Style vs. Substance in the '90's

As we enter into 2013, we are going to start to hear a more familiar style creep in. And, hopefully, it will start to make sense based on where we have been from the 50’s up to now. In the 80’s we explored the introduction of spectacle into artistry and the role that it played in the substance and tone of the artist.

The 90’s introduced styles like “grunge” rock and “bubble gum” pop with bands like Nirvana and N’SYNC. These groups truly represent the opposite extremes of the spectrum of style and definitely attract different crowds of listeners. Interestingly, this is also when you start to see a style emerge in the listener as well as the artist.

Nirvana’s “Grunge” vibe in songs such as “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Silver” were definitely more about the music than the production. The style was full of ripped t-shirts, scrubby jeans, and unwashed hair. And if you’ve ever hung out with a hipster, you know that in trying to NOT look mainstream, you create a new alternative mainstream. This is exactly what happened with grunge rock. It was very “anti-establishment” and rebellious which, ironically, created an army of followers who all looked just like Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain. We saw tons of bands follow in their footsteps with a similar rock sound and similar lemming-like followers. I’m not hating here. I promise, this was the music of my adolescence. But the further we get from Nirvana in the rock world the more watered down the sound became and the stronger the intentional effort to “look” grunge emerged. This was also where we started hearing the word “poser”…someone who basically tries to hard to be a certain way but lacks the authenticity.

Then you have N’SYNC…pop candy at it’s finest; a boy band of clean-cut, attractive, heartthrobs whose sole job was to tug the heartstrings of young screaming girls. Sounds like The Beatles right? The difference here is that The Beatles came for the music and then the girls flocked, much to their surprise. With new boy bands, the initial purpose was to make girls swoon. Sure, they made quality hooks and fun, sing-able pop music, but the goal was to woo a demographic of fans as opposed to the voice, the music, or the message being the main attraction.

As always, there are exceptions. I’ll talk more about those next decade, but for now, go listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, put on your dirtiest t-shirt, and dive into the grit.

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