantasy, a bit of science-fiction," Townshend said. "It takes place in about 20 years, when everyone has been boarded up inside their houses and put in special garments called experience suits, through which the government feeds them programmes to keep them entertained. These suits are interconnected in a universal grid, a little like the modern internet, but combined with gas-company pipelines and cable-television-company wiring. The grid is operated by an imperious media conglomerate headed by a dictatorial figure called Jumbo who appears to be more powerful than the government that first appointed him."
The project was aborted at the time, but Townshend has continually returned to it over the years. As a flight of artistic fancy, it does seem very forward-thinking, but perhaps not as much as E. M. Forster's 1909 short novel The Machine Stops, which imagines a similar dystopian future and was likely to be an influence on Lifehouse.
2. Zapp - Computer Love
What the song predicted: Internet dating
In what year: 1986
Top-notch electro funk band Zapp may not be a household name in the UK, but they certainly got their props in the US when West Coast gangsta rap producers started sniffing around for samples in the late-80s and 90s. The bouncy G-funk sound is greatly informed by the feel of Zapp tracks, and it wasn't just a new movement in music that they foresaw.
Let's study the lyrics of their 1986 single Computer Love, sung by Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band: "Need a special girl / To share in my computer world / I no longer need a strategy / Thanks to modern technology." Internet dating, much?!
But Zapp go further, picking up on some of the themes that Spike Jonze tackled in his 2013 science fiction comedy drama Her - the idea of falling in love with a virtual, non-IRL being. "You know I've been around / From sexy mamas to cool prima donnas / I want to share your treasure, oh so rare / 'Cause it's your face I see on my computer screen."
Incidentally, the 1981 Kraftwerk song of the same name is pretty good at capturing the kind of screen ennui so many of us experience now. Just change 'TV' to 'computer': "Another lonely night / Stare at the TV screen." But Kraftwerk were still using a good old telephone to find love: "I call this number / For a data date." And no one does that in 2016.
3. The Game feat. Lil Wayne - Hard Times
What the song predicted: President Obama, and the death of Osama bin Laden
In what year: 2007
Hip hop fans will know that some rappers are near-obsessed with conspiracy theories and making predictions (Tupac, Nas...), often in ludicrously general terms. Sometimes, though, they're on the money, as The Game was in July 2007 with Hard Times, which featured Lil Wayne and sampled the 1971 Baby Huey song of the same name.
"I'm feeling like a black democrat / Barack Obama, the only n**** that can catch Osama," he begins, and while you could argue that his prediction was just a good guess, it's worth remembering that Obama was an outsider to even win the Democratic nomination to run for president until January 2008 when he won the Iowa caucus. Presumably, only a president could "catch Osama", and duly Obama won the general election in November that year. Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, May 2011.
4. Radiohead - Fitter Happier
What the song predicted: The New Young Fogeys
In what year: 1997
Cool Britannia and Britpop are associated with end-of-century decadence, but by 1997 things had turned sour. Pulp's great comedown album, This Is Hardcore, was being written and recorded (it was released in March 1998), and Radiohead broke new ground with OK Computer - a clever, abstract album that seemed to point to a future that was colder, stranger and more controlled.
The odd, half-song Fitter, Happier comes mid-album and features a computerised voice sarcastically reciting a list of instructions for how to be in this new world: "Fitter, happier, more productive / Comfortable / Not drinking too much / Regular exercise at the gym." And lo, as BBC News reported in June 2016, "For today's late adolescents and twenty-somethings, hedonism has given way to hard work - wherever you look, Britain's young people are breaking records for good behaviour and social restraint."
A term has been coined: The New Young Fogeys.
5. Killah Priest - Information
What the song predicted: Mass surveillance
In what year: 1998
In retrospect, M.I.A.'s 2010 track The Message, with its lyrics, "Handbone connects to the internet / Connected to the Google / Connected to the government," didn't seem quite so paranoid after the 2013 Edward Snowden leaks. They revealed, as BBC News reported, that "the NSA [National Security Agency in the US] tapped directly into the servers of nine internet firms, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, to track online communication in a surveillance programme known as Prism."
What about Wu-Tang associated rapper Killah Priest, though? He was rapping about similar things 12 years earlier in 1998 on the track Information, from his debut album Heavy Mental. "Our telephone conversations will be automatically wire tapped / And transcripted by the National Security Agency," he said, three years before the now-expired 2001 Patriot Act, which provided the legal basis for the telephone metadata surveillance programme that Snowden exposed.
Songs that weren't so good at predicting the future
1. The Buggles - Video Killed the Radio Star
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What the song got wrong: Video killing the radio star
In what year: 1977
Famously, the above promo for the 1979 Buggles hit was the first video shown on MTV when it launched in 1981. As a consequence, it's become lodged in the mind as predicting the rise of the music video in the 1980s as the primary means for making music stars. But that's not what the song is about. As Buggles man Trevor Horn told the Guardian in 2004, Video Killed the Radio Star "came from a [J. G.] Ballard story called Sound Sweep in which a boy goes around old buildings with a vacuum cleaner that sucks up sound".
The opening lyrics look back, not forward - "I heard you on the wireless back in 52 / Lying awake intent at tuning in on you" - suggesting the song concerns the birth of TV in 1950s threatening radio, rather than music videos in the late-70s, although of course Horn would have been acutely aware of the parallels.
Insert your own gag here about MTV killing the video by moving into reality TV in the 90s. Music videos are now for YouTube, and radio survives. Video didn't kill the radio star.
2. Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
What the song got wrong: That the revolution will not be televised
In what year: 1971
Don't mean to be too pedantic, but while we perfectly accept that the revolution will not be brought to us by the "Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia", it's very likely to be televised - and Instragrammed, tweeted, live blogged, Snapchatted, flipped into GIFs, and the rest.
3. Morrissey - America Is Not The World
What the song got wrong: America never having a black president
In what year: 2004
It was less of a prediction and more of a statement, but in 2004 on the song America Is Not The World from his You Are the Quarry album, Morrissey sang: "In America / The land of the free, they said / And of opportunity / In a just and a truthful way / But where the president, is never black, female or gay."
Now, we already know that one third of that last lyric proved to be incorrect, and come November this year America may well have its first female president.
4. David Bowie - Five Years
What the song got wrong: That the end of the world was nigh
In what year: 1971
While Pete Townsend was cooking up Lifehouse, David Bowie was working on a similarly ambitious project, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The album's first song is Five Years, which begins with the following lyrics, "Pushing through the market square / So many mothers sighing / News had just come over / We had five years left to cry in," and ends with: "We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot / Five years, that's all we've got."
Bowie is setting the scene for the arrival of his fictional rock'n'roll saviour, Ziggy Stardust, but you wonder also whether he did think the world was doomed. Five Years tapped into actual fears at the time of a coming apocalyptic event or nuclear holocaust, and the idea for the song is thought to have come from a dream Bowie had in which his deceased father told him he had just five years to live.
Thankfully, both Bowie and his father (in his dream) were wrong. After Bowie died, though, there was much discussion about how good he'd been at foreseeing other future events, and a wonderful theory [contains adult language] even emerged that he'd foretold the rise of Kanye West.
5. Sparks - I Predict
What the song got wrong: Lassie having an affair with Elvis (and other things)
In what year: 1982
Art-pop band Sparks truly go to town with their predictions on 1982 single, I Predict. "Lassie will prove that Elvis and her / Had a fleeting affair," they manage at one point, followed by, "Cold beer will cure a cold" (if only) and, "They're gonna stop Saturday night / So you better have fun now."
Naturally, they're even wrong in suggesting that "this song will fade out". It finishes abruptly.