Monday, June 19, 2017

A Post About Music

Why this resurgent interest in 90s music?  

Listen to the radio, and between The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, and Smashing Pumpkins, you're excused for thinking it's still 1997.  Both the New York Times and the Atlantic, among others, have published articles about the 20-year anniversary of Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pills, which by the way is getting remade into a Broadway show, and music festivals prominently headline revival acts from the end-of-the-Millennium decade. Just about every 90s band that had subsequently disbanded now seem to be getting back together, very much including ones I never even heard of, although unfortunately not the one band from back then that I want to hear the most (The Sundays), who are inexplicably keeping quiet.

So what is it about 90s music that remains so popular?  It was one of the loudest and most dissonant of rock's decades, and that exceptionalism alone may count for some of its appeal (it's hard to remember a time when similarly challenging music so dominated the scene).  Did the music reach peak gnarliness during the 90s, a level that can never be topped but only revisited?

No.  There's a lot of music even louder, even more dissonant, even angrier or even more ecstatic (depending on how you look at it) recorded both before and after that decade that never became as popular as 90s rock.     

I think the answer has a lot to do with coming-of-age nostalgia.  Rock music, I propose, has always had a certain penchant for the sounds of two decades prior.  Sure, that wasn't true in the 60s, but in the 60s there wasn't music recognizable as rock from 20 years earlier, so that doesn't count.  But 60s music did enjoy a major resurgence in the 80s (take the Beatles-esque sound of Tears For Fears, for example), and there was the 70s punk revival in the 90s (the wildly popular grunge), and a renewed interest in 80s New Wave in the Aughts.  It follows suit that 90s music would be popular in the 2010s.

But why this 20-year nostalgia?  Again, I posit that adults entering their 30s - a key record- and ticket-buying demographic - are fond of the music they heard their older brothers and sisters play back when they were preteens or younger, music they were told at the time was "over their heads" or "an acquired taste," music they thought was the definition of adult cool and a gateway to social and sexual maturity.

Now, you might think at first that this would result in a 10-year lag in popularity, not a 20, but consider that to reach top popularity, from album release to saturation airplay, would typically take 3 to 5 years, and there's an additional lag at the other end of the timeline to outgrow the music of one's own time and seek out nostalgic pleasure.  So an album released in 1995 might not be heard consistently on an older sibling's stereo or radio or computer until 1998 or 2000.  Then the younger sibling will listen to the popular music of his or her own time through their teens and twenties, or until 2010 or 2015, before developing a new appreciation for their older siblings' music.  Then it would take this new trend a few years to catch on and hit saturation airplay for the second go-around, resulting in the 1995 album or band getting its second wind sometime around 2015.  

So right now, in 2017, we're at the crest of a wave of interest in the music from 1997.  If this were stock trading, I'd advise you to buy up all the EDM, trap and Kanye you can now, put it into a time capsule, and sell in 2037.  

I grew up with rock music and have been listening for over 50 years now.  While I'm an oldest child and didn't have older siblings playing music around the house, I did have older cousins and friends with older brothers and sisters, and did hear psychedelic music of the mid-60s drifting down hallways and coming through walls, and sure enough, in the mid-80s I held the music of the 1967 Summer of Love (Jimi, Janis, Jim Morrison, and Jefferson Airplane) as the aspirational standard by which to judge all subsequent efforts.  

There may not be a profound point here and I'm not trying to throw shade on the 90s music, but I find it interesting to think about the psychological reasons for our interests and our tastes.

We're all just trying to be our big brothers and sisters.

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