Ben Chalk casts a nostalgic eye back at the 1990s and argues that music was better then…
You know you're getting older when you think pop music isn't as good as it used to be.Like making an involuntary noise when you sit down or thinking policemen are getting younger, it's an inevitable consequence of the aging process.That said, Ben Chalk isn't convinced it's just a matter of nostalgic opinion
1. There were no TV talent shows
In the summer of 2001, this writer was approached by a TV production company about working on the website for something called "Pop Idol." Reasoning that TV talent shows had died a death in the 1980s ("Star Search," anyone?), and, more worryingly, that it sounded like a cough medicine, he turned it down. You can't win them all. Not unless you're Simon Cowell, of course, who, 'inspired' by the runaway success and enormous money-making potential of the show he was originally employed as a judge on, created the "X Factor" and "American Idol" and made gazillions of dollars by squeezing all the life and originality out of pop and spawning an entire generation who think Leona Lewis and Clay Aiken are the pinnacle of musical talent. Tragic.
2. Television supported new music
Not only were there no talent shows on TV in the 1990s, there were a number outlets for new music which don't exist anymore. In the U.K., "The Word," for example, is much maligned these days but where would a band like Oasis make their TV debut now? In Canada, there was "The Wedge" and "City Limits" on Much Music where videos from Nirvana, Soundgarden and other alternative acts made their debut. It's hard enough to see any music videos on Much now, let alone cutting edge ones.
3. Big album releases were an event
On 21 August 1997, Oasis released their third album, "Be Here Now." It was rubbish but that's not the point. The point is that people queued outside record shops (remember them?) all night to buy it and it shifted nearly half a million copies on its first day of release. This was old hat at that point since similar instances had happened in the U.K. and North America surrounding albums by Guns n' Roses, Nirvana and other bands. Perhaps it's just us but we can't help finding it sad that only new mobile phones generate the same level of excitement these days.
4. We had proper rock stars
At the start of the 1990s, Guns 'N' Roses were the biggest rock band in the world. They took drugs, shagged groupies, caused riots, got kicked off planes and raised hell in a manner befitting their position. Then it was Nirvana, whose frontman didn't just whinge about being depressed, he actually did something about it. Then came Oasis who sung "you might as well do the white line" and prompted questions in British parliament about their behaviour. Now we've got Coldplay. Ugh.
5. There were music movements
The 1990s kicked off with the Stone Roses playing a massive outdoor gig at Spike Island in Widnes for 27,000 young people dressed in flares, tie-dye t-shirts and 'Reni hats'. Then came the all-devouring grunge movement with its flannel shirts and self-loathing, which in turn was overthrown by Britpop and its retro cool. And remember all that Lilith Fair business? In short, there were musical movements with their own distinctive style and attitude. What have we had since? Emo? Please.
6. Good dance music was popular
Dance music began as an underground phenomenon and continues to thrive there but, for a few years in the 1990s, some of the best stuff sold by the bucketload. The Prodigy, Leftfield, Chemical Brothers and Orbital all had hit albums. These days the biggest-selling dance music is in the shape of dodgy corporate-sponsored compilations.
7. MTV actually played music
The M in MTV is for "music." It's sad that this needs to be pointed out what with the station now showing vacuous reality shows and the like instead of videos and concerts. In the 1990s this was not a problem and MTV actually led the charge showcasing and making stars out of lesser known bands and movements, while also commissioning unique performances such as those found on their seminal "Unplugged" series.
8. The charts mattered
Of all the ramifications downloading and file-sharing have had on music since the 1990s, the increasing irrelevance of the charts is surely the saddest. People under 20 might not believe it but listening to a chart countdown used to be a genuine event which could assume tribal importance if a record by your band made No.1. In the U.K., Oasis and Blur had a rivalry that almost exploded into violence over competing singles releases. Now the only people who care about charts are industry executives - and even that's when they're not looking at the job listings.
9. Pop music ruled the world
Spice Girls' "Wannabe" went to No.1 in no less than 31 countries and sold seven million copies, making it the biggest-selling single by a girl band ever. Backstreet Boys and N'Sync battled it out for singles supremacy selling over 3 million units combined in less than a week. Who are our pop stars now? Rihanna? Susan Boyle? Gaga? Not the same.
10. You could make loads of money from music
We want to live vicariously through our music stars, do we not? We want them to be obscenely wealthy outlaws, living in ludicrous mansions, travelling the world in private jets, answerable to nobody and sticking it to the man. Well, too bad, those days are over. Established superstars can still rake in millions with mega-tours but the unstoppable decline in record sales of the last 10 years means that any new artist hoping to make serious cash has to whore themselves out with commercial endorsements, product placements and 'alternative revenue streams'. Not very rock 'n' roll, is it?