We’re now in the second half of the decade, which means that the decade before last is officially ripe for satirical theme parties. For instance, in the 1990s there were ’70s parties, where everyone wore bell-bottoms and ironically listened to Kool and the Gang. In the ’00s, there were ’80s parties, where everyone dressed like yuppies and ironically listened to Flock of Seagulls. So where are the ’90s parties? Shouldn’t we be wearing Bean boots and listening to Daft Punk?
No, because we’re still doing that. Decade parties are predicated on the corniness of the era in question, but it’s hard to see a unifying theme of cheesiness for the 1990s. More problematically, it’s hard to see the difference between then and now. Hoo hoo, remember 1996, when people wore flannel and there was a Clinton running for president and dance clubs had DJs playing electronic music? What must that have been like?
Culturally, 2016 is 1996 with better phones. Consider fashion: If you’ve got a theme party to attend, you want to stock up on campy gear at the Garment District in Cambridge. (When you need polyester bell-bottoms on short notice, it’s the place to go.) True to its mission, the Garment District now stocks ’90s apparel. In summarizing the era’s look, the store’s website says that “’90s fashions often emphasized casual chic and simple comfort, letting ’90s trends easily translate to a modern wardrobe.” In other words, you can wear this stuff and nobody will even notice.
In one photo depicting their ’90s gear, the Garment District has a guy wearing a plaid flannel shirt and camo cargo shorts. Both of which you could buy right now by walking into Old Navy. With a few very specific exceptions—women’s denim overall shorts, and maybe skorts—the ’90s are still in full effect in the fashion world. Lace up your Jordans and deal with it.
Musically, I concede that grunge sounds dated. But grunge was just one facet of the ’90s music scene. Electronic music still sounds relevant. The inescapable song of the moment is Twenty One Pilots’ Stressed Out,” a catchy piece of lackadaisical white-guy slacker rap. I like it, possibly because it reminds me so much of Beck’s Mellow Gold, which was released 22 years ago. Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” affirms the timeless cultural legitimacy of Sir Mix-A-Lot and big butts. And back in 2000—technically, the final year of the ’90s—we had Nelly bragging that “Donald Trump let me in now” on “Country Grammar.” Now we have Rae Sremmurd bragging they’re “Up like Donald Trump.” Can’t we find anyone else rich and vulgar to rap about? Does nothing rhyme with “Branson”?
On the TV front, we used to have shows set in a prior decade. In the 1970s, Happy Days was set in the ’50s. In the ’80s, The Wonder Years was set in the ’60s. Now? We’re not making shows set in the ’90s—we’re making the actual shows from the ’90s. Hey, did you catch the new X-Files? (Is something I could have said in 1994 or last week.) Full House is back. SpongeBob SquarePants started in the ’90s and is still going. My kids watch it. OK, I watch it.
Hey, that show is still funny. So is Seinfeld, the show and the guy. The 1990s produced some great television. A couple of years ago, I was at a dinner with James Van Der Beek, and he was talking about a scene on Dawson’s Creek where he was in a rowboat that was supposed to be in a storm, but they were really just in a pool with a guy standing to the side rocking the boat to make it look like there were big waves. Now, is that anecdote just an excuse to casually mention that I was hanging out with James Van Der Beek? Yes.
So, in terms of music, TV and fashion, we’re partying like it’s 1999. Gas is cheap. The Middle East is a mess. We’re even talking about the O.J. trial again, thanks to The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Speaking of O.J., I drive a 1993 Bronco. Say what you will about Orenthal James Simpson, but the man had fine taste in 1990s sport-utility vehicles.
As far as I can tell, the only cheesy things about the ’90s were the Macarena and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, specifically Alfonso Ribeiro. Sure, I had a few low moments when Larry Bird retired, but I loved the ’90s. I wasn’t old enough to have any responsibilities, there was no Zika virus and most of my life goals involved foam parties and MTV Spring Break. I enjoy the color teal. Compact discs actually have great sound quality. If you’re going to go all Groundhog Day and get stuck in a recurring decade, what better one to choose? (By the way, Groundhog Day: 1993.)
The ’90s even had the best catchphrases. But we’ll get past the ’90s at some point, I hope… NOT!