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Subject: A Malaise of Meaning: What’s with ’90s music?

Written By: Voiceofthe70s on 12/20/21 at 10:42 am

Here is a short but somewhat interesting article on the sociology of 90s music. I know there are a fair share of emo fans here, so I take no stand on the writer's generalization that "I was thinking of the predictive power of art while listening to horrible punk and emo music from the late 1990s and early 2000s." But I will say that the piece does put into perspective the zeitgeist and atmosphere that spawned this form of 90s music. The article is short enough that I can reproduce it here in it's entirety.

A Malaise of Meaning: What’s with ’90s music?
by Henry Castaigne

Before the rise of atheism and Communism, there was Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Both men managed to pick what would come after the retreat of religious faith, and fans of both authors point to them as nearly having ESP with regard to the future zeitgeist.

I was thinking of the predictive power of art while listening to horrible punk and emo music from the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think it explains the increase in government corruption, the rising suicide rate, and the opioid epidemic. Almost all the songs are musically repetitive and very few could… how I put it… sing? They yell in a manner related to the musical instrument about how they find school boring, society unfair, and their attempts at coitus unsuccessful.

All these topics are fine sources of artistic inspiration, but these songs seem devoid of any depth. However, like Michel Houellebecq’s novels, the emptiness seems to paint a fascinating picture of ennui, though with far less artistic skill.

Like the upper-class Frenchman, Houellebecq, the picture of life depicted by angry white kids from the suburbs is undeniably comfortable. They do not suffer from any serious material deprivations. For the most part, they have dads even if they hate them. They are not afeared being shot by a criminal over a drug deal as in hip-hop. Nor do they sing about getting shot while being an outlaw like in darker country songs. ’90s songs praise getting high, but they seem to lack the bleak sadness of country or blues songs about the depression associated with whiskey and cocaine. As self-indulgent as all those ’60s drug songs were, there was a sincere attempt to expand the human consciousness.

In the 1990s there was so much peace and prosperity that it was boring. People seemed less sensitive to race than we are today. China was backward and, besides, they’d give up Communism eventually. Islamism wasn’t anything to worry about, and the internet wasn’t destroying our mental health.

There was nothing to rebel against. To paraphrase John Lennon, there was nothing to kill or die for, but there was no brotherhood of man.” In addition to this malaise of meaning, or perhaps because of it, the musicians at the time didn’t feel the need to explore other musical traditions or to further delve into the Western Tradition of classical music. I know painfully little about music theory. But I can sort of notice when a talented artist is trying to expand his repertoire. I suspect that if Kurt Cobain continued to live, he would have expanded it. But it seemed like many artists were comfortable with generic angry garage punk.

Now I am oversimplifying things a bit. As Franco has mentioned, there are rivers, streams, lakes, seas, and oceans in music called genres, and within those genres are sub-genres. But I am limiting my focus to the most popular music and asking why it was the most popular. My cousin who used to be in a band mentioned that sad music sells because young people want to listen to people who are sad like them, but they don’t want to expand their minds. So if you are targeting a younger audience you have to dumb it down. That makes sense as far as it goes, but it doesn’t explain why teenagers were so into sadness and anger in the 1990s compared to other decades.

As far as I can reckon, I cannot help but notice a certain existential emptiness in the late 1990s and early 2000s music. I think that emptiness comes from a peace and prosperity without purpose. But what do my fellow Ricochetti think?

Subject: Re: A Malaise of Meaning: What’s with ’90s music?

Written By: AL-B Mk. III on 12/20/21 at 1:22 pm

The explanation is much simpler than that. When Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, it eliminated restrictions on how many radio and television stations a corporation could own, and thus the Clear Channel Communications (now iHeart Radio) monopoly was born. And as soon as that happened, we went from Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains to Limp Bizkit, Korn, Stained, N'Sync, and the Backstreet Boys almost overnight.

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