AM I incorrect in still liking the Gin Blossoms?
July 12, 2008 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Is there a general consensus on the "feel" or identity" or, dare I say it, "quality" of 90's music yet?

I'm borrowing a car for the Summer (I usually live in places where I don't need one) and the car has XM. Having been born in 1980, tha station I naturally keep on most of the time is the 90's station, which is sometimes painful, and sometimes amazing, to my ears at least. Still, after reading this, I felt a little-bit hipster-served.

As has been said, the definitively best music in the word is the music that came out when you were 13. Now I know that a lot of what I listened to then was pretty shitty, but a lot of it I still love now, and not just for the nostalgia value. I've also always figured that the 90's were a nigh-on-impossible decade of music to have an "identity" attached to them, ala the eighties, seventies, sixties and fifties. Has a general consensus built around what music really was like in the nineties, given enough distance for retrospect? Is it generally agreed to be like the Brady Bunch, i.e., it was terrible, but people who grew up with it will love it anyway?

I'm going to keep listening to what I like anyway, but I'm a junkie for pop-culture scholarship, and curious to know what the last eight years have let us learn about the decade which came before.
posted by Navelgazer to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
By the 90s the music business had begun to splinter. There were many different scenes and movements to speak of. The mainstreaming of grunge and alternative are some of the most visible 90s cultural touchstones. It's not really "generally agreed" to be any one thing. I think it's generally that there was good music and bad music in the 90s.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:45 PM on July 12, 2008


About the only thing that I've seen generally agreed on with 90s music is that what I listened to is awesome and if you listened to something else it sucked.

What mine and your refers to changes based on who's talking.
posted by theichibun at 8:09 PM on July 12, 2008


Well, here's how I remember it:

The first part was somebody playing Even Flow over and over and over again. Then, for a little while, it was somebody playing Informer and Mr Wendall over and over and over again while a few people sat in the corner with their fingers in their ears whimpering 'Kurt...why...' over and over and over again. Then, for a long time, it was like somebody playing the soundtrack to The Crow over and over and over again, or some other generic Stoned Foo Temple Fighter Pilots rock act, alternating with Jagged Little Pill, and the people in the corner felt a bit better (but not too much, because that wouldn't be cool at all). Then, for a couple of summers, it was Chili Peppers and Eiffel 65 over and over and over again. Then 9/11 came along, and we all forgot about it.

ludwig_van says that the 90s was when music splintered. It was completely different for me. Everybody had their own music in the 80s - punk, electro, rock, pop, rap, metal, goth, whatever. In the 90s, everybody wore a striped jumper and stopped washing their long, limp hair, and all the music sounded the same. Everybody was alternative, and they all listened to alternative music, so there was no alternative.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:28 PM on July 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


I've also always figured that the 90's were a nigh-on-impossible decade of music to have an "identity" attached to them, ala the eighties, seventies, sixties and fifties. Has a general consensus built around what music really was like in the nineties, given enough distance for retrospect? Is it generally agreed to be like the Brady Bunch, i.e., it was terrible, but people who grew up with it will love it anyway?

What music was like in the 90s for whom? The idea that the 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s each have one identity is easy to disprove. Think about what you associate with each of those eras, then look at the pop charts. Not to mention that popular music by black artists was disenfranchised through much of the 70s.

Speaking of the mid-70s, do you think of a Billboard Top-5 that includes Frankie Valli? Also, John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" debuted and Donna Summer was cooing "Love to Love You Baby."

The sort of feel-good alt-pop of Gin Blossoms doesn't have hipster cred right now, but I'm sure if you wait five minutes someone in some band will mock-bashfully admit their love. Lemme tell 'ya, I never thought I'd hear Journey so enthusiastically re-embraced -- it was laughingstock when I was in college in the early-90s.
posted by desuetude at 8:35 PM on July 12, 2008


Oh, and here are different singles charts by year. Happy browsing.
posted by desuetude at 8:36 PM on July 12, 2008


1989: The decade arguably began when Jethro Tull won the first heavy metal Grammy.
1991: The music industry realized that music was being made outside of Hollywood and LA
1992: MTV embraced reality television.
1996: US Congress passed the Telecommunications Act
1998: US Congress passed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act
1999: Ricky Martin
2001: The decade ended when the iPod was debuted shortly after 9/11.
posted by billtron at 8:43 PM on July 12, 2008


*Hollywood and NYC
posted by billtron at 8:44 PM on July 12, 2008


You only think the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s have a single identity to the music while the 90s was splntered because you grew up listen to music in the 90s while the older decades are all already pre-packaged for you. If you were into music in the 70s instead you'd have been able to identify all kinds of movements and splinterings.
posted by Justinian at 9:41 PM on July 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


And I understand that. I'm more curious as to what, if any, feel the 90's is now being pre-packaged under for consumption by younger generations.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:00 PM on July 12, 2008


I would like to counter the idea that you like what you hear because of when you hear it. I can only think of a few songs that I genuinely like from the 90's. In fact, looking back, I was "looking for" the kind of music that's coming out now (no, not in America.) I'm 23 currently and my musical tastes are only now beginning to be addressed properly. I'm speaking up because I frequently hear that musical tastes are largely incidental rather than concrete. In my experience, this has been wholly untrue.

In my opinion, the 90s will be seen as a turning point because they mark the intercultural availability of music. Not the intercommercial or intercorporate convergence, with its hand-me-down mentality. But when people from many different countries could literally share music, bilaterally. In the short term, a chunk of the market is still controlled by the radio and other such gatekeepers. But if history is any indication, the near future will see vast paradigm shifts in music as the internet matures. ~5 years gave us Napster, ~7 gave us Moodlogic, ~10 gave us things like Pandora and Last.fm; imagine what 20 or 30 years will do for us.
posted by Phyltre at 10:02 PM on July 12, 2008


I would like to counter the idea that you like what you hear because of when you hear it. I can only think of a few songs that I genuinely like from the 90's.

Me too. I grew up in the 90s and I simply didn't listen to new music the entire decade. (not rock, anyway). There was no reason for someone raised on Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to listen to grunge- it added absolutely nothing new that hadn't been done better in the past. I think history will show it for the joke and marketing scheme it was.

There was good hip-hop in the early 90s. In hindsight, some of the shoegaze stuff is pretty good, and Pulp were great.

But basically, it was the decade when rock finally died, as had long been predicted. Hip hop stole it's rebellious thunder: white dudes in tight pants and hairspray just aren't that scary to parents when you stack them up against NWA. (yeah that was the late 80s, but the trend of young white kids switching to hip hop came to fruition in the 90s). Grunge, as noted above, was nothing but substandard Black Sabbath riffs coupled with semi-coherent PC blather ("all my friends are brown and red", anyone?) and recycled hippie-isms. "Hair metal" had a lot of bad points, but it had a sense of fun and rebellion about it, and the players were often excellent (if not tasteful) musicians. 90s rock completely abandoned melody and worse, having fun or a sense of humor became a crime. Just fucking awful.

On a side note, I feel like right now is a great time for music, and rock is rising from the grave. I never gave a shit about "indie" before, but there's a ton of great stuff now. I have awesome bands actually friending me on Myspace, out of the blue. It's pretty incredible.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:35 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


On a side note: I think people do appreciate music differently if they were "there" when it came out. Because when something is new, all kinds of politics and issues of the day attach itself to that music.

For instance, the "Dylan goes electric" thing was huge at the time- he was a sellout to the true folkies. In hindsight, it's such a non issue that those of us who came to it later just hear great music.

On a similar note, certain Beatles albums, were, I think, regarded as disappointing at the time, because they didn't live up to their previous work. With the perspective of history, we hear that almost everything they did is pretty goddamn good. We can hear all their albums as works of art, standing alone, rather than: "wow, this new record is no White Album. the Beatles are really going downhill!"

If I had to point to one artist who falls victim to this today, it would be Bright Eyes. He gets it from the indie people for not being "indie" enough, and from the mainstream for being "emo," even though he's more folk/country than anything, and he covers John Prine songs in concert. A ton of people hate him who have literally never heard his music.

People in 20 or 50 years won't know or care about any of that. they'll just hear "I'm wide awake, it's morning" (2002) and go, "wow, what a great fucking album!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:44 PM on July 12, 2008


Just on the quality issue, it's a kind of muddy. The divide between great music and what was popular and on the radio got a lot bigger over the 90's. The Top 40 almost certainly got worse, but the stuff remembered by music aficionados is pretty undeniable (Loveless, Nevermind, OK Computer, Endtroducing).
posted by abcde at 11:29 PM on July 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


The bit in the linked article where he has an asterisk to the footnote "Actually not that bad" speaks volumes.
posted by dhartung at 11:38 PM on July 12, 2008


And I understand that. I'm more curious as to what, if any, feel the 90's is now being pre-packaged under for consumption by younger generations


I think that grunge will be the easiest to pre-package for future generations. One could argue that it came out pre-packaged. Grunge was one of the few musical movements of the 90s to have its own pseudo-ethos. It had a look. It had a "spirit." It had a cohesive musical styling. Grunge provided most of the fodder for the generation X myth.

Other than that, I'd say some of the rap from the 90s will be easy to pre-package. Mostly the gangsta stuff. It, too, had its own drunk sort of ethos, and embraced the myth of authenticity in its own highly conspicuous way.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:10 AM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Personally, I think that the 70's were the best musical decade ever (but I did turn 13 in 1970). But I would put the 90's solidly in second place. The 80's were so bad for rock that I turned to Jazz and Blues, and didn't get back into rock until the local college radio station started playing "alternative" stuff in the early 90's. I think that the current indie scene is extremely derivative, though.
posted by rfs at 12:21 AM on July 13, 2008


You want an honest opinion on something subjective?

Ok: Sturgeon's Law. Done!
posted by electronslave at 4:07 AM on July 13, 2008


Pre-packaged for consumption by people who don't already have it on their iPods, I'm guessing: Whatever: The 90s Pop & Culture Box, from Rhino. Their 70s and 80s box sets are decently representative, including both monster hits and mostly forgotten stuff.
posted by kimota at 7:22 AM on July 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


billtron... the only thing your timeline was missing is OJ.
It's nice to see that other people are still pissed that Metallica was robbed. I wonder if Obama would get behind some kind of presidential decree to right that injustice.
posted by ph00dz at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2008


I'm probably going to be mocked for making this suggestion, but -- if you get VH1, check for when their "100 Best Songs of the 90's" shows come on. It's a pretty broad overview, as it was decided by a popular vote (amongst people who logged on to their site, so it may be a somewhat self-selecting category), and had a decent mix of "Well, that's certainly no surprise" ("Smells Like Teen Spirit" was their number 1 hit) and "ooh, I always liked that one! ("Groove is in the heart," for me.)

But as for the "feel", it is kind of all over the place. But actually so were the 50's and 60's and 70's -- different GENRES came up in each decade, but no one thing carried the day.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:58 AM on July 13, 2008


Holy god that's a good mix, kimota! I'm sold just by them having both "Sugar Free Jazz" and "In the Meantime" on there, but the whole thing is just gold (except where it isn't, of course. I mean Candlebox makes an appearance, as does Silverchair, but I guess it wouldn't be an honest 90's retrospective without them.)
posted by Navelgazer at 9:14 AM on July 13, 2008


Every generation despises the one that came immediately before it. I learned to loath hippies while listening to the Clash and Patti Smith, for example. Most contemporary assessments of 90s music should be tossed out the window. (But, that's the mirror-negative of the answer to your question.)

Something that does happen, and is much more likely to happen in our current environment, is that music that nobody much listened to becomes popular years after it was released and temporarily forgotten. Way back in the day, bands would be pressed into vinyl, maybe get a little airplay, then disappear into used-record bargain bins never to be seen again. Nowadays mp3s resurface to find a new audience much, much easier. (You could call it the "Neutral Milk Hotel" effect--there seems to be a lot more attention paid to them today than in 1998.)

Nobody listened to shoegaze back in the day. The majority of people who say they did, didn't. It got practically no exposure outside of college radio and record store geeks. But, today, you can put together a nice shoegaze collection from the comfort of your own home, and find some nice stuff embedded within it. Since it's been christened a "movement", I'd expect to see collections of it survive into the future.

A different example would be Britpop. The couple of album monsters that Oasis released had a lot of songs that you'd probably label as annoying earworms, because they've been overexposed. Eventually people will decide whether they're really worthwhile, but that'll take some time and distance. But beneath the Oasises and Blurs, there's a whole underbrush of lesser-known bands who might have been known in the UK, but were almost completely unknown in the U.S., and some of their output was interesting. There's interesting opportunities for assembling collections there as well.

Grunge is very package-able. The reason people hate on it today is because they want to assert their own identity contra their older brother or the last generation--little to do with the music itself. Of course, having all the Nickelbacks and Creeds and terrible fifth-generation-photocopy derivative bands mucking up the legacy doesn't help either. I try to be fair and not blame Eddie Vedder for the cheap imitations.

Note that a decent early-90s alternative collection would necessarily stretch back into the late 80s (Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., etc.) for background, even though much of that got little public notice at the time outside of special circles.
posted by gimonca at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


My personal spit take: the "Brady Bunch" vibe only really applies to 98/99 top hits. Those coupla years weren't good. But people who dismiss the first half of the decade are just doing generational scent-marking.
posted by gimonca at 9:51 AM on July 13, 2008


P.S. You could put together a great English or American Literature library of books by authors that nobody heard of or cared about until after they were dead. Just sayin'.
posted by gimonca at 9:55 AM on July 13, 2008


Looking back, as much as I grumbled about how uncool it was for formerly obscure indie bands to be on Alternative Nation/120 Minutes or god forbid, the Buzz Bin.. I really appreciate that in the early 90's you'd see women on that channel who played in bands instead of just stuff like the f***ing Pussycat Dolls. I mean we had Liz Phair, Veruca Salt, the Breeders, Belly, Elastica, Hole, Juliana Hatfield, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth..

Since then I've come to appreciate a lot of more popular hip hop, R&B, pop music, in general I don't resent & ignore songs just because they get a lot of airplay. So I kind of like a number of 90's rock songs now because they're just fun pop songs, instead of getting all bent out of shape about how indie/cool or not, the bands were. Damned if I can tell why anyone likes Stone Temple Pilots though.

I also look back and see.. what happened.. 1991, the Year Punk Broke.. Lollapalooza.. Woodstock revival v1, and then toward 1997 things turned ugly with nu-metal and lots of aggro Limp Bizkit type of stuff and another Woodstock revival in which a bunch of fools went crazy, set fires, destroyed stuff, and some women were raped. Another thing under the radar that was happening toward v late 90's.. indie becomes a genre of music instead of just signifying bands not on a major label. I was less tuned in to hip hop but I guess it went from West Coast stuff to Puff Daddy being all overblown, Pac and Biggie Smalls get killed, Wu-Tang were super influential..

Late in the decade Timbaland and Missy Elliott pretty much change the sound of R&B and you can hear that sound everywhere today (and FWIW I know Tim likes NIN so there's an interesting influence). And Lil Wayne likes Nirvana, and the teenagers I see right now are very much influenced by late 80's and early 90's hip hop style. And lumbering, terrible post-grunge rock bands spawned an entire genre of lumbering, terrible post-grunge rock bands that are on radio stations I am happy to avoid (eg Creed, Nickelback, Daughtry). Fashion people are bringing back some grunge (I guess this might be played out in NYC already), the plaid flannel, the Docs, rayon floral prints, the new fall stuff in the Gap could just be a twist on what you'd find in the Gap in the early 90's. :)
posted by citron at 11:49 AM on July 13, 2008


Hardcore, you know the score.
posted by meehawl at 11:50 AM on July 13, 2008


Problems:

—As already noted, previous decades didn't really have single identities either, despite what Time Warner sells you as comps. The '70s were Led Zep, Donna Summer, David Bowie, Bread and the Sex Pistols. The '60s were The Beatles, The Temptations, John Coltrane and Pat Boone.

—People that have the most succinct view of the '90s were the ones who weren't paying attention. "But basically, it was the decade when rock finally died, as had long been predicted," is the type of bullshit that could only have come from someone listening intermittently to the radio. The Gories, The Dirtbombs, nearly everything on Bomp and Sympathy for the Record Industry and In The Red and Estrus. There was plenty of great rock all over—Detroit, DC, Chicago and Phoenix all had great scenes.

That said, the '90s as a decade were notable for, what, four big trends—Gangsta rap, the rise of indie rock, the explosion of pre-fab tween pop, and electronica.

Gangsta, and the attendant East/West wars, gave a new aesthetic on one coast and revitalized another in response. Sure, focusing on it misses some great movements (like Native Tongues), but it was the big story in '90s hip hop. Dre, Snoop, Tupac—all instantly recognizable names, and it forced NY to respond with folks like Biggy, Puffy (sure, hate him, but he was massive in the '90s) and the Wu Tang.

While Indie had to wait for the '00s to become the car commercial music of choice, Matador really was the sound of a the '90s for a lot of folks. They had Guided By Voices, Pavement, Yo La Tengo and a bevy of minor lights. Labels like SpinArt, K and Merge were all at the top of their game.

You can't talk about the '90s without mentioning bands like Backstreet Boys, N'Sync or artists like Britney Spears (even though she came out at the end of the '90s). They were all hugely popular, and marked the resurgence of teen pop.

Finally, the '90s were when dance music came out of the clubs of the '80s and turned into radio hits. We saw the rise of superstar DJs like Sasha and Digweed, the avant represented by folks like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, and the mainstreaming of rave culture.
posted by klangklangston at 12:01 PM on July 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think the general consensus is that just about every musical genre associated with the 90s had its roots in the 80s. Grunge had My Bloody Valentine and The Pixies, Techno had Kraftwerk and Juan Atkins' Detroit scene, Rap and Hip-Hop had NWA, Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C.... etc.

The only music I can think of that's distinctly 90s in origin is what I call hip-hop-pop; the style usually features a vocally talented (and marketing-friendly--young, attractive, and barely clothed) female showing off her range over music she didn't write, with a special guest appearance by some thuggy Rap-phenom-du-jour that interjects the occasional "UH!" and "YEAH."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:07 PM on July 13, 2008


I write this as I'm listening to Daft Punk who released Homework in 1997.. and have been sampled like crazy lately and performed live onstage with Kanye at the Grammys this year. Stuff that seems to have kind of died out and will doubtless be revived some day: nu-metal/rap-rock (ugh), math rock. Something that probably won't: major labels throwing a ton of money to sign relatively obscure independent bands (Royal Trux FTW). I guess a more particular thing is the sheer number & popularity of "i hate myself and want to die" type of songs in the early 90's. Live & Toad the Wet Sprocket were really popular, Jane's Addiction, that horrible Temple of the Dog song. Also every band that wanted to look like they tried a little bit at not looking like complete slobs, would just wear random silver glittery shirts? Why?

Wow, that Rhino box set is really great! also --> Breeders "Cannonball" / Sonic Youth "Bull in the Heather" / Hole "Miss World" / Mazzy Star "Fade Into You" / Veruca Salt "All Hail Me" / Blur "Song 2" / Lush "Hypocrite" / PJ Harvey "Down By the Water" / Shudder to Think "X French Tee Shirt" / Garbage "Stupid Girl" / Beck "LOSER" / Velocity Girl "Sorry Again"

Also, speaking of hardcore.. late 90's --> drum and bass.
posted by citron at 12:21 PM on July 13, 2008


I think the general consensus is that just about every musical genre associated with the 90s had its roots in the 80s. Grunge had My Bloody Valentine and The Pixies, Techno had Kraftwerk and Juan Atkins' Detroit scene, Rap and Hip-Hop had NWA, Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C.... etc.

But you can play this game going all the way back before the origins of rock & roll. There is nothing new under the sun...it's always part of a continuum of influence.

The only music I can think of that's distinctly 90s in origin is what I call hip-hop-pop; the style usually features a vocally talented (and marketing-friendly--young, attractive, and barely clothed) female showing off her range over music she didn't write, with a special guest appearance by some thuggy Rap-phenom-du-jour that interjects the occasional "UH!" and "YEAH."


Same principle as how 60s female vocalists were marketed, just updated to reflect current musical styles.
posted by desuetude at 1:02 PM on July 13, 2008


The Top 40 almost certainly got worse

It got worse in different ways. The old way was that the Top 40 came filtered through the decisions of radio station/cable channel managers, and what the old guy who ran the record store at the mall decided to put in his sales reports. The newer ways tap into what people are really requesting, without so many middlemen, starting with automatic point-of-sale reporting and moving on into all the disruptions of the Internet age.
posted by gimonca at 1:04 PM on July 13, 2008


Is there a general consensus on the "feel" or identity" or, dare I say it, "quality" of 90's music yet?

Nope, no consensus whatsoever.
posted by box at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2008


Ooh, here's a biggie -- the 90s gave us the loudness war, which plagues recorded music to this day.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:27 PM on July 13, 2008


But you can play this game going all the way back before the origins of rock & roll. There is nothing new under the sun...it's always part of a continuum of influence.

At some point you have to limit your pedantry if you're going to have a rational discussion. I mean, yes, of course all music is at its core nothing more than the semi-intelligent grunts of Thugar, the Destroyer and Bringer of the Word combined with the rhythmic beatings of rocks together by Gran-thul, His Dynasty Remembered back in the stone age or whenever. But that's not a terribly interesting conversation, is it?

Same principle as how 60s female vocalists were marketed, just updated to reflect current musical styles.

All this "singing to music" is really just the same principle. Don't be obtuse.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:20 AM on July 14, 2008


What are you talking about? desuetude is right. 90s music was not at all unique in having been the product of influences from previous decades.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:26 AM on July 14, 2008


Civil_Disobedient, you posited that a defining characteristic of the 90s was that every genre had its roots in the 80s, and that duets between pretty girls and tough boys for mutual marketing savvy was somehow new.

What's the opposite of pedantic?

P.S. Please note that I didn't call you any names.
posted by desuetude at 8:01 AM on July 14, 2008


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