I loved being a kid in the ‘90s. It’s morphin’ time, am I right? Cowabunga! A Will Smith quote, probably. I have fond memories of going rollerblading without pads or a helmet. Of going to slumber parties and playing one of only three good video games, and eating dangerous amounts of unregulated chemicals in fast food and mass-produced snacks. Those were the days. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
Of course, in truth, the ‘90s were terrible.
Creed was the epitome of rock music’s identity crisis in the ‘90s. In a stunning rebuke of the expository virtuosity that dominated the ‘80s zeitgeist, most ‘90s rock songs were essentially reduced to three chords and three minutes. Suddenly, it was cool for instruments to be slightly out of tune, drenched in reverb and drowning in gain. Sometimes, a white guy might try to sound tough as he rapped about his feelings over top of it. Other times, Sugar Ray. Guitar solos became a relic of the past, and arguably, so did any sort of lessons, replaced in perpetuity by melancholy and the infinite flannel.
And oh my god, the pop groups.
Up until that point, it had long been an open secret in the music industry was rife with abuse and that young talent was often taken in and seduced (both metaphorically and literally) by cynical old record executives that saw their entire existence as nothing more than a means to keep getting fatter, but their power was arguably at its peak in the ‘90s. The Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Britney Spears, and the legion of imitators that followed behind them have stories littered with a litany of abuses (committed by long lists of people including the artists’ own parents) the likes of which you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Hip hop was experiencing a lot of the same growing pains, but with more racism. Record executives had watched the unlikely rise in popularity of acts like Grandmaster Flash and N.W.A. delivering unfiltered tales of their days growing up in the ghetto, and suddenly it became imperative to sign as many young rappers as possible and make them all look like they were living that thug life (whether they actually were or not). The ripple effects of this particular business strategy continue to be felt throughout the rap game to this day.
All this to say that at its best, ‘90s music was a confused reflection of the ridiculous society around it. At its worst, it was a soulless amalgam of naive kids, greedy record executives, and appropriation. Plus, every now and then Marilyn Manson would just show up somewhere and maybe he was on drugs, maybe he wasn’t.
We as ‘90s kids know this stuff. We know all of it. We wear it like a badge of honor. We go wild whenever the “Ignition” remix comes on, and we know every word. Smash Mouth? Fucking terrible, I need to listen to it every day. Pantera? Holy crap, worst thing ever, inject that shit into my veiiiiiiins.
We have shitty taste in music, and we’re proud of it. Because we didn’t really get a choice in the matter. Sucks to be us. Fortunately, music has only gotten better since then (it really had nowhere to go but up). The world learned from our mistakes.
(The words expressed here do not necessarily represent the opinions of the other Bucketheads who are all likely to be very unhappy with me when they read this.)
Written by Syd Ghan
*Edited by Chris Aitkens