The Glory and the Cringe: Most Memorable Music Bits of the 1990s
Delving into our dearest held memories of the decade that gave us so much both in terms of value and cringeworthy experiences, we can’t help but admit that they shaped our youth. For better – or for worse
You know how people like to collect and look up everything in relation to the things the world was into, talking about or being angry at from around the time they were born?
I’m no different to this. A few years ago I was obsessed with finding news items, sports coverage and tons of popular cultural references from 1988, the year I was born. Who won the European Football Championship, what politicians came to power and which of their moves had people complain about the most? What was the number one box office hit, who was the latest media sensation at that time and so on.
Music Is Love
But, being a huge music fan, the one thing I was into the most is seeing what the music world and, subsequently, how all the related cultural trends looked like. What was
cool at that time, what was lame, what was new etc. — you get the idea. So let’s immerse ourselves in heartwarming nostalgia while we smile through the great people of an era that is finally well beyond us
Enter Popular Culture
Where do we start? Well, what else would define the past staus quo better than the ever majestic popular music? Now getting into the matter, what music videos and acts set the trends of the time? And are these the very same things that make people in their fourties today cringe all so heavily?
In my first five years I was busy learning some mundane stuff like walking, speaking and using a spoon, all without giving major grief to my mother (something I’m still failing spectacularly at to this day), so I couldn’t really notice anything that was beyond my natural habitat. And
synth-pop was definitely out of reach, as much as glam rock bands which, in retrospect, was not really the worst thing happening to me.
The Golden Lesson Of Staying Humble
Little did I know how much hilarity would ensue when looking up video clips of the time later.
Now, being a bit older and, naturally, wiser, I can look back at these things without having to hold back hysterical laughter, especially as I’m afraid my grandkids will do the same when looking up the favourite shizzle of my days. And that they definitely will. Don’t think for a second that the cool stuff of our days is untouchable. Things like dubstep, Kanye West and manbuns will be laughed upon like crazy by the next generation. However, if you’re up for endearing smiles – or some gut-wrenching cringeworthiness – then read on.
1. The One And Only Michael Jackson
Before we go any further, the very person that anyone with a momentarily, fading interest in music will instantly think of, is of course, The King of Pop. No one needs an introduction to the work of this fine gentleman, and it’s going to be a hell of a lot work for anyone trying to reach the heights he did. I mean the guy was so succesful, the residence shown in his ID was simply „top of the charts”.
In the early 90’s, he released multi-million selling records for a laugh, and 1991’s Dangerous was no exception to this. And of course, everyone knows the lead single, ’Black Or White’ from it, but to refresh those memories, let’s take a look at the video:
Seriously, did this guy ever feel out of place?
The Magic That Is Jacko (Before He Turned Whacko)
Watching this from 2016, what’s the first thing to strike your eyes? The video itself clocks in at 6:22, which is pretty long for a pop song. Yes, I know about Lady Gaga, but there are a quite a few differences. First of all, this video was not relying heavily on sponsorship and ad-placements. The label actually paid for most of it, which was not a rare thing.
Production companies invested heavily in video clips, and seeing George Wendt (from the hit sitcom ’Cheers’) and Macauly Culkin (you know him) in the video proves how serious it was. Culkin miming along in sunglasses to the rapping part just adds to the fun.
What you don’t see anymore hese days is state-of-the-art filming in regard to music videos, the decline of the music industry just won’t allow it: this music video was basically a short film. And also, consider the message: The video is full of African cultural references, and although the tribesmen seem like they want to kill our Jacko, they quickly change their minds after seeing his killer moves. But seriously, it was basically a huge humanitarian campaign ad, reminding people about tolerance and acceptance of each other. The faces of various people morphing into each other is there to prove this point. People at the time went mad for that type of thing. In seriousness, my point is that if you try something like this today, it’s called cheesy and tryhard, and people throw their pumpkin-spice lattes at you. Especially struggling record label bosses.
2. When Boys Team Up
Moving a few years further in the decade we find the one thing that was simply the greatest phenomenon of the time: Girl-, and Boybands. Oh yes, look at that.
I remember trying to dance along to it when I was 9. Again, a long one, still very important to have a story, which was a major marketing tool at the time, making the fans feel more and more connected to the band members. Not just through their music, but through their acting as well. Which was a given since all members had to have their characters to play, something not unsimilarto the A-Team (the tough one, the cute one, the mysterious one etc, famously mocked in flop movie and TV series.
But it worked wonders. Teenage girls, and even boys, went mad seeing their videos on TV. I’ve seen dudes trying to recreate some of the moves in the clips during school recess. For a few brief weeks, collectives like N’Sync were bigger heroes than Action Man himself.
2. Girlpower Enters The Picture
Speaking of characters, Girlbands were trying this formula out as well, with having a similar set up in place, fine-tuned for women, for example Ginger, Baby, Sporty. Little did they know these will be more recognised as search terms on a porn site a couple of decades later.
But it did sell. Bucketloads actually, and it basically set the stage for modern-day ’Celeb-designing’ (I made the term up, but you know what I mean). Those who don’t believe me are invited to have a look at today’s stars like Justing Bieber, or Lady Gaga. You really think these are genuine acts, all naturall and uningineered? Which just so happens to be something that helps rake tons of cash in to music producers and labels around the world, all by pure accident? And more bad news have it that this was done way before the 1990’s as well, but I believe that the ’90s were the pineaccle of it.
Second main genre on our list, but not in any way less important: Rock ’n’ Roll! This one marked the true personality of the rebelling, the energetic, the thinking youth (pick one), and the later arrival of Generation-X made sure rock and punk music will stay for good. Needless to say that Punk and Rock will prevail in the mainstream since rebels somehow made a lot of money for those they rebelled against.
However, in the very beginning of the 1990’s, the world was still trying to move on from this:
Once done, and once people were finally able to tell apart men from women in mainstream rock bands again, one of the most important rock bands since the Beatles (I’m not even kidding) came to rise: Nirvana.
Why so important, you ask? Just read up on Nirvana on the internet, and then read up on the influence of nowaday’s bands. Say what you want, but if it wasn’t for them, a lot of musicians wouldn’t have bothered to pick up a guitar, saying “it’s not for me”.
1. Gangsta Rap
This is from the time when being a hard and downright intimidating guy required having long cirls and a trucker’s beard. And also when it was perfectly fine to scare the living crap out of any faint-hearted teenage fan.
Not taking away any credit from the pure quality of the videos and the music itself, but I have to admit that even the most brutish G-Funk era/Gangsta rap video was far from the real grim videos of that time (Apex Twin, anyone?). But for a child I’m pretty sure it was no comfortable sight to behold.
The first half of the 1990’s was deservedly called the Golden Age of hip-hop music,with acts such as Public Enemy, NWA, Wu-Tang Clan and other similar gangsta rappers shooting to the absolute top.
And at that time they still had the decency not to forget where they came from, making sure they still check into their local prison as frequently as you would visit your mother-in-law or so. None of this buying yachts and getting bankrupt-nonsense.
To be fair, rap on music channels at that time wasn’t all about spending ridiculous amounts of money and being cocky about it, and then going on a partying streak, respectfully shagging any female being that coming your way.
Back then, bros were bros, and hoes were hoes. Rap troupes really tried to raise their voice against oppression and racism and other stuff they felt important, depicting the real life of their peers from the actual neighborhoods they came from. Just like the fine gentlemen to the right.
I don’t even know how to start telling you about the importance NWA had on modern hiphop and on music in general, let alone politics at the time. It might sound weird now, but songs like ‘F%#k Tha Police’ had a major impact on the working class of California, a state that in the 1990s saw as much violent riots as Tigris is seeing today.
The Brighter Side Of The ‘Hood
But of course, hip-hop wasn’t all about crime and thug-life. People had fun, too. Who could forget MC Hammer and that fabulous … well, everything. Although it wasn’t the usual clubbing attire even at that time, would you imagine wearing anything like this today, apart from maybe Halloween?
In any case, let’s finish this in Europe where some real magic has been produced during that decade. Believe it or not, what is now considered a real gem when it comes to Electronic/Dance music, back then they were dead-serious about it: Dance Music.
1. Electronic Pioneers
Let me just quickly state that I’m using the term dance music loosely here so we don’t get lost in the endless jungle of music genres. No need for hate or anyone telling me that I’m so off, or clueless. And I know there are worthy and actually great acts belonging to this genre, so let’s move on.
Just for a quick background, electronic music in it’s all forms experienced a major boom in the first half of the nineties. As technology improved massively more and more people got access to gear and equipment to produce electronic music and most of the pioneers made those super important first steps around that time. But this bit is not about them.
Just to get a feel for what I’m on about, have a peek at this classic you probably all know from somewhere.
Night At The Roxbury anyone? Or basically any party with a retro theme. This song kind of became a staple of 90’s – or as we move ahead in time: ‘retro’-music and it’s still hilarious to see people from all ages going absolutely bonkers when this one comes on. I suppose we can say the song aged well, if that is even possible.
Or how about this guy, who single handedly gave back the hopes of all people realising too late in their 20’s that their day job might not be as cool as appearing in all too colourful music videos. This fine student of dentistry has shown us all the path:
Heartbreakers And The Soon-To-Be-Forgotten
It was also around this time that the music industry first started to realize that the surprising popularity of ’machine-made’ music allowed them to take any obscure or outdated musical style, add some layers of keyboards and a dance beat to it and then be sure their new composition will sell like beer at any sports event.
Although this phenomenon is still apparent in our modern day, people sort of stopped giving credit to the these fine men:
They are fine examples of the ’one-hit wonder’ phenomenon as well, never having been able to actually move on from their breakthrough successes. Which is something a lot of 90’s acts have been falling victim to. Talk about modern days’ fast food style of music. This is just for a bit of perspective as ‘throwaway’ music always existed, it just found us in a different form. One hit wonders are a phenomenon that won’t ever go away. But then again, it’s all a question of how you look at it. I might just buy a Scatman John-CD someday and re-evaluate this point.
Closing the drawer
So this is it, my quick reminisce about the most worthy-to-remember acts from the early to mid-90’. A time that really was a golden age of music, despite anything anyone else would say.
Of course, my parents would disagree as would anyone who can’t even imagine a world without smartphones now, but I’m 100% sure that my brothers and sisters anywhere between 25 to 35 on this side of the globe will nod along while reading with tears in their eyes. It doesn’t even matter if it’s downright cringeworthy or simple and dear remembrance.