90s Retro

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90sPop culture comes in 20 year cycles.  In the 90s, when I was in high school and university, we wore 70s retro clothes (e.g. girls wore bell bottoms, dudes like me wore butterfly collars). In the 00s, there was a giant 80s retro revival:  scrunchies, leggings, sampled 80s tunes in hip hop, etc.  

According to this theory then this decade will be a retro movement to the 90s:  grunge, flannel, shoulder pads, and so on.  Lately I've been seeing more Nirvana t-shirts (even some Stone Temple Pilots and 90s vintage Red Hot Chili Peppers) around then I'd seen in well 2 decades.  Andrew just posted on the 20th Anniversary of Nevermind.  

In the 90s I remember seeing a piece on Marilyn Manson.  The band talked about how they listened to Lionel Ritchie.  I didn't know what was freakier--them or them rockin' out to Say You, Say Me.  The point is the preview of the coming retro comes when some previously big time artist in one decade who is thoroughly mocked in the next is brought (half seriously/half parodied) by some cool kids.  As in Lionel Ritchie was big in the 80s, mocked in the 90s, yet Marilyn Manson predicted the return of 80s music in the 2000s (including and perhaps especially Ritchie). 

Well given that trend, we have a big time piece of evidence that 90s retro is really picking up steam and only likely to increase exponentially in the next few years.  At the most recent Emmys, The Lonely Island Boys brought out Michael Bolton to sing 'Jack Sparrow', the song he co-sings with them on their most recent album.  [Warning: It's medley of their stuff, including Emmy-winning 'Three Way'.]  Bolton a major figure of the 90s (quintessential 90s pop), mocked thoroughly in the 2000s, and now is back in the 2010s.  

And us "old" folks who actually lived through the 90s will need to remember (as with all previous retro movements), the retro movements are never quite what the originals were. They are a postmodern iterative function.  It becomes a new creation through its new usage, repetition, and slight modification. 

Michael Bolton.  That really happened.  

I invite readers to send in stories, photos, links that document the rising age of 90s retro.  I'll collect them and we can continue to post ongoing sightings of this phenomenon.  

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  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 28 September 2011 23:23 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I not sure if this counts, but I might've spotted one. Was watching the movie 'Bridesmaids' last night and Wilson Phillips and the song Hold On played a key part in one scene. Here's an interview with the band about it, this one answer is quite telling in regards to what you've said above regarding how the retro re-enters the culture. There seems to be combo of ironic meta-distance and genuine reabsorption all at once.

    "Were you at all worried that you were going to be the butt of a joke?

    WW: We kind of knew that we were going to be a little bit made fun of. But we were okay with that. It was all in fun. And in the end, we looked good.

    CARNIE WILSON: We kind of didn’t know exactly what it was. It was a little bit of a mystery. They didn’t tell us about the script or the plot. All we knew was that there was some kind of connection that these two best friends had with Wilson Phillips and “Hold On.” That was all we knew. We met the cast when we were getting our makeup done. Everybody was saying, “We’re so grateful you’re here. This is such a great song.”


    fun game!

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:19 posted by TJ Dawe

    I'm not sure how this fits in with the timeline, but I remember a fair bit of retro-80s enthusiasm when I was in university in the early 90s. The styles from only a handful of years before were already hilarious to us, same with the music, the colours and fonts on album covers. I waited for various 90s styles - goatees, shaved heads, Birkenstocks - to look at laughable. And that hasn't happened yet. Plenty of guys still have goatees and shaved heads, and look fine. Similarly, at least with Nirvana, that music still sounds as good as it ever did. No one's revelling in the datedness of it, although that might be the case with Wilson Philips in Bridesmaids... but they really do seem to have a genuine affection for the song in that movie. I'm fascinated by the fact that the 90s haven't come to look ridiculous the way some much of previous decades did. And same with the 2000s. Why would that be? Or is that just my perception?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 01 October 2011 19:05 posted by Chris Dierkes

    Mayim Bialik (aka Blossom) is on Big Bang Theory for awhile now. Being Erica's Erica went to university in the 90s so there are a lot flashbacks to her 90s-iss in the show. A new show on CBS this season, called Broke Girls--about two struggling waitresses living in Brooklyn, having to deal with hipsters at the restaurant. One of the characters was wearing a RUN DMC t-shirt in the last episode (transitional 80s/90s).

    One thought that I forgot to put in the piece. Adam Sandler's classic The Wedding Singer previewed the coming 80s retro movement. It was the first movie I remember really going full on 80s retro. I saw it at the theatre and remember being viscerally shocked to see that kind of music and outfits.

    The movie that I think points in that direction for the 2010s 90s retro movement would be The Wackness (2008).


  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Saturday, 01 October 2011 19:13 posted by Chris Dierkes

    To TJ's point, I would say there are definitely some 90s styles that were truly awful. Watch the video to NWA's classic 'Express Yourself' for example.


    Jean shorts. I mean jean shorts--and guilty as charged, I wore them. And those crossed racial lines in the 90s as grunge white kids wore them to (with different tops to the hip hop girls of course).

    In the hip hop world there was the awful gold knuckle bars (with words on them). In the white world, pants suits on women, those God-awful big shoulder pads.

    That said, there was a lot of good stuff that definitely I think was much more self-conscious (given the earlier movements) and therefore it ended up with some better stuff.

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