With grunge styles on the runway, New Kids on the Block headlining a summer tour and spinoffs of family sitcom Boy Meets World and horror franchise Scream bound for the small screen, you’d be tempted to check the calendar to ensure it is indeed 2013 — not 1993.
The decade which saw the ascendancy of boy bands, Britney Spears and plaid shirts as a style statement has permeated the pop cultural landscape of late with a definitive resurgence of all things 1990s.
In addition to the New Kids joining Boyz II Men and 98 Degrees on tour, novelty band Smash Mouth is hoping to ride the pop revival wave with fellow ‘90s hitmakers including Sugar Ray and Gin Blossoms for their own summer concert dates.
Old Navy featured 90210 castmates Gabrielle Carteris, Jennie Garth, Luke Perry and Jason Priestley in humorous TV ads which served as a thinly veiled sendup of their characters from the popular teen soap. And ‘90s two-hit wonder Sophie B. Hawkins — best known for “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “As I Lay Me Down” — was central to a recent storyline on NBC sitcom Community, appearing as herself at a dance organized in her name to rival a Sadie Hawkins shindig.
Some web users have gone digital in expressing their ‘90s love, from Buffy and Dawson’s Creek Tumblrs to the Modern Seinfeld Twitter feed (@SeinfeldToday) which muses on potential 21st century scenarios and dialogue for Jerry and the gang.
Scott Henderson, associate professor in the department of communication, popular culture and film at Brock University, said while the current fascination with the ‘90s may be new, the flashback to the future phenomenon is not.
“I think back to the ‘70s and American Graffiti coming out,” he recalled. “That was ‘73, and already they’re recycling the 50s...Then Happy Days followed that,” he recalled.
“There seems to have been this kind of history of recycling of styles, especially since the Second World War. Once you get into youth culture and baby boomers, that’s really where it’s taken off.”
Henderson said ‘90s nostalgia is a big factor for the present-day resurgence, a movement that seems to be driven by individuals who came of age during the decade.
“The people who are in their 20s now and are either in university or entering their first job, they’re starting to have to really enter adulthood and independence. These things that were a part of their childhood and childhood memories, it’s interesting that that’s what it seems to really spark.
“It’s almost like reaching back to ... a kind of comfort food of pop culture. A familiar, recognizable shared communal element, so that when you meet somebody new you say: ‘Did you watch Pokemon?’ It’s odd that there’s those kinds of connections.”
Matt Stopera, editor of BuzzFeed’s Rewind page, believes the use of social media has also played a key role in reviving current interest.
Stopera pointed to Boy Meets World stars Danielle Fishel (Topanga) and Ben Savage (Cory) whom he said each have a significant social media presence. With the upcoming series spinoff, Girl Meets World, photos were recently posted on Instagram of the cast behind-the-scenes and “everyone just went crazy,” he added.
“One of the coolest things about social media and Twitter and Facebook is all of these old celebrities are on these social networks. So it’s super easy to reach out...and to build a community and a rallying cry around a certain show,” Stopera said from New York.
“You can go onto YouTube and find any old clip that you want. It’s just so accessible and easy. And why I think the ‘90s are big is because that’s kind of who’s on social media right now. There’s a lot of young people, a lot of people in their ‘20s [who] generally historically are the tastemakers and who people make stuff around.”
Revitalized interest in the ‘90s isn’t limited to works of stage and screen, as fashion brands are offering updated reinterpretations of signature styles from the period.
“We actually started seeing it last spring with [Belgian designer] Dries Van Noten having a soft grunge moment, which is what made the ‘90s so interesting,” said Barbara Atkin, vice-president of fashion direction for Holt Renfrew. “But I think what the ‘90s really were about were mixing so many different eras of fashion. It was probably the first decade that we saw an eclectic mix.”
Beyond the baby doll dresses and ripped jeans of grunge, Atkin said the hip-hop-inspired styles as well as girly looks donned by the Spice Girls and Spears — like platforms, crop tops and minis — were exemplary of the disparate fashions from the decade.
“It’s this whole potpourri where everything goes,” said Atkin. “You had one style in the ‘70s which was bohemian....You had one style in the ‘50s which was kind of that mid-century ‘50s woman, ladylike look. But the ‘90s was this personal style of everything.”
Even those who didn’t grow up during the ‘90s have likely been exposed to Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air thanks to prominence of such hits in syndication and DVD box sets. But the on-again, off-again relationship between Rachel and Ross and the comic hijinks of Will and his cousin Carlton tame in comparison to the antics featured in modern-day, envelope-pushing fare like HBO’s Girls.
“We’ve moved into a very different era of television and the way in which we kind of consume media and material that’s on. It seems simple now to look back to that. But that’s always happened as well with TV eras,” said Henderson.
“I was a kid in the ‘70s, and Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch — shows that originally appeared in the late 60s, early 70s — were in syndication and recalled a simpler time for us in some way.”
Stopera said those who reflect on the current decade in the future may share similar views as some currently do in their recollection of the 1990s.
“I think laughing and thinking of things as cheesy is just kind of what happens as time goes on,” said Stopera.
“Every decade that passes, you look back 10 years [and think]: ’Oh, my god, I can’t believe we did that. Oh, my god, I can’t believe we thought that was funny.’ That’s going to happen 10 years from now when we look back at 2013.”