Nostalgia is poisonous. Anyone who thinks the past is an improvement on the present is engaging in a psychologically flawed activity. Nothing in the past can escape the bias of your own memory, and having nostalgia for anything earlier than the 80s really spits in the face of any minority. It’s funny how only white people like to ask each other the hypothetical question, “During what era would you love to have grown up?” Ask that question to any historically disadvantaged people and see what kind of looks you get.
Nevertheless, the important thing is to realize how nostalgia can twist our perceptions. I need to correct one of the biggest crimes of nostalgia that I see committed far too often. I want to dispel and cure one of the most widespread social psychoses, because far too many have lost contact with reality. The reality is that almost all of the music made in the 90s was absolute garbage, and we have Generation X to blame.
When most people think of the worst music to come out of the 90s, they tend to think of the boy bands and female pop artists of the decade. They aren’t wrong, because the 90s were overwhelming with an abundance of these shallow performers. Boy bands like N’Sync, 98 Degrees, Boyz 2 Men, and the Backstreet Boys are usually the first to come to mind, but there are even worse examples outside of the mainstream. The Canadian boy band b4-4 had an utterly unsubtle one-hit wonder where they sang: “If you go down on me / I’ll go down on you.” And O-Town had an entire track entitled “Liquid Dreams,” about these so-called dreams. These are to say nothing of the completely sincere yet utterly conflicting message of the virginal Britney Spears, bouncing around in her school-girl outfit. If these artists had had the foresight to figure out irony, they’d be incredibly popular nowadays.
Shallow pop stars, however, can be found in any generation. The pop stars of the 90s were just as bad as the pop stars of any other decade since the 1950s. There will always be cheering, semi-obsessed fangirls rushing stage barricades. It doesn’t matter if it’s Sinatra or Timberlake, Jonas or Bieber – the 90s had much more to offer than just shallow pop stars in terms of distinctly awful music.
There must have been some sort of CIA-driven plot to encourage mass social delusion in the 90s. How else can you explain the rise of “ska” to popularity? Bands like No Doubt, Mustard Plug, and Reel Big Fish achieved mainstream success despite absolute and overwhelming mediocrity. There has to be a chemical explanation for the sudden explosion in demand for these two-tone tyrants. Trying to explain away ska’s popularity in the 90s through “likely reasons” is akin to Young Earth creationism. You can try using that line of thinking all you want, but my instinct is to assume you’re an idiot.
However, there have been plenty of random surges in mass social delusion when it comes to musical phenomenon. How else can you explain the two odd years where everyone inexplicably added “dubstep” to their musical tastes? Either Skrillex had been working with the CIA in an effort to brainwash the populace through drums and bass, or that terrible haircut of his makes him a wizard. All of these are preferable conclusions compared to the terrifying prospect that people actually enjoy that stuff. Once again, the music of the 90s can avoid direct criticism, but there is one final, unavoidable, and unjustifiable nail in the metaphoric coffin of that decade’s tunes – the flannel-clad, facial-haired, and undeniably narcissistic nail known as “grunge.”
Grunge is one of the most self-absorbed genres of alternative rock, similar in manner to 70s punk. The idea that simplicity is inherently a more artistic and integral form of musicianship is absolutely bonkers. Grunge had an entire generation convinced that plaid flannel, simple riffs with highly distorted guitar effects, and self-absorbed lyrics actually meant something. There was a general feeling that the music of the 90s felt more “authentic” compared to the music of the decade before.
What they failed to realize in the 90s, however, is that all popular music and all popular musicians have carefully-constructed aesthetics, regardless of how “real” they portray themselves. The rock stars of the 80s may have had giant hair, insane outfits, and ridiculous makeup guiding their aesthetic, but at least they could play their instruments. The “solo” for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will go down as the most unnecessary and simplistic bridge in the history of music, and the title of the song actually comes from a brand of Teen Spirit deodorant. In no way was Nirvana any more or less authentic than any other band that existed. And this leads to why grunge is obviously Generation X’s fault.
Generation X had an obsession with authenticity and integrity. When left with the option of doing the smart thing or doing the right thing, Generation X would always take the more difficult option if it meant a chance at transcendence. Author and pop-culture guru Chuck Klosterman compared Generation X to the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Luke will always choose to rebel against his father and Generation X will always choose to rebel against anything as long as there might be the possibility of some sort of authentic manner of living life.
What Generation X failed to realize, and what many of the millennial generation are beginning to find out, is that this authenticism doesn’t really exist in any natural state. Millennials are starting to use irony and detachment as a way to deal with that realization. It might not be the perfect way to cope, but I know that I’d rather live knowing where the false mirrors are, rather than pretending that they are all windows. I know that our bands have a carefully-constructed aesthetic that we buy into it regardless.
I’ve just come to realize that we don’t care. Here we are now. Entertain us.