• January 27, 2023

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Every year I look forward to seeing Pantone’s Color of the Year unveiled and analysing what it could tell us about this moment in culture.

In 2020 it was Classic Blue.

In 2021, Pantone sweetly cheated, opting for two colors of the year, an optimistic yellow and a mundane grey which was an excellent insight into our confusion and uncertainty in the midst of a pandemic and where we might end up, on the other side of that.

Then for 2022, Very Peri purple was crowned color of the year. It was the perfect pick, a blend of, or struggle between, red and blue: resulting in the colour of propaganda. So ideal for the year in which governments across the world tried to convince their citizens of the need to curtail their free speech whilst they weaponised mass media to convince them on everything from medical interventions to military interventions.

So what lies ahead for 2023? According to Pantone it is “Viva Magenta”.

I cannot read those words without hearing them to the tune of Viva Las Vegas. All day it has been my ear worm. I bet Elvis loved Magenta, it’s so Vegas. It smacks of artifice and superficiality and it is as far as you can get from nature.


And something else, it is a building block of digital representation. Along with Cyan, Yellow and Black, it is elemental to the four color printing process. Yet, all four colors are not equal: it more than pulls its weight, in fact it overpowers its color companions. It’s more strident, more hyper-active and frankly, more weird. It’s a shocking color, like a Schiaparelli pink, when observed as saturated against the backdrop of reality. We might say, as Greg Rowland, the semiotician put it to me, that it’s “an idea of a color magicked up by a science never exposed to nature. As such, it effectively prints a hyper-vibrant alternate reality which lives more comfortably in the imaginary than it does the quotidian”.

Magenta and magic. There is certainly something to that. Magenta, like a virus, may well have been created in a lab, released into a world it is not part of. More experimental than experienced, more printed than lived.

What is puzzling is that Pantone have depicted it as more of a muted magenta, almost burgundy instead of bold, or as Greg termed it “bullshit magenta”. Perhaps more Blackpool than full on Vegas. Is this the first time a color of the year has self-censored?

Nevertheless, magenta is the kind of color you use to impose rather than persuade.

When I was working for a company that was bought by Deutsche Telekom and was rebranded to T-Mobile, every advertising brief suddenly demanded a wash of fluorescent magenta so it would be noticed, with the assumption that on being noticed it would be admired or liked. Nothing subtle about that, it demands your attention. But does it really demand your affection? Doubtful.

The shock of the artificial is what magenta conveys. When something new is introduced into our society in 2023, something that feels alien, you can bet that it comes in a magenta hue, imposing itself on the cultural canvas. We may see Central Bank Digital Currencies magicked in with magenta, or Augmented Reality visions overlaid on our public spaces, or any other number of revolutionary new solutions, that had not even crossed our minds before 2020, the year of the pandemic, the last year of the ‘old normal’.

“Viva Magenta writes a new narrative” declares Pantone in its publicity for this recent launch.

“Long Live Artificiality” is what we will cry, as we demand from ourselves, as much as from others, very public approvals of these new solutions in the age of the new normal, whether they feel they should be part of our real world, or not.


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