We (Still) love the ’90s
Back in the days of cassette tapes and Walkman personal stereos, a single genre of music dominated our FM radio waves. It was called simply “pop music” back then, but all you need to call it today is “‘90s pop” and everyone knows exactly who and what you’re talking about: The Backstreet Boys. ‘N Sync. Christina Aguilera. Britney Spears. If you didn’t know all the lyrics to “Baby One More Time,” then you must have been living in a cave.
We won’t lie: When the Student Center starts playing old ‘N Sync jams, we sing along. We’ve still got plenty of boy bands and hair-flipping bubblegum pop songs downloaded on our iTunes and we can’t help but watch Youtube videos of our favorite ‘90s videos and performances. And no, we’re not ashamed, because the ‘90s were great. Cheesy and filled with over exaggerated lip-synching, but great.
So what if the lyrics to “I Want It That Way” make no sense or if there was no real point to Britney doing backflips down the halls? The point wasn’t to figure out the complex philosophy behind their music and videos; the point was to hook us into pestering our exhausted parents into buying cassettes and CDs for us (nowadays, kids don’t need to bother their parents with buying them music; they just download it themselves).
These pop stars appealed to us for more than their Tiger Beat pin-up posters; they represented the exciting prospect of teenage freedom. In the same way the tweens of today idolize Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, we wanted to be Britney and Christina. The ‘90s were a time before the Internet made every aspect of celebrities’ lives accessible to the world, so we as pre-teen girls knew very little about our favorite stars. All we knew was that they weren’t much older than we were, but they were famous, and we wanted a taste of that: we wanted to win Teen Choice Award surfboards and date Justin Timberlake.
One thing common to all of our experiences is hearing our parents bemoaning the death of good music. “When I was your age [insert band of choice here] was actually making music, unlike [insert band of choice here].” The Beatles have won against ‘N Sync in many an argument, and rightly so. Just like our parents, we find ourselves shaking our heads at the Brethren Jonas and discussing how Miley is a terrible influence.
A major argument against these beloved artists of our childhood is that they’re not “real musicians.” It’s a plain fact that songs like “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” and “Genie in a Bottle” were not written by the singers who made them popular, but we’ll be honest: Who cares? We certainly don’t, because those catchy hooks and choruses have done their job. It’s 2010, and we’re still humming them in our heads. The defining elements of pop don’t fall under musical or lyrical stylings, but instead full under three simple descriptors: marketability, catchiness and accessibility.
Pop music has come in many shapes and sizes throughout history. From the innocent, to danceable love songs of the early Beatles and endless-summer promoting surfing ballads of The Beach Boys to the overtly suggestive music of Madonna, it’s clear that pop music doesn’t have a very rigid set of classifications.
Unfortunately, another thing all stars throughout time have in common is The Inevitable Comeback. We say this is unfortunate because these comebacks are not always well received, causing us to wonder, “Why did we ever like this person/band?” When Britney got drunkenly married in Vegas, we hung our heads in shame and when JC Chasez attempted to go solo, we cringed and switched off the radio. How embarrassing. Our shining stars were fading fast and our childhood loves were becoming fodder for the tabloids and butts of endless jokes.
Sometimes, though, The Inevitable Comeback isn’t so bad, because after every fall, there’s nowhere to go but up. Although there is no sign of an ‘N Sync reunion (we’re deeply saddened, though still hopeful), Justin is soaring high as a solo artist. Britney cleaned up and her music now has re-discovered the magical formula for hit pop songs. The Backstreet Boys, though one member short, are continuing to produce and sell albums and tour to millions. In fact, JC even wrote a song for a recent Backstreet Boys album. Mandy Moore is now known as an actress – though whether this is for better or worse is arguable.
Our childhood idols have reinvented themselves for the 21st century and, to be honest, we’re okay with that. As we moved away from the familiarity of home into college and now continue to mature into adulthood, it’s comforting to be surrounded once again by familiar faces that are resurfacing in the media.
And if a certain recently de-closeted boy band alumnus were to change his mind and show up on one of our doorsteps asking to whisk us away into marital bliss, one of us would still be more than willing.