Saturday, April 02, 2005

Back to the '90s

I am not normally very sentimental. I don't buy sappy cards for any occasion ("Hey, at least you can take that trip you've been putting off! Sorry to hear about your old lady biting it"). I usually don't think about the past, unless I'm marvelling at how stupid I was. However, lately I've been spending most of my time in the '90s.
Yes, the marvelous '90s. When they started, I was an eight year-old kid and when they ended I was a legal adult. While George Bush was launching missles at Iraq, while Anita Hill was accusing Clarence Thomas of harassment, while I learned that oral sex isn't sex from the President's concubine, I was growing up. I got glasses. I got my period. I had crushes on boys I met at birthday parties and longed for "The Downward Spiral" on CD but was afraid to ask my Mom since it had the Explicit Lyrics sticker on it. While all this stuff was happening, making me the slightly unhinged, very dorky and somewhat insecure woman that I am today, I had a soundtrack. If you'll indulge me a moment, I'll discuss what's been on rotation at work and at home lately.

Paula Abdul: Just about anything. She's known to a whole new generation as the cracked-out judge on American Idol, but to me she'll always be Janet's backup dancer who later danced with an animated cat in her own video. I remember the videos to Paula's songs, even though I didn't get cable until 1993, and even then I wasn't allowed to watch MTV (just VH1). "Straight Up" is my favorite song of Paula's, and I just remember her dancing in black and white in her very fluffy skirt. Of course, "Opposites Attract" is when she dances with the cat. I loved "Cold Hearted Snake" where she dances in front of a row of men who all look very uncomfortable due to her accusations. If I recall, Christina made a video inspired by Paula's, but Paula is the original J.Lo. She made her start as a dancer, and ended up with a lucrative recording career. Paula couldn't quite get the actress part of the triple threat, but these days if she manages an attempt at sober she deserves an Oscar. Or at least a Daytime Emmy.

Janet Jackson: Miss Jackson, if you're nasty. She played a large part in the formation of my young sexuality (hi mom and brother, why don't you continue on to the next entry? Thanks!) with the video for "If." She dances for Japanese tourists, bound men are lowered from the ceiling and Janet looks like she's having the best time ever with them. One image that is emblazoned on my mind forever is the part of the video where she swivels her hips in front of the guy who's on his knees in front of her, pulls his head into her crotch, pushes it back, passes his head between her hands like a basketball, then drops him to the floor. It basically says "please me, or get the hell out now" without saying a word. I can only aspire to such bad-ass behavior. Kristen bought the "Janet" CD the other day, and there are songs on there I forgot I loved. "You Want This" also played a large part in me even being able to look a boy in the face in junior high, ("yeah, I'm hot! Go me! Off to the mall!") and "Anytime, Anyplace" appealed to me greatly. You've got to give it to the Jacksons: before they go batshit crazy, they make some amazing pop music.

Tori Amos: Boys for Pele. I'm reading "Piece by Piece" (thanks, Michael!) and learning that Tori, who was my idol as an angry, tormented preteen, is a fucking nutter. Sometimes I have to reread sentences to see if she did say that faries come and she talks with them to get her songs. I don't care if it's faries, devils or crack who are her muse, because when you're down and confused, Tori is the best place to go. "Pele," I have learned, is an album she made in her "dark place" due to two miscarriages and wanting to reclaim herself or something. I remember being a freshman in high school, feeling thrilled to talk to the senior girls in drama club about Tori Amos. Strangely enough, I have never been to a Tori show, despite loving her for over a decade.

Will Smith: Yeah, remember when he recorded music when he was known as a marginal actor in action flicks and a sitcom? At Emerson, entire classrooms of people would break into the theme song to the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air." When I was in high school, "Big Willie Style" came out, with the seminal tracks "Gettin' Jiggy with It" and "Miami." He had that song from Men in Black, and one for some western/sci fi movie he made. Then he got cocky with the complete shitstorm that is "Black Suits Comin' (Nod Ya Head)" and hasn't made any contributions to music since. But how can you forget his earlier contributions to song? There was the "Just the Two of Us" song where he gave props to his kids. I don't much care for his ballads to his beautiful babies, but I will sing the entirety of the "Fresh Prince" theme song and "Summertime" if asked nicely.

These are my thoughts on the pop music of the 1990s. I hope to write more in-depth analysis of the songs that helped me get through my youth. Right now it's late, I'm going to lose an hour of sleep sometime between now and tomorrow and I must be well-rested to be able to heckle the Yankees at length tomorrow night when baseball begins in earnest and the entire city of Boston goes crazy for another six months or so.

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