Justin Bieber, indie singer and star of mockumentary break-dance primer Never Say Never, notes in his hit song Boyfriend:
“Swag, swag, swag on you. Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue. I dunno about me but I know about you. So say hello to falsetto in three two.”
Now, I know when I bust out my falsetto next to the fire with fondue in my mouth, it’s always a prelude to some freak-nasty bumpin’.
But let’s focus on what’s important here – Swag. The term Swag as a pop-culture touchstone has arisen in recent years seemingly out of nowhere. And somehow, despite its detractors and abusers, it survives. And how, you wonder? The truth is that the term Swagger, as a word and concept, has a long and enduring history – just not, however, in the ways you might immediately expect.
Shakespeare had Swagger
That’s right. And how could he not? Royalty attended his plays, he dressed men up as women and people just went ‘Sure, now bring on the midgets!’ He created the most enduring works of literature in the English language, and became more popular than Jesus – sorry The Beatles.
In fact, the term Swagger finds its first usage in a play by Shakespeare – namely, A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
What hempen homespuns indeed. In this case, ‘swaggering’ refers to the swaying of the clothes on the line. So here we have the first definition of Swagger – to sway.
A wild mustang on the open plains is perhaps as iconic a symbol of Freedom as the Statue of Liberty or the American Bald Eagle. So what happens when you stare into the restless soul of a mustang and temper the wild fire in its heart?
You turn into a Cowboy and you claim the Freedom that is your birthright, that’s what.
Cowboys tame mustangs with the same nonchalance you text “sick brah” to your buddy after he sends you a video of a cat playing death metal drums on YouTube.
Cowboys even created the cowboy boot, and what better way to be a Man of Swagger than to create your own shoe that helps you do your job better?
Though cowboys didn’t explicitly use the term Swagger (as far as we know they only use ‘reckon’), they are a clear embodiment and progenitor of the entire ethos.
And as far as I know, cowboys never smile. Instead they just give you a look that conveys the profound depths of their being, while also saying everything you are is stupid and you should not exist.
Wranglin’ cows and not putting up with any bullshit – now that’s Swagger.
Charlie Chaplin had Swagger
From Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret, we see the next historical mention of Swagger:
Here, for perhaps the first time, is Swagger used as a noun – something one can possess and exhibit. Even in his madcappery, tomfoolery, and knavery (oh he exhibits all three), Charlie personifies Swagger, proving that Swagger isn’t about what you do, but how you do it.
Joe Brown and The Bruvvers
Here’s a song called Swagger by Joe Brown and the Bruvvers, from 1960:
What’s interesting here is that the physical movement of Swagger has been transfigured to convey the rhythmic movement of music. This is important considering the direction Swagger has taken in contemporary hip-hop culture. More on that later.
Rat Pack Swagger
The next evolution of Swagger combines the style, rhythm and confidence of the Swagger that came before. This is perhaps the purest distillation of Swagger – theatric, cowboy-confident, sophisticated, and classy. This is the type of Swagger that Swagger Magazine endeavors to promote. All you youngins out there take note – this is Classic Swagger:
David Bowie Swagger
The day you walk onto a stage with this kind of confidence is the day you conquer the intergalactic Martian armies. Oh wait – David Bowie already did that and he is our new Martian King. David Bowie was the ‘70s answer to Swagger, and he let us all know that it was fine to get a little (a lot) freaky – and as long as you believed in what you were doing, others would get freaky right along with you.
Prince of Swagger
Say what you will about Prince – the man clearly exudes Swagger, and he did so in a decade sorely lacking it. He’s about 3 feet tall and looks like a weasel with a Jheri Curl, but he’ll have all of our girlfriends participating in a funk-swagger-orgy to the thrustworthy sounds of Purple Rain.
Also – whatever animals he wrestles and kills to make his outfits surely don’t exist on this mortal plane. Now that’s Inter-Dimensional Swagger.
Modern Day Swagger
Swagger hit the mainstream with Jay-Z (“I Invented Swag”) and was subsequently capitalized on by Soulja Boy (who cares), and other posturing rappers (again, don’t care). As far as anyone can find, Swagger was officially introduced into Hip-Hop in a song called Slow Down by Brand Nubian.
Since then it has become closely associated with hip-hop culture, and has taken off as a trend in mainstream white culture, maligned by many as disingenuous braggadocio combined with unwarranted arrogance.
So we at Swagger Magazine are faced with a dilemma – how do we realign Swagger with its true ethos, and inspire men towards the classic Swagger values of substance, style, and confidence – while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls laid out for us by Swagger imposters?
We do it mercilessly and methodically.
This is not Swagger:
Swagger Coach Ryan Good
No coach necessary.