Air Guitar Contest Leads to Racial Conflict (1990)

In 1990, air guitar induced a racial conflict at a high school near Los Angeles in 1990. Following an air guitar competition in a school gymnasium, black and white students began yelling racial slurs at each other. The fight stemmed from a disagreement about who should be declared the winner of the competition: a black group that lip-synched Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” or a white group that air guitared to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up.” This conflict reveals how many of the racial tensions in rock spilled over into the air guitar arena.


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