Monday, September 20, 2010

Lost in Translation: '90s Pop

John Marine | 9/20/2010 08:50:00 PM | |
Between pop of the '90s and now, a lot has changed. Being born in the '80s but a child of the '90s, there are a number of things that I think is missing in today's style of pop music. I'm limiting my discussion to pop since that is the music genre I wish to focus on in this blog entry. A lot of people discontent with pop music in this day an age remember when pop was simple, fun, and enjoyable. Times change, but the passion and drive that makes pop music fun should NEVER change. We live in a musical time these days where it's more about music companies trying to push for every single penny and dollar rather than pushing for pennies and dollars with real musical talent. Because I'm sick of the '80s praise and since there aren't as many who praise the '90s, it will be up to me to save the day for you all. This blog entry concerns my thoughts on what was lost in translation from the 1990s to the 2000s.

NOTE: "The '90s" will be defined as any song released after December 31, 1989 and before January 1, 2001

--- Elements of '90s Pop ---
Let me set the mood by offering a few thoughts here.

What I Most Miss About '90s Pop...

I was inspired of a beautiful song from the '90s- "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden. The reason why I loved this song was because there were smooth vocals and lots of emotion. Some people today would call a song like "Truly Madly Deeply" as wuss music, but at least there was vocal talent and lovely instruments. At least a song like that showcases pure vocal talent with lovely music. It didn't have to have a lot of loud guitars and lots of screaming to appeal to listeners. I do listen to a lot of pop music, though some of you know me to really be into electronic dance music.

What defines '90s pop to me is emotion, subtle sounds, and basically... just having fun in making such great music. The "fun" aspect is mostly in the music and in singing. You can sense people really making music that is really enjoyable and classic. You know... you don't have to have loud guitars and lots of screaming for the music to be enjoyable. This is basically a time where being hard is the way to go. So a lot of the smooth and subtle styles of the '90s have given way more towards the rock edge of most of today's pop music. If you believe in 20-year cycles, then you can say that some of the funky '70s influences have played a part in what has made some of the pop from that time great to listen to. There are also fashion influences that have helped define this time in tying in with '90s pop.

A Few of my Favorites from the '90s...

I actually was going to blog about my favorite '90s songs across as many genres as possible. So here, you might say that this is a preview of that topic. This will give you an idea of how I define '90s pop. The songs listed here are separated by asterisks (*). Don't get on me if there's a certain theme. These are all just favorites of mine. I wanted to state a few, but MANY more could be featured in a future blog post about '90s music. Here are some of the notables for me:

* "Candy" and "I Wanna Be With You" by Mandy Moore
Mandy Moore is really someone whom I've slowly grown respectful of the more I think about '90s pop. "Candy" was a song that was playful and funky at the same time. This may be a girly pop song, but I can be guilty of girly pop songs (speaking as a guy). - Moving vocals and sweet singing helps makes "I Wanna Be With You" fantastic to listen to. It is absolutely sweet to listen to. It was featured in the soundtrack to "Center Stage."

* "I Wanna Love You Forever" and "I Think I'm in Love" by Jessica Simpson
Texas girl (out of Abilene) Jessica Simpson arrived with the powerful love song "I Wanna Love You Forever." She delivers a sensational performance. Just listen to her sing her heart out and beautifully sing her heart out. The bridge of this song is the most beautiful and most powerful part of the whole song. - It may be another girly pop song, but the real emotion and fun and joy of singing can be felt with "I Think I'm in Love." The song may sound like a commercial for KMart or for some clothing company, but it's great to listen to.

* "Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera
Move over, Britney! A new girl named Christina Aguilera is ready to steal your thunder! I think she helped contribute to the belly-baring when she shown off her belly to contribute to her awesome singing. Only difference was that Christina Aguilera, to me, has the most hypnotic and luscious belly of any female celebrity past or present. She was either 18 or 19 when this song hit the airwaves. In somewhat an interesting cultural shift, there were a lot of teen girls that wanted to have a belly as sexy as Christina Aguilera's around the time this song was released.

* "Truly Madly Deeply" by Savage Garden
Australian duo Savage Garden really hit a home run with this song. Smooth and easy vocals make this song great to listen to even in this day and age.

* "As Long As You Love Me" by the Backstreet Boys
When it comes to the '90s, nothing provided as much of a generational shift in music as the ever-popular boy band battles. You were either into the Backstreet Boys or N'Sync. "As Long as You Love Me" is one of my favorites of the Backstreet Boys. By the way... I wasn't all crazy over the whole boy band experience. Still, the music and singing are on point.

* "Do You Know What It Takes?" by Robyn
Robyn arrived on American radio starting in the mid-1990s with this song. The Swedish songstress is someone whom I still respect to this day. She's since stayed within the dance music sing. Now I remember hearing this and loving this song on 104.1 KRBE back in art class back in 1997 and 1998 with the radio playing.

* "I'm Ready" by Tevin Campbell
My favorite song from another Texan (from Dallas) was "I'm Ready" from R&B star Tevin Campbell. Tevin was a young heartthrob (though not at the level of Justin Bieber in today's pop scene) who delivered a great singing performance with this track. This song reminds me a lot of the 5th Grade for me.

* "Ray of Light" by Madonna
The Material Girl of pop music had plenty of material with this dance-style pop song. This is really one of my favorites of the '90s.

* "Together Again" and "All For You" by Janet Jackson
No one has defined pop quite like the Jackson family. "Together Again" was a fantastic song when I heard it. Certainly one of the best (and really underrated) songs to me. It had that easy light dance edge to keep it fun, and Janet's singing was just on point. No compromises- just great music. - "All For You" was also a great song from Janet Jackson. I think both songs are from "The Velvet Rope" album.

* "Crush" by Jennifer Paige
Underrated and quite unknown to many, Jennifer Paige's "Crush" was one of my favorites from the mid-late 1990s. It is a pop song with a slight dance edge.

* "My Favorite Mistake" by Sheryl Crow
This song from 1998 is one of my personal favorites from Sheryl Crow. The Missouri native sings beautifully with a moderately fierce guitar soundtrack in the background.

* "Wannabe" and "Say You'll Be There" by the Spice Girls
Destiny's Child (Houston's own)? Pussycat Dolls? I COMPLETELY forgot about the Spice Girls in coming up with this blog entry! The Spice Girls were as much a cultural and musical frontier as any recent girl group. These five girls had style, dance moves, fun music, and more. "Wannabe" is still a very popular song today. "Say You'll Be There" isn't as popular as "Wannabe," but still is great to listen to. My only other favorite Spice Girls' song is "Holler." All three songs are fun to listen to.

* "Steal My Sunshine" by Len
Len came along with this cool song in the late 1990s that is still very much cool to listen to.

"Dream on Dreamer" by the Brand New Heavies
One of my favorite mid-1990s songs, the Brand New Heavies delivered this awesome song. It had it all- smooth melodies and lovely singing.

Last, but not least...
* "I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men
Yes, this song had some romantic tones to it (for example: "throw your clothes... on the floor...") However, Boyz II Men knew exactly how to deliver powerful singing without making this raunchy and over the top. These four Philadelphia boys know how to deliver solid singing. Boyz II Men was probably the last great MoTown-style R&B group.

--- What Was Lost in Translation With '90s Pop? ---
Each heading in this section will outline specific points to prove what I am discussing here.

Singing Itself.

For many people, there is a strong disconnect between actual singing talent and the use of technology. Many who dislike Lady Gaga's music usually dislike her because of so many synth voice effects and not much in the way of non-synth singing talent. Today's generation is more along the lines of synth and techno (as in technology) to make the effects cooler. While this is good, some feel there is too much synth usage to where we know nothing about actual singing talent.

Where is the Love?

The thing really lost in translation to me (especially with love songs) is with love. There was a time earlier this decade (2001-2010) when almost every other newer song was about hate. It was almost as if songs about love were so old that going back to more hate-oriented songs was better. What? Are songs about love so overrated that more "I hate you" songs have to come along?

And yes- there's a difference between love and sex. Songs about wild sex or with wild sex tones do not equate to love songs. There were more true love songs then than there are now.

Soul and Passion.

For a lot of people, today's pop is more about noise than something powerful. Not as many artists don't care for powerful and memorable performances. It's more about putting together a mixed bag of lyrics and try to make it sound cool. I think a lot of people have the passion to sing with heart, but not as much is shown in the music and with some lyrics.

To say that people don't care for musical talent anymore is somewhat an understatement to most people. Not as many in pop care about lyrics enough because it's all about you dancing to the music. Consider what Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson brought to '90s pop towards the turn of the century.

Group Therapy.

This is probably the most surprising aspect of the '90s compared to now- there used to be more groups that sang wonderfully and masterfully. Now, you don't see as many groups come together. Seems like most pop these days is more about individual talent rather than multiple people coming together to make great music.

Fun in Music.

Many of the songs featured in the previous section were all fun to listen to and enjoyable. There are still a lot of songs that are fun to listen to today, but not to the level of the '90s. A lot of '80s types talk about music that's still fun to listen to, but so was '90s music. For some people, music seems more like a chore rather than making something enjoyable and enjoy making. There are people who do enjoy making music for others, but not as many making fun music that is as fun as what they put into their music. You know, everything has to be trashy and in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll sense to most people to be enjoyable or worth listening to.

A lot of what is said about '90s pop is usually that there is a lot of manufactured talent rather than true talent singing. I guess what was lost in translation (to me) was just the real disconnect between today's music and that link to those who helped pave the way for some of today's music successes. It's almost as if today's pop scene completely fails to acknowledge those who helped pave the way for today's talent.

--- What Do Most People Say About '90s Pop Music Compared to Today? ---
The following are comments I've seen on YouTube in regards to certain '90s songs I've looked up on YouTube. These are all direct or indirect quotes:

These are various quotes from YouTube videos I looked up in preparing this blog post. The items in parentheses () are the songs from which I've read the comments from. These comments come from actual YouTube users (names undisclosed)...

"(comment)" ("song" by artist/group)

* "I so miss the 90's...good times" ("Candy" by Mandy Moore)

* "I remember everyone would wear camis/ tight shirts with the big pants! Oh the 90's! And the scary spice hair twists!" ("Candy" by Mandy Moore)

* "I miss the '90s. The 2000s is such an utter dissappointment." ("Candy" by Mandy Moore)

* "i would rather look &listen to mandy than crazy slutyy gaga" ("I Wanna Be With You" by Mandy Moore)

* "I wish she would still be in the media. She is a good example foryoung girls unlike other female celebrities with current exposure." ("I Wanna Be With You" by Mandy Moore)

* "Boy Her voice has been ignored. Its one of the best contemporary voices. She can really sing. & she's beautiful. Great song." ("I Wanna Love You Forever" by Jessica Simpson)

* "She has such a great voice. Don't know why her music career is so underated. She has a lot of soul in her voice. An incredible voice. & she's so pretty. Lovethat show she did, it had meaning, unlike every other other reality show these days." ("I Think I'm In Love" by Jessica Simpson)

* "The 90s were the best..blonde pop artists and boy bands galore. I loved that time." ("I Think I'm In Love" by Jessica Simpson)

* "the 90's......when all music was still good." ("Genie in a Bottle" by Christina Aguilera)

* "Why do guys diss these type of bands?

I know why THEY ARE JEALOUS!!!!!!! I like to listen to music for enjoymentand I never listen to music which stresses me out......Who is Justin Beaver???? oh that little" ("As Long As You Love Me" by Backstreet Boys)

* "Pink owes Robyn.

Love me some Pink, but Robyn came first.

Loved this album!" ("Do You Know What it Takes?" by Robyn)

* "she's one of the first blue-eye pop/r&b artist in the 90s before the manufacturing of britney spears and all the teeny bands. she didn't need to show off dance moves or cleavage to make good music. it was just the music." ("Do You Know What It Takes?" by Robyn)

* "I wish music can be the way it used to also... backin the day music had meaning to it" ("I'm Ready" by Tevin Campbell)

* "For every hater of Madonna, there are a million fans...

Decades from now she will still be remembered as one of the most successful singers of all time. And in terms of pop music, she in queen,there is no competition!

Cheryl Cole and Gaga aren't even in the same league...

...I love this video btw, one of her best." ("Ray of Light" by Madonna)

* "it feels as if it wass just yeaterday this song was premiered. Songs likethese are what makes us remember the old days. <3" ("All For You" by Janet Jackson) * "I remember this as a kid in the 90s ah those were the days! That wasreal music not like today's trash!" ("All For You" by Janet Jackson)

* "Ah..where did all the good times go? Love andremember the 90's <3" ("Say You'll Be There" by the Spice Girls) * "1999 for ever trappedin this song." ("Steal my Sunshine" by Len)

* "Whats happening to music these?....all this hyped up rubbish comming truely pisses me off. I must be turning into my mum and now I understand what she meant when she used to say it!!" ("Dream on Dreamer" by the Brand New Heavies)

* "Damn! You guys are YOUNG!!! LMAO!!! You missed a great era of music back then. It was about music and enjoyment instead of like today...Money & Sex. LOL" ("Dream on Dreamer" by the Brand New Heavies)

* "best boyband ever! why? - They can all actually sing - The made memorable songs - They won some grammy's (it shouldhave been MORE) - LEGENDS" ("I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men)

So it's proof positive that for those who know and love '90s pop, they know what was lost in translation going from '90s pop to the 2000s. A lot of what you've read thus far has been about some of the things that are missing in today's pop music scene. There are people who know and understand what is missing in today's pop music scene. Names come and go, but you still have to maintain that proper link to those who helped pave the way for some of today's talent. Not all current singers and groups have this disconnect. It's just that a lot of them just don't have the same passion and fire that makes music fun to begin with. A lot of today's singers don't have the same kind of energy that makes singing fun and that makes music fun. The total package is about a great music score, great singing to accompany the music, and the combination of both to make the music fun and enjoyable for some time to come. That's why so many '90s types reflect back on the '90s and love that decade of music more than what this decade is brining to music.

--- Keeping the Faith and Keeping it Real ---
You now know what I miss about '90s pop and what some of my favorite songs between 1990 and 2000 are. Question now is... are there any artists today or recently that still delivers great pop music in this day and age? I'll name some here.

Leona Lewis.

Leona Lewis sings beautifully with music and style that has a real '90s vibe to it. When "Bleeding Love" come around on radio, I was reminded of Mariah Carey early in her career when I heard Leona sing "Bleeding Love" for the first time. I think her presence keeps a proper connection to '90s-style pop. Her singing and voice really reminds me of Mariah Carey (especially from the early and mid 1990s). Many more of her songs still remains great to listen to while also being very modern. The British vegan is the quintessential classic pop singer in today's music realm.

Jordin Sparks.

Of any artist past or present that manages to deliver a powerful performance in songs while still having that '90s sort of feel, Jordin Sparks is a combination of the '90s and the 2000s. Her singing is incredible while most of her music still has plenty of sugar and spice.

Jennifer Hudson.

Jennifer Hudson is capable of only two things- singing and singing beautifully. The Chicago girl (whom I've highlighted on in my "Plus Size Fashion" blog entry) has a powerful voice and looks awesome. She injects passion in all of her singing and never gives less than 100% in her singing.

Mary J. Blige.

Though not seriously active in music anymore, she's still one of the ones who keeps it real and keeps it classic.


Even though very few people away from the Internet know of her, Anieszka enjoys singing and sings very well. Her style is very much '90s like in the respects featured in this blog entry. You can read more about the Marutian beauty born in Papua New Guinea and from Australia at Anieszka or in My Music Picks.

This next one may surprise you that I'm including this artist:

Taylor Swift.

In a surprising twist, I note Taylor Swift as keeping the '90s style intact. She qualifies under the pop category though she is a country-pop singer. Her music and the passion to her singing is incredible. What Taylor Swift brings to today's music is pretty much what some disliked pop stars of today fail to bring consistently. Whether you like or dislike Taylor, at least respect that this singer/songwriter is one of the true and complete talents in any genre of music. She has a great love of making music and is really inspirational.

This next one isn't an artist, but something that keeps today's pop connected with the '90s.

Hollister and Surfing Culture.

A lot of the music popular among surfers and surf culture keep me with a certain '90s bond. The music is usually just fun to listen to and really remains classic.

--- Two Things I DON'T Miss From '90s Pop... ---
I've talked about things I've missed about '90s pop that were lost in translation to the 2000s and today's pop. There are only two things I don't miss from '90s pop are the following:

Don't Miss: More Original Background Music.

There were a lot of artists that relied on other peoples' songs and musicals to help make their own songs. [The artist formerly known as] Puff Daddy was notorious for this. A lot of artists these days rely less on past songs and come up with more original musical scores.

Don't Miss: The Boy Band Battles.

I never cared much for the boy band battles because... I didn't really care. Maybe the only thing close to any boy band battle today would be the Jonas Brothers vs. Big Time Rush. Backstreet Boys vs. 'N Sync got to get old as teen girls were crazy for both of them. The only other real challenger was 98 Degrees then. Well... them, and Hanson (MMMbop, anyone?). I might have offended my '90s girls by talking down on the boy band madness, but I wasn't all crazy over the whole deal.

If there are other things I don't miss from the '90s pop scene, I'll include them in future edits.

--- Lost in Translation: '90s Pop - Final Thoughts ---
Music is a business. Though it is a business, it shouldn't come to the point where you have more people who can sing rather more people who can sing AND stand out. I can see where the "manufactured talent" comes in that people talk about. More are disappointed that there aren't as many star singers and groups that can diffrentiate themselves and stand out. There are a lot of people who will readily tell you that the '90s are so long gone and that today's music generation is the best. When decades pass, so do some of the names and songs. Some of a current decade or a future decade of talent should be able to pay tribute to music from times past while also providing that style of music that defines a current or future decade.

If you want to talk cultures, today's culture is more about doom and gloom, and it shows a bit in music. There aren't as many fun songs in pop anymore. We're so reflective of the '90s and other decades because that was when music was about music. Talent was about talent. A lot of people are discontent and dissatisfied with today's style of pop that we're so reminiscent of the past. Not many of those who distinguish themselves and stand out are out there. I think Britney Spears and Christina Aguiera were among two of the ones who caused a real generational shift in music not only for their singing, but in being appealing. Those crazy for these two back in the 1990s were all into the belly-baring and the sexy clothes of then.

Most music today is just music and nothing more. Not as many stand out performers exist. Not as many total talents exist. Dare I say it- most music is just noise to a lot of people. Before you go disliking the '90s (or even the '80s) just because those musical times are nowhere on par with today's style of music, just remember what the past decade brought to music and what most of today's songs and artists/groups fail to capture from the past decade.

In other words... honor and respect past generations of pop music. Many of today's names would be nowhere without the past influences of pop music.

What do you think has been lost in translation from '90s pop to today's realm of pop? Feel free to comment with your own material if you'd like to contribute!

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