Pop is finally eating itself.
In discussing the waves of nostalgia I have been riding lately, I mean to touch upon an important topic in contemporary culture and to perhaps create a little nostalgia for you.
Only two years into the new millennium and I, as well as many other Gen Xers, have found myself waxing poetically on the delights of our 1980s childhoods and 1990s college days. Scooby Doo, Grease, legwarmers, school discos and Nirvana have all been resurrected in this year's pop culture. Why anyone would want to bring back the oversized off the shoulder customized sweatshirt is beyond me, but it does send me down memory lane.
Perhaps it is easy to be transported back seeing as we are again living with the threat of war in the Middle East under the instructions of President Bush. Perhaps we are just reaching that age (some approaching 30, some approaching 40) where looking back on our adolescence with fondness is natural. Or perhaps it is something more sinister the fact that there is nothing new and pop is finally eating itself.
No matter . . . Here I am getting all nostalgic for some 2002 offerings that made me nostalgic for nostalgia. if that is not to self-referentially post modern for you.
B>Floppy Hair and Sideburns
My mother told me when I was 14 that a haircut could make or break a romance. It certainly was true then; my crush on the cute stoner guy with hair in his eyes disappeared instantly when he arrived one morning sporting a crew cut. But that guy, and the crush I had on him, has been reincarnated in the new old rock of the bands, such as the Vines, the Datsuns, the Hives, and others. But ultimately, the rock guy who has turned the most heads this year has to be Dave Grohl. He has always been there doing well, but 2002 has seen Grohl succeed beyond his past to become THE rock pin up. He's kinda like Avril Lavigne's Sk8er Boi, except Dave is sooo much cooler.
Indeed, 2002 has been Grohl's year. His contribution to Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf made that album, quite possibly, the best hard rock record since Appetite for Destruction. He had a number one album (in the UK) lead by the best rock single of the year "All My Life". Grohl played on records ranging from Cat Power to Tenacious D, while his first band's greatest hits was released just in time for Christmas. All this accomplishment without being over exposed!
So as far as being fit in the Darwin sense, Dave has had it covered for a while. He has always been the best drummer of his generation. Nirvana made him a rock star 10 years ago. So why are intelligent music loving girls suddenly gaga for Grohl? I tell you . . . it's his hair! And quite possibly the sideburns he's been sporting.
It may seem I am objectifying to the extreme, even by Pop Tart standards, but it really isn't just me. Just this week I heard Jo Wiley, one of the most respected female DJs on British radio, get giggly over an interview clip with Grohl. She had to be reminded of her husband and two children by the equally giggly news reporter. Jo refrained from playing more of her interview with the Foo Fighter as she said she would go too pink in the face!
Where's the nostalgia in all this? Well beyond the obvious adolescent feelings of a crush, Grohl's success sends me combing through my CD collection, pulling out my grunge records, and putting on my Sub Pop Loser t-shirt. Then I can lie back and think about how far we Gen Xers have come.
I would not normally advocate the adoration of a boy band by anyone grown out of their teens, but I am making an exception for these Irish boys in the name of nostalgia. Sometime last year, Westlife released a video for a B-side track call "When You're Looking Like That". It was an extremely well executed, classic, behind-the-scenes clips video with a staged performance by the boys. What was exciting about that video then was the candid moments of fun the boys usually so polished and package shared with their fans.
To promote their greatest hits CD, released late this year, Westlife has been appearing on the Saturday Morning kids programme SM:TV Live and CD:UK regularly for the past few weeks. Again, the boys are being themselves for their fans, playing games, participating in comedy sketches and contests, as well as performing their hits. They come across as genuinely nice guys who enjoy having a laugh, even at their own expense.
This makes me jealous in a nostalgic way. I would have given my left arm to feel that close to my pop star crushes (Donny Osmond, David Cassidy, Rick Springfield). I miss that simple thrill I got whenever my Pop Star Crush revealed something new about himself. Perhaps Jo Wiley was feeling that way while listening to Dave Grohl.
Westlife have had 13 number one singles and they have very intelligently repaid their fans with the gift of themselves.
Dirrty Xtrina and the B-List Minogue
As I mentioned in my very first Pop Tart, I learned a great deal about my sexuality from a man called Prince. Before there were parental warnings, we teens listened to records with questionable lyrics on a regular basis. Two tracks released towards the end of this year have taken me back to the controversy caused by this music.
Christina Aguilera's "Dirrty" is raunchy and hot the way most Prince songs were right up through Purple Rain. Her chaps-with-nothing-but-panties look would have had Tipper Gore and her PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) cronies with their knickers in a twist, just like "Darlin' Nikki" did back in the day. What I find kind of laughable, but a telling sign o' these conservatives times, is that a young woman's overt sexuality is cause for alarm.
Xtina is given grief for being raunchy and the quality of the song and the video is completely overlooked. The genius of Prince is widely accepted nowadays, but trying to convince my Dad that "Head" was an important funk tune was impossible when I was 14. So take it on the chin Xtina, your critics will come around.
On a much less controversial note, but in the name of Prince, Kylie Minogue's somewhat trashy sister released a dance track called "Put the Needle On It". When you put the needle on it, she tells you where she wants it and in the video she shows you. Not only does this track cause subconscious nostalgic ripples with it's funky sound, references to vinyl, and sexy lyrics, but just in case you missed the old skool tip the video sets you straight.
Dannii, with a short and sexy 1980s hair cut, writhes in the corner of what looks like the set left over from Olivia Newton John's "Physical" video. Disembodied hands, like those playing in Herbie Hancock's "Rock It" clip, grope her. And then suddenly Dannii fades away and a street dancer a la Electric Boogaloo breaks out at the end of the video.
When the computer generated voice finishes the song it is easy to feel dizzy as if one has just been rushed through a time warp.
b>New nostalgia vs. old
On Sunday, 22 December, 2002, Radio One will broadcast the Official Top 40, revealing the all-important UK Christmas number one.
Popstars: the Rivals girls and boys are running the race for that place. Girls Aloud are in the lead with their original track "Sound of the Underground", which features a very catchy Dick Dale-type surf guitar hook. The boys, now known as One True Voice, are lagging behind with an unrecognisable Bee Gees cover.
The use of the past by both these groups will contribute to their success or their failure. With all the cover songs audiences and listeners have been subjected to during the many auditions on Popstars, it is no longer enough to offer another as a single. Louis Walsh, manager of Westlife, intelligently picked a song for his girls that invokes a feeling of familiarity and sentiment without sounding rehashed. Pete Waterman, who is looking after the boys, has made an obvious mistake with the cover.
In 2002 the past is everywhere in our present but, it seems, we need it to be scrambled if we are going to consume it, again.