It’s been known since, well, at least the start of the postmodern era that cultural trends tend to repeat themselves and come in circles. One thing that I don’t think is often explored though is the size of those circles (in terms of length of time between trend and re-trend) and the reasons why. My very non-scientific calculation: about 25 years. Why, you may ask? Well, for several reasons. Here are a couple.
1) Popular culture is defined by 15-25 year olds.
It’s well known that the 15-25 year old demographic is huge when it comes to consumption of creative culture. They’re also key to defining it as well, as youth is marketed to young and the young-at-heart alike. There has always been this strange desire by people in this age range to embrace the popular culture that existed right before they were born. The 25th anniversary of Woodstock had kids in my high school wearing bell bottoms and tie-dyes and listening to Jimi Hendrix back in ’94, just like the high school kids of today are wearing neon pink leg-warmers, boxy, oversized sunglasses and listening to Depeche Mode ripoff groups.
2) The groups that established the initial trends as 15-19 year olds have become nostalgic.
As a 30-something myself working the corporate grind, I understand the power of nostalgia more and more these days. While I’ve tried to keep myself relatively hip and current, I still realized that my days of free youthful rebellion are beyond me and that it’s kids half my age who will be defining the culture. The 25 year trend circle works well in that old fogeys like myself can say, in a condescending and patronizing tone, “oh you kids think you’re so original; we were dressing like that 25 years ago”. And beyond the simple snark, it’s also a way for the older generation to feel their youthful cultural contributions appreciated and re-evaluated.
I think a good example of this phenomenon is the film Dazed and Confused. Released in 1993, it captured the styles, sounds and imagery of the spring of 1976. This film was a hit for not only the demographic that lived through that era, but also high school kids twenty years later, who found themselves both intrigued by the era’s difference, as well as the similarities, to their own. I can remembered more than a few kids in my high school who looked a heck of a lot like clones of Randall “Pink” Floyd, Slater or Jodi. There may have even been a Wooderson or two riding around the parking lot…
From a musical perspective the film was a hit too, with two soundtracks that were both huge sellers, introducing a whole new audience to songs like Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and War’s “Low Rider”. These CD’s were probably the most frequently played albums at parties during the ’94-’95 school year, more so than albums of many of the new groups that were popular at the time.
Which brings me to the present day: we’re obviously on the tail end of the 80’s revival (much to the dismay of American Apparel, I’m sure), so what comes next? Early 90’s hip hop and R&B revisitations? Possibly; I think we’re starting to see that already. A return to early twee pop? Maybe, if this video is any indication of where the trends are heading. My personal theory—a revised version of grunge. Guitar based music hasn’t been hip for about a decade now (everyone’s “axe” these days seems to be a Casio keytar or MiniMoog), and I think that with the recent angst brought on by the economic downturn, a return to angsty lyrics, pounding drums and fuzz guitars might be in order right about now.
In that spirit, here is a rarity—footage of the first ever “music video” shot of the band Nirvana. It reminds me of local basement noise shows that I’ve been to around here, and is a nice reminder of the classic phrase, “plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose”. Enjoy!