It’s 11.11. Make a wish or forever regret it. Wishes are like lottery tickets—maybe they’ll pay off, maybe they won’t, but if they do you’ll be glad you invested.
So, onward. At this point, seeing blue-haired, two-bunned, Kate Mossy birds floating around on street corners (combat boots a’ clompin’) or walking into a dive bar to find it entirely flanneled have become entirely commonplace experiences. The Nirvana nostalgist movement has been steadily growing since 2007ish and may have finally reached its pinnacle. Last night, I walked into a party of fully grown’s and there were upwards of half a dozen girls in crop tops and mom jeans.
Why is 90s nostalgia so rampant at this moment in history?
I have some theories.
- Nasty Gal’s Nevermind dress, 2013
Theory 1: Manifestation of childhood idols and ideologies. Generation Y/Z (older “Millennials,” pardon my vocab) grew up listening to “alt rock” and watching My So-Called Life. Our malleable little brains were conditioned to drool over Zack Morrises, Jordan Catalano’s, and River Phoenix’s (maybe the occasional Layne Staley [RIP] on a bad day). But then we were swept away into the early 2000s and the horrors of überfemme boy bands, ill-fitting Express tops in orange and magenta, low-rise flare jeans, frosted tips, etc. How and why the hideous trends of “the Britney era” arose, we may never know. Soon after came the proto-hipster, wherein trucker hats, bandanas, skinny jeans, gauged ears, and Suicide Girls took over. But now that has been washed away too (except in LA, mysteriously), and those of us who were mentally indexing House of Style and Beavis & Butthead at age seven have suddenly come to and found ourselves 25-30 years old, in the position where suddenly we are the ones who dictate what is found on the pages of NYLON or music blogs.
Our creative minds have been wiped Men in Black-style by the low frequency radiation emitting from our cell phones into our skulls, and we find plaids, angora sweaters, and ying yang paraphernalia to provide strange vibes of comfort—to evoke simpler times before Chris Hansen was needed to stop 30-year-old men from distributing six-packs of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to preteens.
Theory 2: Sincerity. Well, wishing for sincerity.
As we collectively emerged, blinking and disoriented, from the aforementioned “Britney era,” we were so repulsed with ourselves for giving so much money to Abercrombie & Fitch that we slipped into a sort of fugue state revolving entirely around irony. See: all of those American Idol contestants who became famous just for sucking (cough William Hung cough), resurgence of Native American headbands even though we all know it’s kind of offensive, VICE Do’s and Don’ts seeming to deliberately select people with mental health issues as “Do’s”. Mullets and bowl cuts were in vogue; just think about that. I theorize that we all became starved for honesty during these years, as we no longer had to consider what we actually liked—there was simply preoccupation with finding stupider and stupider things to “like” and more and more subcultures to appropriate. This is why Tumblr was invented!
But we’re tired. Perhaps a little weary of pretending that every single Aaliyah song was a masterpiece (although that’s not to discount her actual musical triumphs) or that anyone actually even watched Chuck Norris in Walker, Texas Ranger besides the occasional wife-beatered beer guzzler who worked a night job and became addicted to daytime television. Really sick of the Chuck Norris thing.
Our lives basically became as phony as the infamous Lexicon of Grunge. And after at least half a decade of arguing back and forth about the nature of irony, we now wish we could just be dorks again and reclaim the right to like whatever we want without having to weigh whether we really like it, or we just like what it stands for as a bookmark in pop culture history. By “we,” I might be referring to hipsters, but seeing as hipsterism is merely a grab-bag term used for anything trendy these days, I will say young adults as a whole.
Conclusion: Maybe it’s C) all of the above. But I believe that this is a good thing. There will always be “coolness” and there will always be phoniness, and those two concepts will always have a complex relationship. But to wake up and just enjoy things because they feel good to you—well, that’s learning how to be happy. It may be silly to project our thumb-sucking longing for childhood innocence and excitement onto the 90s, since they were just a decade like any other, but we can still seek a little bit of solace in a song that we’ve known all the words to since we were 11. Obviously, this week’s playlist will be all songs from the 90s, and I genuinely like all of them, ya lamestain.
1. Nomad—Devotion (1991)
In the Bay Area in the late 90s, there was this pretty incredible time capsule of a radio station called Z95.7 that played loads and loads of Eurodance hits—I mean, all of them. Real McCoy, La Bouche, White Town, Corona, Culture Beat, you name it. A few years ago my friend Jackson started a night in SF djing that stuff, and it was like the freshest breath of fresh air—straight up Dentyne Ice commercial status. Because its fun! What’s fun anymore? Maybe because the nose drugs were so pure and rampant back then or because people weren’t yet finger-scrolling Facebook drones, but listening to this stuff feels like getting cuddled by an entire litter of Pomeranian puppies. More about this in my favorite Vice article of all time, “RAVE AND HARDCORE YOUTUBE COMMENTS WILL RESTORE YOUR FAITH IN HUMANITY“. Ugh, it’s just great, the whole thing is great.
2. Slowdive—Machine Gun (1993)
There’s this passage Mary Karr’s teenage memoir Cherry about her first kiss with a boy she liked.
“There’s a TV commercial for some thick green shampoo that they drop a pearl in to show how rich and heavy it is, the pearl falling through this heavy green goop. And that’s what John smells like. Prell, it’s called. All of the cut grass in the world gets mashed into a bottle of this stuff. And the time we move into is that slow-fallling, underwater shampoo time. John does not hold my elbows like he’s scared to get too close. He makes a cage of his arms I step right in (colt in a corral, I think). He tilts his head and says with a breath like Juicy Fruit right before he kisses me, ‘Is this okay?’ Before I can say yes, we bump teeth a little, then he’s breathing the Juicy Fruit right into my mouth, my lips, and his lips come closer till the softnesses match up.”
And that’s basically how I feel when I listen to Slowdive. Slow-falling, underwater shampoo time.
3. Sebadoh—Skull (1994)
Lo-fi indie that still sounds really good. Oh, Lou Barlow. Between this and Dinosaur Jr., we really owe you one. I wish that this song wasn’t about smoking heroin, but I think that it is. I’m just going to keep pretending that’s it about a late-night crush at a hazy party. I always fall for the songs about being gentle. Gentleness is underrated.
4. Third Eye Blind—God of Wine (1997)
The cult of Third Eye Blind continues. Have you ever notice that if you mention any song of this album, even the non-singles, you’re guaranteed to make someone stoked? It’s because this is a front-to-back perfect record. I couldn’t conceive of music that better evokes, cornily or not, the experience of a young, sometimes-drunk, sometimes-high, struggling, loving, fighting 20something in San Francisco (reformed as I may be) (and somehow I loved this record just as much when I was 11 years old and had never experienced much of anything). I acknowledge the insolence of Stephen Jenkins and his personal goal of alienating all humans on the planet. Writer Marc Hawthorne describes his guilty-pleasure love of Third Eye Blind thusly: “It’s like living with the shame of having webbed feet, then meeting other people with webbed feet, and inevitably every time you get together you end up talking about webbed feet. And loving every minute of it.” And he’s right! Every time this record comes up in a group setting, I find someone else amongst us who is equally obsessed with it, and we literally just sit and pore over how good every single track is. “Good,” I know. You may disagree. But you can’t take “God of Wine” away from me.
(Note: If I could, [and I guess I technically could, but I won’t] I would also include “The Background,” “Losing a Whole Year,” “Motorcycle Drive-By,” and “Narcolepsy” here since they’re equally worthy in my eyes.)
5. Starflyer 59—A Housewife Love Song (1996)
Is this band Christian rock? If so, can we not talk about it? Not that there’s anything wrong with Christianity. Also let’s not talk about the video for this song, because it reminds me of, like, The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. So instead, let’s talk about how this song has a really thick ugly awesome anchor riff and I like how the vocals are pretty much entirely whispered in contrast. The end!
6. Peter Gabriel—Steam (1992)
Back in the early- to mid-90s, my mom used to buy my siblings and me all of these VHS tapes of random Claymation and computer animation short films because my mom is awesome and actually wanted us to develop “creativity” or whatever. One such tape was called Festival! and was just a bunch of really weird little clips of CGI stuff that now looks hilariously janky but at the time was considered state-of-the-art, and amongst the clips was this super off-the-wall, super sexual Peter Gabriel music video that caused a lot of confusion and curiosity for me. Maybe Peter Gabriel is way more subversive than he gets credit for. “In Your Eyes,” moving, love it, John Cusack does too. “Solsbury Hill,” great. But this song and its accompanying video are where his freak flag seriously flies. Between his over-articulated, wide-eyed expressions and the abundance of pseudo-nudity and Freudian imagery, it’s like an acid trip into the mind of the oddly paternal ex-singer of Genesis. And if you’re curious, here’s an excerpt of more stuff from Festival!—it’s art, bruh, and pretty seapunk. You should absolutely, definitely watch it if you already have enough free time to read my dumb blog.