The Edge of Change: The Most Memorable Albums of 1999

PopMatters turns 10 this year and to celebrate we are looking back at the popular music that defined the year of our birth. [Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5]

Edited and Produced by Sarah Zupko and Patrick Schabe

Publication Schedule

Monday: January - March 1999: Britney Spears to Blur

Tuesday: March - June 1999: The Olivia Tremor Control to Pavement

Wednesday: June - August 1999: The White Stripes to Andrew Bird

Thursday: August - October 1999: Dixie Chicks to the Bloodhound Gang

Friday: October - December 1999: Mos Def to Jay-Z

In the relative safety of comfortable hindsight, think back to that moment of propulsion as our collective species hurtled towards one of time's ineluctable barriers. One of the most expansive and reflexive centuries in history was slamming to a close, and an equally mythologized future was careening toward us, promise and uncertainty reaching out to pull us forward. And that moment even came with its own pop soundtrack -- appropriately-ironically-enough written 17 years earlier -- as we danced the fin de siècle shuffle, partying because it was, at last, 1999.

That culturally impregnated year saw the birth of PopMatters, finding its nascent voice as an open-ended exploration of the cultural moment, and continuing in this vein for the first decade of the chrome-bright 21st century. As we celebrate our 10th birthday, it only seems fitting to explore the year we came to life, and doubly so given that 1999 was a year of inevitable weight. From the start, PopMatters loved music -- loved what music means in art, history, culture and society; loved what music means to people -- and it's only natural that we care about the music of the year we were born.

But the music of 1999 has more importance than a mere catalog history of chart positions and popular tunes suitable for cutsey birthday cards. As mildly embarrassing and forgettable as "Y2K" paranoia seems now, it's easy to forget that music was experiencing the same cultural moment as every other human endeavor: a preparation for passage. Nothing clearly marks the interconnectedness of the human race quite like the triumph of the Gregorian calendar, and the looming turn of a new century was a planetary phenomenon. Even the hazy confusion over the actual beginnings and endings of centuries is an attendant example of how this preparation for passage was marked with uncertainty and anxiety, and no small amount of anticipation.

Any number of genres scrabbled through the 1990s to be the ascendant king of the final days and/or first voice of the future. For a time, it seemed obvious that electronic dancescapes would be the champion of a brave new world. But hip-hop had already begun to assimilate the planet, and even traditional forms like Americana and country found new revivals. Jazz, punk, metal, Latin, world, indie, and pop -- the entire 20th century seems to be represented in 1999's plethora of releases. One peek at the exhaustive list of 1999 albums on Wikipedia reveals just how diverse human song was as we sung out the old cycle.

In sorting through the list of 1999 releases to select some of the most noteworthy, PopMatters sought out those releases that marked out 1999 in their own distinct ways. Whether or not you consider the success of Britney Spears and Blink 182 to be worthy or a stain, their impact on how we listened in 1999 is inescapable. Mainstream country gained massive crossover appeal in the Dixie Chicks' sophomore effort, and lost the same as it lost Garth Brooks to Chris Gaines. Whether the idyllic icon of the West Coast was won by the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Rage Against the Machine is still debated. Eve, Missy Elliot, TLC, and Macy Gray offered competing pop narratives for women, while the war of cool on the dancefloor was waged between Air and Basement Jaxx while old-timers the Underworld slipped in the back door.

Some of the artists herein made grand final statements in 1999 (XTC, Ben Folds Five), while others debuted to a mere glimmer of the success they'd achieve in the new century (The White Stripes, Eminem). Most are names that continue to influence and shape the discourse of popular music in 2009. And whether or not the artists remain vital in the present, these are the albums that shaped 1999, that expressed the electric trepidation and expectation on the edge of change, and helped to shape the future.

Patrick Schabe

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.