Last month during an episode of my podcast, Striking a Chord, my producer Rich and I found ourselves having a heated and totally spontaneous debate about award shows and whether today’s music is better or worse than the music we listened to as adolescents and twenty-something year-olds. It was in the middle of this fiery discussion when Producer Rich said to me, as I was passionately trying to explain that today’s music doesn’t even remotely compare to (most) music from the 90s and 2000s, “Your nostalgia is showing.” Rich’s comment made me feel much how I imagine my parents have felt any time I’ve ever called them old fashioned for not understanding the music I love. Suddenly, I was that person, the one who yells, “You damn kids better stay off my lawn!” At 35 years old I felt like a dinosaur arguing that the inappropriateness of much of today’s pop and hip-hop music is far worse than the days when Madonna and Britney kissed at an award show or Eminem insulted just about every single person in the audience at those same awards shows. When did I become someone who says their generation’s music is superior to another’s? In that moment, I wasn’t sure when or how it happened, but I was going to embrace it, the old lady in me be damned.
Now, before anyone goes and gets offended, let me stress that I do not hate all new music. I repeat – I DO NOT HATE ALL NEW MUSIC. In fact, if you’ve ever read an article I’ve written for this website or listened to any episode of my podcast, then you should know I am the first to tell people about new music and new and up and coming artists you may not otherwise know about. I dedicate an entire segment of Striking a Chord to this very topic during every episode. I’ve always prided myself on being the one to share breaking music with others because I think it’s extremely important to spread the word about rising artists and give them as much exposure as possible. That’s how artists become big and well-known and (hopefully) get radio play, record deals and added to tour and festival line-ups. Whether I was burning CDs, creating mix CDs for friends so they could hear the songs I was loving so we could go to the same concerts together later, or I was sharing the latest bands I’d discovered with listeners on my afternoon radio show in college, having local bands come in studio to play, writing articles for this magazine spotlighting the most talented up and coming artists I could find, or telling you about all of the new music released on a weekly basis during my podcast, my niche as a music fan and connoisseur is always to share new music and artists with my fellow music fans. It’s just what I do.
Now, with that said, I think it’s fair that although I’m still very much a fan of new music being released today, I can also be biased and prefer one decade of music to another. I think we’re all biased on some level when it comes to the music we listen to, and that’s okay. There is a difference between being stuck in your ways and refusing to acknowledge the progression in music and just preferring the sounds from a time when music felt like more to you. I’m the first to say that music has to evolve or else we’ll always get the same album over and over from our favorite bands, and that gets old. Also, if music never evolved, we wouldn’t have the artists who over time eventually become icons and staples in the music industry. Music must evolve to stay relevant and refreshing, otherwise it just becomes background noise that nobody wants to pay attention to. So, trust me when I say that I am by no means against the evolution of music. I want to make that unquestionably clear.
What I mean when I say I think music from the 90s and the 2000s is better than a lot of the music we hear today is that the quality of the music seemed to matter more then. Artists just seemed to care more and therefore, put more effort into the music they were making. Their music had a message, even if the generation before didn’t quite understand it. And sure, that can be said for probably every decade of music, but when you think of some of the songs that have become popular in the last 5-10 years, I mean, can you honestly say with a straight face that a song like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” or Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” are quality songs? That those are the songs that will be remembered decades from now as life-changing songs? Who are you trying to kid, here? And by no means am I trying to knock anyone for their tastes in music. People like what they like. But in the grand scheme of things…I mean, COME ON!
Recently, I was in the car with my brother out running errands and we were jamming out to some of our favorite alternative and hard rock songs from the late 90s and early to mid- 2000s, and I remember thinking, “Man, they just don’t make music like they used to.” Again, a statement I know my parents, aunts, and uncles have all said many times before about the music they grew up listening to, and it’s a fair statement to make. There’s something extra special about music you grow up listening to and discovering on your own because you realize that’s the moment you really fell in love with music in a way that’s so much more meaningful because it feels like it’s your own. It’s personal and relatable and you feel like no one can take it away from you. It’s always there in the back of your mind and can always remind you of a certain time in your life, whether an event or a person or a place. And I think the reason I hold on so tightly to the music of the 90s and early to mid-2000s is because it’s the last decade when music felt like more than just another form of entertainment. Sure, there were plenty of earworm songs and songs that made no sense whatsoever to us, but even those were better than half of what you hear on radio or the most popular curated playlists on whatever streaming service you use today.
Songs like The Offspring’s “Self-Esteem” and Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand” and Green Day’s “Basket Case” and the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” and Incubus’s “Wish You Were Here” and Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” and Linkin Park’s “In the End” and Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” are all songs that come to my mind as songs that will always be etched in the minds of anyone who came out of that generation because these are songs that still hold up today. Do we really think in the next decade to follow that anyone is going to remember songs like “WAP” or “Thank U Next”? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it. Again, it’s about quality. It’s about music that leaves its mark, and today’s music (in my opinion) just falls short on the lasting impact scale. You can call me biased and critical and maybe even jaded (though it’s possible I will be called worse after this article), but when it comes to music, the best songs always stay with us. And I guess what the point to this long-winded article was, to remind us all that it’s okay to get nostalgic over the music from our past. Sing along to your favorite songs from 20 years ago, share them with your younger friends and family members, and tell them what you felt the first time you heard those songs on the radio because streaming services weren’t even an idea back then. Describe to them what it was like hearing those songs live in concert and being able to enjoy the shit out of those shows because smart phones didn’t exist, and people didn’t have them held up in the air like lighters.
Let your nostalgia out for all to see and wave it proudly. Just remember to reel it back in a little when you start to sound like the grumpy old man who watches from his window to make sure no one steps on his grass.