Pop Nostalgia Eats Itself

Some mom I know on Facebook was freaking out a few weeks ago because her kid’s class had been asked to dress up “’00s style” for some costume occasion that the schools all have these days (or maybe always did—I recall Fonzied-and-poodle-skirted “’50s Days” at my ’70s high school). But how the heck are people supposed to have dressed in the ’00s, anyway? Like, didn’t they just wear…clothes??

Lauren Alaina as, um, somebody probably.

Nostalgia’s always weird. But it’s even weirder when, during the geologic period everybody’s gotten nostalgic for, you were already too old to pay attention to details. Like fashion—1994-born Lauren Alaina’s current country single “Ladies in the ’90s” talks about young folks “wearin’ leather leotards” in that long-extinct decade, and now-middle-aged New Kids on the Block’s new “80s Baby” remembers bamboo earrings and denim two-tones, whatever those might’ve been.

Anne-Marie as Britney Spears I think.

But those decades are ancient history to pop-dance chirper Anne-Marie ­(born in 1991 in Essex, England), who this summer went top 10 in numerous markets across Europe, Asia, and Oceania with “2002,” ostensibly about a boy and girl falling for each other as 11-year-olds, sipping from paper cups, and dancing on the hood of a Mustang while the chorus quotes sundry hits from that general epoch by ‘N Sync, Nelly, and Jay-Z. 

Either Charli XCX or Troye Sivan might be supposed to be Marilyn Manson.

And oh yeah, hits from Britney Spears too. “2002” most blatantly references “…Baby One More Time” (which by the way just celebrated its 20th birthday), as do Alaina’s “Ladies in the ‘90s” and “1999,” by Anne-Marie’s 1995-born fellow Brit Charli XCX. Alaina’s tune posits the ‘90s as a golden age for music-making women, both country (Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Dixie Chicks, Deana Carter) and non- (TLC, Destiny’s Child, Christina Aguilera, Spice Girls, and of course above all Britney): “They weren’t afraid to make a statement, that’s what I call entertainment!” Which is a statement in and of itself, and if Alaina was truly “raised on radio waves where the ladies dominated,” perhaps 2018 country radio has proven her point by ignoring her single.

K. T. Oslin fared way better with “’80s Ladies” back in 1987, as did as Maren Morris as “a ’90s baby in my ’80s Mercedes” three decades later. I got caught off guard when Jason Aldean time-traveled back to several forgotten Joe Diffie hits in 2013’s “1994” —wasn’t it way too early to be missing the mid-’90s? — but I’m more used to that kinda thing now.

Still, Charli XCX and her 1995-born duet partner Troye Sivan looking back 19 years to the same 1999 that Prince once looked millenarianly ahead 17 years to is an intriguing twist, not to mention a genuine hit (in New Zealand and Sweden, at least). The video goes all out, too, packing in more music, movie, video game, and dancing-baby clues than anybody above or below a certain age should catch. The technotronic house-pop keyboard woogie breaks sound somewhat more early ’90s, to my ears, but then again they’re the catchiest part of the song.

New Grownups On the Block as their old selves.

Conversely, I’m pretty sure those “hey-y-y-y!! ho-o-o-o!!” chants all through NKOTB’s typically blue-eyed-soul-harmonized “80s Baby” are more Naughty By Nature circa 1992. But no doubt lotsa ’80s babies loved that record, plus at least the electro-funk beats, freestyle backup, and Salt-N-Pepa and “Like a Virgin” namedrops get the decade right. As do suggestions that we do the moonwalk, smurf, and wop. And an answering machine at song’s start, presumably from Jenny, telling us we’ve reached 867-5309.

The screen door to Redman’s crib.

New Kids also mention pay phones, which obsolete gadget happens to be the first object seen in the video for 48-year-old Newark-bricks rap grandpa Redman’s extremely fun and old-school-bouncy “1990 Now.” Redman salutes KRS-One and Rakim and Latifah and the Huxtables and Deion Sanders, borrows an ugliness admission from Digital Underground, jumps forward to CeeLo Green, and rockets backward to his ’70s faves the Whispers and Commodores; the recurring hook, “clap your hands, everybody!” is more 1980-now (see Kurtis Blow) than 1990-now. Lyric revolves around a pot party, big whoop. But when some fuckin’ asshole cuts his power at the end, you remember Redman was responsible for the most hilarious MTV Cribs episode ever—the only one that didn’t treat the show as a spinoff of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, what with his crummy floor mattress and broken screen door and all.

Just think—someday, we’ll all be nostalgic for 2018. Well okay, maybe not. Among eras any sane person would want to escape, this one’s gotta be right up there. So I’ll stop nit-picking. Just promise me, next time you miss whatever decade’s gone by, you’ll get the apostrophe right: It’s the ’10s, y’all, not the 10’s.

        City Pages, 31 October 2018

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