Opinion: 90s Culture Should Make a Comeback

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"Kurt Cobain" by Mexicaans fotomagazijn is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Pradyumna Karyamapudi, BRPS 11th Grader

The 1990s were the best decade for pop culture, fashion, music, television, and 90s culture will and should make a comeback in the 2020s.

For many members of Generation X, also known as the lost generation, the Fall of 1991 was a pivotal inflection point for mainstream culture. 1991 spawned many groundbreaking albums that changed the course of music history for all genres of music under the sun. The releases of “Ten” by Pearl Jam, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Out of Time” by R.E.M, “Gish” by the Smashing Pumpkins, “Badmotorfinger” by Soundgarden and last but certainly not least Nevermind by Nirvana, was like the 1967 “Summer of Love” for a whole new generation of cynical teens that were critical of the excessive lifestyle of the Baby Boomers but had no cultural icons to claim as their own up until this point.

Generation X loathed the sterilized, carefully curated,  and commercialized pop culture that was fed to them by Baby Boomers in the 80s, and for good reason. Pop culture in the 80s was emblematic of every axiom of the decadence and degeneracy of western civilization. Hedonism, materialism, sexism, racism, homophobia, the glorification of drug abuse, and an arrogant focus on self-image. Shallow bands that exemplified these traits ruled the music landscape and were heavily commercialized in the 80s. Gen X kids rejected the themes and idols of the 80s pop culture but were lost and confused.

As much as Generation X abhorred the ideals of Baby Boomers, to an extent they were envious of the Baby Boomers too. The Baby Boomers had icons in the 60s and 70s such as Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, John Lydon, and John Lennon (trust me, that is not a typo. John Lydon and John Lennon were two different people from two radically different musical acts) which served the duty of being mouthpieces for the Baby Boomers and their culture.

The confusion that kids from Generation X felt eventually transformed into young adult angst as generation X grew up. Generation X had no one and nothing to look up to due to their rejection of the mechanisms that behemoth, faceless, suit-and-tie corporations were forcing upon them…That was, however, until the Fall of 1991. 

“Oh Well Whatever Nevermind”: The Fall of 1991

From a small logging town in Washington known as Aberdeen, an underground rock and roll scene was being forged by societal rejects that were distinguished by their unwashed, unkempt appearance and their affinity (or lack thereof)  for clothing just as unkempt and torn as themselves. Little did these Washington teens know that in a span of a few months their aesthetic would be part of the defining cultural movement of the ’90s. 

While the exact cause of the massive cultural shift of the 90s is still hotly debated, the general consensus attributes it to the release of Nirvana’s 1991 record, Nevermind. I can already imagine the eyes of whoever is reading this rolling, hearing me talk about the cultural impact of Nirvana for the seemingly millionth time like hearing a broken vinyl record copy of “What’s the Story Morning Glory?”, or hearing some college frat boy attempt to serenade a crowd at a party with a horrendous cover of Wonderwall on an out of tune acoustic guitar. An ambivalent Gen X adult reading this will probably scoff at my commentary, claiming everything that has already been said about this band has already been said before, but as a fellow member of Generation Z, I beg to differ, as I believe this band’s cultural movement and its philosophy is just as relevant as a remedy for today’s societal ills as it was 30 years ago. 

Nirvana’s Nevermind kicked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off of the charts, usurping the so-called “King of Pop” from his throne. Within a few months, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was at the helm of the biggest Rock and roll band in the world at that time. The rise of Nirvana was the manifestation of pent up Generation X angst in the form of sheer, adolescent, hardcore-punk energy, and was a sight to behold. Nirvana’s hard edged brand of music was a rock and roll rallying cry for a whole new generation. The sensitive Beatles-esque songwriting sensibilities of Kurt Cobain combined with the cryptic, raspy, anti-authoritarian screams of the Sex Pistols. Kurt Cobain’s channeling of pent up rage and confusion from a lifetime of societal rejection, insecurity, humiliation, failed suicide attempts, alienation, trauma and abandonment served as a tribal wake up call for a whole new generation.

Kurt Cobain’s howls silenced the world and grabbed the pop music industry by the throat from 1991 to his untimely suicide (which was probably staged, in hindsight) in 1994. The cultural impact of Nevermind was felt all across the globe with Nirvana-inspired bands such as Oasis and Blur being at the forefront of British teen culture in the 90s. Bands which dominated the airwaves in the 80s whose image revolved around sexism and the objectifying of women such as the notorious Heavy Metal act, “Warrant”, were dropped from their label and deemed “uncool” as legions of teens sang along to Kurt Cobain’s iconic, unapologetic, politically incorrect pro-feminist anthems such as “Sappy”, “Rape me”, “Polly”, “Territorial Pissings” and “Been a Son”.

Kids in the the 90s who once daydreamed about being musicians or starting a rock and roll band were enamored by the meager price tag of $606.17 it took to produce Nirvana’s legendary debut album: “Bleach”, and collectively came to the realisation they did not need millions of dollars worth of studio equipment or a major record label in order to be musicians. The only thing they needed was a guitar, 4 chords, and a dream.   

Nostalgia Sells…But Who’s Buying?

Record labels to this day still yearn for the musical renaissance that was experienced in the 1990s and dead rock stars from the past are generating more revenue than those that are alive. This conundrum is perfectly symbolized by the hologram performance of 2Pac that debuted at Coachella in 2012, which Rock and roll icon, Prince described as quote on quote: “…the most demonic thing imaginable.”, and then shortly after, was posthumously resurrected as a hologram at the 2018 Superbowl to duet with pop icon, Justin Timberlake. Ironically and fittingly, Timberlake with his protege, Jay Z, provide a commentary on celebrity superficiality in the entertainment industry on their 2013 song “Holy Grail”: “We are all just entertainers, and were stupid and contagious”.

Needless to say, the music industry has hit a creative brick wall, akin to what grandfather or your father might complain, but science has our backs. The formula for a cigarette lighter-waving pop song has become so predictable and generic that Artificial Intelligence can program, manufacture and predict the success of pop songs. Imagine a bleak, dystopian future where a hypothetical music listener can tell Spotify that they they want a track in the style of the Beatles, Death Grips, and Mozart and its consumerist AI creates a tailored track to their liking, and gargantuan, faceless, music distribution corporations like Sony and UMG achieve their dream of gaining all music royalties, by eliminating the role of the composer. Unlike the guitar, bass, and drums power trios that reigned supreme in the 1990s, pop producers nowadays have lost touch with the idea of letting individual instruments cut through mixes in exchange for making pop songs seem artificially compressed and louder to garner more listens and satiate the masses.

I’m a musician, and I and my fellow musicians and music producers have dubbed this comical phenomenon as the “Loudness War”, which is the cheap and disingenuous trend of pop producers increasing audio and compression levels in recorded music, and reducing the audio quality of individual instruments to be perceived as higher quality by listeners. Here’s an example of what Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” would sound like after the “Loudness war” treatment.

“Anti-Fashion” Becomes the New “Fashion”

 The course of fashion also changed after the release of Nevermind by Nirvana. The self-centered fashion adorned by 80s rockstars revolved around comedically expensive, elitist designer clothing and makeup. Fashion icons in the 80s pampered themselves in the fact that their average fan could never afford to emulate their idols without pouring an equivalent of entire college tuition into their wardrobe. Generation X kids replaced the self-indulgent fashion of the 80s with emulations of their heroes, by donning cheap, rugged, down to earth, distressed, thriftshop-style clothing which was in stark contrast to the celebrity elitism that fashion in the 80s represented. Torn jeans, denim jackets, flannels, combat jackets, cardigans, canvas sneakers, lettermans, Doc Martens, Air Jordans, patchworks, biker jackets, oversized sweaters, and band tees laid the foundation for the  90s DIY fashion aesthetic. 

Generation X fashion was lined with a tinge of irony, as millions of teenagers flocked to emulate the grungey fashion choices of their favorite rappers and rockstars, the aforementioned musicians themselves did not put a great deal of energy focusing on their style, prioritizing the quality of their music and their apathetic philosophy of not compromising one’s personal identity for anyone, as shown with Kurt Cobain famously wearing dresses, hospital gowns, wigs and halloween costumes while playing concerts and doing interviews. Modern-day “designer” fashion echoes the same attributes that caused generation X teens to loathe fashion from the 80s. From the outrageous price tags, laughable aesthetic, and its cult-like following, modern-day fashion is almost a parody of itself. 90s fashion that was a trademark to Generation X is superior due to its emphasis on individuality rather than materialism.

The “MTV” Generation

Generation Xers fondly remember the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana being aired 24/7 on the MTV channel, so much so that some dub Generation X as the “MTV generation”. The rise of MTV throughout the late 80s was revolutionary for the television world. The concept of the music video and MTV’s devotion to popularizing it was a stroke of genius.  the airing of music videos by MTV was responsible for catapulting musicians into stardom and becoming household names.

This era of MTV is renowned as the golden era for music television, shedding light unto several influential alternative musical acts with shows such as “MTV Unplugged”, “Headbangers Ball”, and “Beavis and Butthead”. MTV was founded in the 1980s on the basis of the rudimentary fact that bands with music videos sold more records than bands that didn’t; however, MTV nowadays has completely ditched its devotion to underground music and has now devoted its airtime to reality TV in a desperate attempt to spit and claw to the top of the the cable television trash heap for ratings as more and more people are abandoning the medium of cable television in exchange for streaming services. The fact that the MTV Video Music Awards have its lowest ratings in history for three years in a row only makes you wonder what went wrong in the years subsequent to Nirvana’s legendary 1993 performance at the  MTV VMAS.  PS: (Beavis and Butthead rock!)

Woke Outrage: The Decline of Cinema

Cinema television also had its golden years in the 1990s, with films such as “Pulp Fiction” that harnessed unconventional, non-linear storylines, dominating the box office, in stark contrast to the utter, complete joke that cinema has become today where every film is either a reboot, a sequel, or follows the same generic cookie-cutter plot outline of a “superhero movie.” Due to the increasing price tag of producing blockbuster films, film studios just can’t gamble that big of a fortune on a nonconventional storyline that they don’t know will profit or not. But who am I to criticize studios for putting out the same bland content, nostalgia sells! Why else did Netflix recently pay 100 million dollars to own the hit TV sitcom “Friends” for another year? 

Films nowadays are shoe-horned and filled to the brim with identity politics and political correctness measures to please the dominant establishment’s narrative, out of fear at the outrage mob of Silcon-valley-amplified cancel culture at their throats, armed to the teeth with their manipulated, 1984-esque etymology of rhetoric, showcasing the inversion of meanings for a slew of words such as “Sexist”, “Racist”, and “Homophobic.”

The absolute irony of Hollywood celebrities making millions of dollars trashing the very same capitalist system in which they came to power. Corporate Capitalism is thriving by selling overt Anti-capitalist messages to the working class. Working class citizens cannot even unwind with some television once they get home from a long and grueling day at work without being bombarded by late night “comedy” hosts who are all part of the same political party, endorse the same candidate, and have the exact same stance on every political issue and lecture viewers on politics, instead of serving the duty of entertaining the viewer.

Hollywood elites engage in the most vile crimes against humanity such as the trafficking and sexual abuse of children behind closed doors to please their deepest desires. This scheme is orchestrated by masterminds of the most heinous nature along the likes of Jeffery Epstein, John Podesta, Kevin Spacey, Jimmy Saville, and Harvery Weinstein. The same clandestine, corporate mechanisms that Hollywood runs on are the same that are quick on their feet to destroy a celebrity’s or comedian’s career for committing the thought crime of daring to oppose its propagated dogma of political correctness, virtue signaling, and identity politics. The yellow tape surrounds the fate: Diversity of thought and opinion is murdered and buried in a shallow grave. 

And fun fact: Sex Pistols vocalist, John Lydon was banned from BBC radio in 1978 for exposing Jimmy Saville’s sexual abuse of children behind closed doors. Almost every British teen in the 90s fondly remembers being in awe at the striking image of Nirvana destroying their set on an episode of  “Top of the Pops”, a British TV show that was, Ironically, hosted by Jimmy Saville himself, out of frustration as the producers of the show forced them to lip sync their music on live television.

While film studios of today are happy compromising the quality, authenticity, and experimentation of the film in order to appease its possible dissidents, films from the 90s offered some of the most avant-garde, progressive, and insightful commentary ever in the history of an artistic medium.

This can be shown in the 1999 film, “Fight Club” which presented an articulate and intellectual commentary on hot button issues such as tradition, customs, individual desires, and consumer capitalism. Albeit, I never completely agreed with the content of the commentary that the film “Fight Club” presented, but its narrative was so daring, uncompromising and distinct it merely proves my point that films back in the day are unparalleled by the homogeneous state that modern cinema is chained to. Almost poetically, the quotes from the narrator of “Fight Club” can precisely also describe the state of modern cinema, claiming that under consumer capitalism everything is a quote on quote: “a copy of a copy of a copy” where consumer products and entertainment are indistinguishable from one and another. 

Fight the Power: The Golden Era of Hip-hop

While the explosion of Grunge Rock and roll music is often credited as the defining cultural movement of the 90s, the golden era of hip hop popularized on television by MTV cannot be forgotten. Riding off of the coattails of pioneers such as Run DMC, Public Enemy, and N.W.A, rappers and rap groups released some of their most groundbreaking work in the 90s. The success of some of the most iconic rappers and rap groups such as 2pac, Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls, Coolio, and Slim Shady can be credited to the cultural renaissance of the 90s and the medium of the MTV music video.

The philosophy, songwriting and lyrical content of Generation X rappers are radically different and superior to that of rap music that dominates the charts nowadays. While one of the main principles of hip hop music is the celebration of success and the hard work that is needed to achieve it, the shallowness of modern-day hip hop is on par with the self-indulgent, manufactured rock and roll of the 80s that was previously elaborated upon.

Bland, shallow, and often platitudinous lyrical themes, the glorification of substance abuse and violence, and elitism, all ring true for 80s Rock and roll and modern-day hip hop. while this form of hip hop might be the defining music of my generation, the lifestyle that is glorified in this form of music often catches up with its corresponding influencers, with iconic musicians that soundtracked the melancholic angst of Generation Z such as Gustav Ahr (Lil Peep), Jarad Higgins (JuiceWRLD), and Malcolm McCormick (Mac Miller) all dying of drug-related deaths at extremely young ages.

Hip Hop from the 90s is vastly superior to that of today. Poets of 90s hip hop desired to be analyzed past their vulgar stereotypes and to be respected by authority, and rightfully so. Hip hop in the 90s often was used as a medium for scathing, articulate, and intellectual criticism of topical issues such as the crack epidemic and police brutality. As rappers nowadays like to glorify violence and drug abuse, rappers from the heyday of Generation X brought attention to the fact that violence and drug abuse was destroying the humble communities in which they were brought up from.

The Future

The critically acclaimed collaboration between Aerosmith and Run DMC:”Walk this Way”, might have gone down in history, but the parallels between 80s Rock and roll and the dominant music from the 2010s is striking. The uncanny similarities are not to be scoffed at. The meteoric cultural shift that was brought upon by generation X’s disdain for 80s pop culture is hard to underestimate and begs the question of what is foreshadowed by my generation’s disdain for modern-day mainstream culture.

Our civilization has hit a dead end, and its mockery is the only enjoyment my generation can unite and engage in. I predict that a pop culture renaissance similar to the 90s will, and should happen within the next few years and will go down in history as a result from the outcry and angst of Generation Z towards having the same regurgitated,  recycled, spoonfed drivel being forced to them similar to the manufactured corporate nonsense that was force-fed to Generation X.