Yeah, that’s right. Céline Dion is not the only thing I cherish about the nineties. But if I’m being 100% honest, most of what happened in the decade of my birth was trash. Kurt Cobain died. The OJ thing. The band Nickelback formed and rose to prominence. Hillary Clinton became such a household name that a bunch of millennial fuckboys decided to vote for Jill Stein in 2016. Et cetera.
For a lot of people around my age, it feels like the ’90s/early ’00s never ended. I mean, I watched the Spice Girls movie by choice in 2009. We’re still appropriating the fashion trends (even fucking scrunchies are back, I’m wearing one right now) and we still lose our goddamn minds every time we hear “…Baby One More Time”. I mean, Urban Outfitters has just been selling the outfits from the movie Clueless for the past ten years. People of every generation get stuck in their respective youths—play “Jessie’s Girl” in a room full of 50-year-old women and you’ll see what I mean—but it feels like this particular nostalgia has real lasting power. It might have something to do with the fact that this was the very last pre-Internet era. The Internet existed, sure, but not in our hands 24/7. We kept maps in the car. I remember when iPods were released and I needed to call a Voodoo priestess to revive me after I died of shock and amazement. I would never argue that this time in history was better (it wasn’t), but I will say that I had a much better attention span and had yet to be insulted by an anonymous Twitter egg, so, simpler times.
I digress. Now, when I say ’90s baby, I don’t necessarily mean that you were born in the ’90s. This playlist is geared towards those old enough to have vivid memories of Y2K and 9/11. ’85-’92 or thereabouts. My compatriots in culture. Growing up in this era afforded a very specific and pop cultural experience, one that, as much as we may have loved it, was pretty much trash. This is no “best of” list. But this is the shit that we can’t erase from our psyches, no matter how hard we try. Or at least, this is the shit that I can’t erase from my mind, and in the words of millennial superhero, Lana Del Rey, “God knows I tried.”
“It’s Gonna Be Me” – *NSYNC (2000)
You thought it was going to be “Bye Bye Bye“, didn’t you? HA. “Bye Bye Bye” is a solid, beloved track, but which song is still a meme almost 20 years later? “It’s Gonna Be Me” motherfuckers! This song is so tight! I’ve listened to it twice today, in prep for this post, and let me tell you, ’90s pop songwriters did not eff around with song formulas. Bridges for days!
I have vivid memories of procuring the “No Strings Attached” album. I was in third grade at the time. It’s possible that we bought it at Bradlee’s. By the way, if you’re ever unsure of a person’s age, just bring up Bradlee’s. It’ll seal the deal.
It still bums be out the JC Chasez was supposed to be a frontman. Timberlake just dominated, and he has spent the last several years earning his fame. The 20/20 Experience took us all to church, and solidified JT’s position as a pop icon. “Cry Me A River” could have stood alone as an anthem, but I appreciate JT’s growth as an artist.
I will say that “This I Promise You” was written by Richard Marx. Unrelated to this post, but an absolutely invaluable piece of trivia. Ya welcome.
“Bootylicious” – Destiny’s Child (2001)
I DON’T THINK YOU CAN HANDLE THIS. No grade-schooler was ready for the line, “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly”. Is “Bootylicious” the feminist response to “I Like Big Butts”? I don’t know! I do know that the guitar is sampled from “Edge of Seventeen” and that Stevie Nicks herself is in this video. Also, Michelle actually gets to sing in this one, and Kelly actually takes the lead! Also, the costumes, which I can only hope were designed by Ms. Tina, are sublime. They are transcendent. Fringe…bikinis?
The term “bootylicious” was conferred upon us by the illustrious Snoop Dogg ten years prior to the release of this DC track, but Beyoncé & co. are certainly responsible for popularizing the term.
“Lucky” – Britney Spears (2000)
To be fair, she cried for help. Folks my age remember the 2007 Britney meltdown, and the subsequent YouTube video. Britney’s trials and tribulations are even a running gag on the show Girlboss in the Year of our Lord 2017. Looking back, this song is so depressing! It’s basically Brit looking at her own life and being like, “Help! I’m so depressed! Success is not fulfilling!” But we didn’t even bat an eye at the “Everytime” video, and she legit kills herself in that one.
On a happier note, Britney looks stunning in this video, styled as an Old Hollywood starlet. Even the chord progression of the song is a clear homage to doo-wop, which is a cute and thoughtful detail. Let she who did not want to sit on a sparkly star and throw glitter cast the first stone.
“U Got It Bad” – Usher (2001)
“U Remind Me” almost took top billing here, but “U Got It Bad” has a permanent spot in my heart and mind. This is one sultry-ass ballad. When I think about the (Boston) radio station, JAMN 94.5, this immediately comes to mind. Usher has the smoothest voice in the game—I’d listen to him sing the phone book.
Also, if you can actually believe this shit, this song was dethroned as #1 on the Hot 100 by that Nickelback song. You know the one.
P.S. Chili from TLC is in the music video, so this probably belongs in the Smithsonian as an example of peak human achievement.
“All the Things She Said” – t.A.T.u. (2002)
Yaaasss, bitches, the fake Russian lesbian song! For many of us, this music video may have acted as a sexual awakening of sorts. The controversy surrounding it was so beyond trife. I can’t even imagine such nonsense happening today, but again, this is before we even had marriage equality in Massachusetts. Any queer content was a big deal back then—remember Ellen & Anne Heche?!
Moral of the story: they weren’t lesbians, they’ve since dismissed the whole thing as “silly” (ugh, very progressive, guys), and they’re probably to blame for the Madonna/XTina/Britney MTV awards fiasco and the song “I Kissed A Girl”. “All The Things She Said”, however, though repetitive, is actually pretty friggin’ catchy.
P.S. Now I think that, somewhere in here, there’s a TrumpRussia/pee tape joke to be made but I’m not quite there yet. I’ll report back.
“Beautiful” – Christina Aguileira (2002)
Continuing right along with our theme of LGBT-tinged pop singles, y’all know what’s next! “Beautiful”, baby! She won a goddamn GLAAD media award for the video! Linda Perry, of 4 Non Blondes fame, wrote this gem, whose vid was more inclusive 15 years ago than certain Disney movies that are trying to be on trend in twenty-seventeen.
This video features a kiss between two men, a girl suffering from anorexia, and a closeted trans* woman, among others. It’s still mostly white people (2002, smh), but when this aired, it was radical. It affected me personally—I was pretty young, so I was seeing some of those people for the first time. This video probably opened those narratives and told those stories for the first time to a lot of folks. I’ve long felt that XTina doesn’t get the credit she deserves for taking this risk with her image. For a while, this was the wokest thing we had, for better of for worse.
“Landslide” – The Dixie Chicks (2002)
Like I said, growing up in the late nineties/ early ’00s was a very specific and bizarre time. So, we grew up with a country band performing our “Landslide”, as opposed to the O.G. or Billy Corgan versions. I am a Fleetwood Mac devotee, but I’m also 25 years old, so I learned these lyrics from Natalie Maines, not Stevie Nicks. This song also dropped at the height of my TRL-watching, so I have seen this video, which features a heavily pregnant Emily Robison playing lap steel (?!), about 150,000 times.
“All the Small Things” – blink-182 (1999)
Is it just me, or does this song actively suck? I remember loving it at the time, but now I hear it and I’m borderline horrified that this is all it took to top the charts in the year 2000. I mean, Tom DeLonge’s voice alone could serve as a suicide note. There’s not enough nostalgia in the world to justify this (and blink’s entire catalog) as good music.
I’m sorry, dudes. Just had to let that out.
“In Da Club” – 50 Cent (2003)
Okay, so, back story: this was hugely popular when I was in the sixth grade, and as a little prude warrior, I took great offense to the line, “I’m into having sex / I ain’t into making love” as I felt it was disrespectful to women. Rap music doesn’t have the best reputation re: misogyny, but if I could go back in time and shut myself up, I would. Hearing this song floods me with happiness. It’s so dramatic. The video is like some CIA action-movie homage. Also, Eminem discovered 50 Cent? What?
In a lot of ways, this track feels like an 80s rap set to truly stellar (eye-rolls for days @ the orchestra hits) early-00s production. The lyrics are deliciously cheesy. This song was #1 on the charts for nine weeks and its most memorable line is, “Yo, shawty, it’s your birthday.” And,I reiterate, the orchestra hits are just…sublime. Anthemic.
“It Wasn’t Me” -Shaggy (2000)
This song is a trash anthem and I love it! I was NINE when this song was popular. NINE. It is 50 Shades of Cray that any of us were allowed to listen to this. Shout-out to radio-edited lyrics that mystified the line “bangin’ on the bathroom floor” for years!
“Cry Me A River” -Justin Timberlake (2002)
I just wanted to include this. I mention it above, but it bears repeating. No jokes, no commentary—this song holds up, is the best, and you wish you could drop a song this fire. #byebyebye
Well, when I think of my childhood, this is what I think of, for better or for worse. Now, next time you hear that “’90s baby/’80s Mercedes” song, you can be like, nah, girl. Don’t get it twisted.