Kids these days: idolising the late 90s

Publish date:
July 16, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged that most young people go through a phase of believing that they were "born in the wrong era". Face it, we've all been there, whether it's down to our taste in music or our love for the style of a particular decade. Sometimes it's kind of cute; other times it's just embarrassing. In recent months, however, something weird is happening. The kids of today are starting to wish that they were my age, as I discovered when I ran across the above screenshot from Tumblr.

For today's Tumblr teens, it's apparently all about the mid to late 90s - and the perception of those years as more special times. Devoid of Justin Bieber, a sacred era in pop culture history when the outcast reigned supreme and music really meant something, man. When it wasn't about being trendy and popular and people wore less makeup. There's just one thing: I'm not sure which 90s they're talking about, because they're not the 90s I remember.

Blink 182 and Green Day on the radio? Okay, maybe sometimes. But you'd probably have to listen pretty hard to find their songs between manufactured boy bands, girl bands, and Celine Dion. Let me recall gems from the likes of Aqua, Billie Piper, Steps, and S Club 7 - it's a painful process. From across the pond we had Britney, NSYNC and Jessica Simpson. And then there was UK garage, beloved by everyone at school, to the extent that I remember girls decorating their homework diaries with the lyrics to Shanks & Bigfoot's "Sweet Like Chocolate".

Denim jackets with badges and studs teamed with tartan skirts as the fashion? Tumblr teens obviously aren't old enough to remember that most kids of the mid to late 90s were either clad in head to toe sportswear, or seriously unflattering jeans. Come non-uniform day at school they'd better have been rocking a Fila sweatshirt/Kappa jacket/Adidas trousers/Nike shoes combo, or perhaps high-waisted bootcut jeans teamed with a logo tee from Morgan or Kookai. Let's not even talk about the tacky jewellery. "Not skimpy shorts and belly tops"? The 90s were the decade of the belly top. "Just some eyeliner was enough"? These kids obviously don't remember body glitter and hair mascara.

I'm willing to concede that if you lived in some happening, diverse city, your 90s may have been like that. But for the average small-town teen, the decade was an altogether more generic experience. Popularity and sex were definitely major concerns - who can forget the rash of teen movies with their stereotypes, cliques, and virginity-themed plotlines? And granted, fewer people had phones and computers, but when they did, they wouldn't stop going on about chatrooms. Or the Millennium Bug. It's a shame those teens looking back with nostalgia aren't able to remember the joy of creating your own website with Geocities because that defined an era and united outcasts like nothing else.

All in all, the late 90s definitely weren't a golden era for the alternative teen. There were, of course, just as many of us - angsty, miserable, scribbling in journals and sticking two fingers up at the popular gang. In fact plenty of us, just like today's youngsters, were wishing we'd been around to witness another era. Yes, it was all about the 60s, a decade beloved of 90s bands both in the UK (Britpop - be still my beating heart!) and across the pond; suddenly in the news again thanks to it being thirty years since the Summer of Love, Swinging London and heading to the Haight to turn on, tune in and drop out.

In the 60s, outcasts reigned supreme and it was all about the music, or so I thought. I spent a good couple of years clad in flares and beaded jewellery, pinning peace sign badges on my school backpack and listening to the Stones and Jimi Hendrix on my CD walkman. Had Tumblr been around, I would have been posting pictures of Brian Jones and lamenting that I, too, was born in the wrong era.

Longing for the past is nothing new, but it truly is weird when kids are pining for an idealised version of your own not-so-distant past. I think I know how my mother felt when I asked her, starry-eyed, "What were the '60s like, Mum?".