The death of World Beat

A photographer who shall remain nameless, told me she was perplexed about her new beau's sense of style. "He's cute," she said, "but his whole World Beat thing is freaking me out."
These days, clearly, the term "World Beat" comes with some serious baggage.
World Beat, if you remember, means Western music that incorporates non-Western folk elements. (Think Paul Simon in South Africa, Damon Albarn in The Gambia etc.)
Often, it also means things like blond dreads. Unkempt facial hair. Drum circles on the beach at sunset. Hydroponics. Bong hits, GreenPeace, and B.O.
Being in college in the 90s, basically.
Back then it was sexy, a public statement of personal freedom, a flag of probable marijuana/shroom possession, a sign of fun times ahead. Yet, unlike so many things from the 90s that went on to earn vintage status—Marc Jacobs' Grunge collection for Perry Ellis, neon raver clothes, New Kids On The Block—World Beat didn't age very well. Today, in fact, the World Beat look remains virtually untouchable, the final frontier of fashion irony—a frontier no-one outside of Burning Man seems brave enough to cross.
Case in point: a stylist friend sent out a mass email, encouraging her friends to attend today's Los Angeles Social Forum event in Downtown L.A. She received virtually no response, and didn't understand why. Eventually, someone on the email list wrote back. "Sorry," it read, "but you lost me at 'drum circle'."
And then there's the issue of those pesky World Beat dreads—last night, a friend who once had long dreads and a set of bongos back when they were fashionable, described her horror upon finally getting her hair cut. "There were things in them, creatures," she whispered. "Never again."
"Hold on," the defenders of World Beat may exclaim. "Isn't this summer's style supposed to be all global and stuff?" They're right. Flip through the pages of Vogue and Harper's and whatever, and you'll read all about the "ethnic print explosion", or more accurately, the "heathen print explosion” (the dictionary definition of "ethnic" is: 'relating to a people not Christian or Jewish; heathen'. Charming.).
Dries Van Noten's Spring/Summer 08 show (pictured), Oscar de la Renta's mudcloth print dresses, YSL's safari chic—all showed sub-Saharan tendencies. June's Vogue reported how Liya Kebede, a Tuareg pop festival in Timbuktu, was having a fashion moment. Add to that Ryan Gosling contributing to a book about the Darfur crisis, baby Shiloh, and Madonna's adoptee, and it's clear that Africa, whose music inspired the World Beat movement, is absolutely the most fashionable place on the planet in 2008, although you won't be seeing Madonna, Ryan Gosling or baby Shiloh chewing twigs at a World Beat drum circle any time soon.
Because pretending to be from Africa isn't sexy any more. Africa, is.
(Disclaimer: The views contained in this article are not menat to target anyone living in the Venice Beach or Santa Cruz areas, both of which hold World Beat National Park status and whose dreadlocked residents, being historical artifacts, remain exempt from criticism.)