Today on Youtube, I came across the following. It's a compilation video of all of the number one hits of the 1990s. The first two sentences of this paragraph could almost be written by a computer, could be from a spam email. They aren't. I'm rusty.
My head is spinning with all sorts of thoughts on what the Internet has really done, which is accelerate the process by which the illusion that allowed us to imagine a consensual history has been broken.
At minimum, this illusion allows for: history, criticism, journalism, political praxis, cultural activity.
It's not that we haven't all experienced the same things, though, even this is too general, but I say so in contrast to the following: that it is difficult to imagine that the ramifications of whatever approaches a universal event are similar enough to form the basis for a narrative explanation of those events.
It's true, a compilation video of all of the number one hits of the 1990s is a bad metric for understanding the history of anything at all, and yet, really, given my own memories of the period, the first decade of my life that I actively cared about music all the way through, it's really surprising to me how different this particular narrative is compared to the one in my head.
When I began to watch the video, my first thought ran to Nirvana. I could't remember which song of theirs went to number one. Hint: none. As this realization dawned on me, though, somehow, I couldn't let myself be sure of of this fact until the dates passed the one on which Kurt Cobain committed suicide. At that point, and maybe before, recalling my cynicism towards all of the bands that followed in Nirvana's wake, I started to think, well, surely Pearl Jam or the Stone Temple Pilots made it. Didn't they "suck" enough? I thought so! Nope.
The only evidence that grunge/alternative even happened, as far as I can tell: flannel shirts in SWV and TLC videos, Lisa Loeb's glasses, and Hansen's hair. That's it.
Not that r&b or hiphop fares much better, though at least TLC's "Waterfalls" and that one Destiny's Child song feature the skittering percussion that was the hallmark of many superior r&b records of the time. Which brings me to another surprise - no Missy and Timbo. Huh?
(As an aside, though thankfully not as popular a pastime as it was a couple of years ago, why are/were people constantly trying to sell me Beyonce as someone who has been ignored or underrated her whole life due to race and gender? It's been twenty years now, folks. Also see what I said above about the fracturing of consensual history - pre-Internet, most people didn't really give a shit about music, but the media was dominated by people who did. Post-Internet, guess what, most people still don't really give a shit about music. It only feels like Beyonce didn't change the world in the same way the Beatles did because when the Beatles were around, "the world" was more-narrowly-defined. There's some real irony here if you consider the possibility that Beyonce couldn't change "the world" precisely because those who argued, rightfully, that that "the world" had to include more than white men, also argued against, and have mostly delegitimized, the conception of a coherent subject that could be changed.)
Do you want me to conclude with some sort of deeper insight here? Or should I write a screed about individualism and the impossibility of music criticism? Like I said, rusty.
Mariah Carey was actually quite good at the beginning of her career - I knew this before, had forgotten, somehow - though she did devolve rather quickly into Whitney-style inspirational ballads before being "rescued" by a song about the joys of ejaculate. Somebody was talking to me today about the limits of populism and the necessity of a responsible elite. When I think about a song like Mariah Carey's "Hero", both the popularity of the song amongst "the masses" and the machinations of the "elite" that helped make it happen, I start to long for a third option.
...something from George W.S. Trow about adulthood being the management and oversight of the inherent childishness of media-driven consumer culture and the inevitability of some of us staying adolescents. I'm not proud I'm still one, nor do I think pride would be, for me, the byproduct of any of the other aforementioned options...
I think I miss R&B a lot and I do, but, lord, Boyz II Men. I'd like to think that I can be objective and make the claim that their music actually, inherently, sounds like a well-chaperoned middle-school dance without reference to the numerous times I heard their music within that context. I can still see the space between the dancers, enough to store a few letters worth of an encyclopedia.
Celine Dion is mom jeans (two dated references in five words). I still haven't read that book I'm supposed to read about why this may not be the case.
Janet Jackson really could have been so much more, even just with editing. Did nobody realize that her "urban records" were actually bigger hits than her "pop records"? "That's The Way Love Goes" still bangs.