The word “hipster” has been so broadly defined that it’s close to meaningless now. But I can’t think of any other word to describe the unique sense of shame and retconned nostalgia I feel when I shuffle up pop-punk/alt rock playlists from the 90s and early 2000s on Spotify.
In middle school and through most of high school, I felt that I had some sort of cred to uphold. Since I prided myself on supposedly being set apart from the general crowd at my tiny private high school, I made a point of liking the music that tended to rankle the ESD rank-and-file and despise all of the stuff that they loved. There were some noted exceptions to this: a lot of guys on the football team were also really into Metallica, for example, but generally, I felt I had some sort of “artistic obligation” (urgh) to eschew most radio-friendly alt-rock, hip hop, and pop country (Garth Brooks, Pat Green, et al).
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been forced to admit that I actually like some of this stuff. Bands like Third Eye Blind, Newfound Glory, Jimmy Eat World, and even one-hit wonders like Wheatus and SR71 have crept onto my listening devices with increasing regularity. As a resort, I’m finding myself nostalgic for stuff that I HATED WHEN IT WAS POPULAR. This seems weird to me, and probably makes me more than a little obnoxious, but I have a really half-baked defense ready.
A lot of this music felt nostalgic BACK THEN. Blink 182 and Fallout Boy and their assorted cohort always seemed to be wistfully looking back on misspent youth, and maybe they were. Maybe groups like Sr-71 were just hyper-aware, and thus able to write songs like “Right Now”, that acknowledged how fucked up and shitty their treatment of girlfriends was. Was that era of music really that unique in terms of generational distance? David Cross once derided groups like these very aptly by suggesting that they sang “10th grade suburban white girl lyrics that shouldn’t be coming out of 30 year old men”. Hilarious as that bit is, if we’re going to be cynical about it, what else were these guys going to sing about? In the 1990s and early 2000s, teenagers were the biggest market share for that kind of music, and they wanted to listen to shit that seemed relatable, right? It’s also possible that these bands just weren’t all that creative and were stuck in a songwriting pattern that emerged when they were angst-ridden teens wailing away in garages. 14 year old Bowling for Soup probably wasn’t all that different from 34 year old Bowling for Soup, but on the other hand, Bowling for Soup wrote a song about being in love with girls that were into rap metal, which didn’t exist when they were in junior high, so who knows.
Regardless, I certainly didn’t have the intellectual fortitude to grasp any of these theories when I was 14 myself, but something about a bunch of kids who hadn’t graduated high school ALREADY BEING NOSTALGIC FOR HIGH SCHOOL rubbed me the wrong way. Looking back, I had it pretty made growing up, but like all dumb teenagers I was convinced that the world around me was absolute shit and that I had to escape at all costs. By that token, bands that all seemed to be fronted by wistful, wet-eyed douchebags made me want to rip my hair out.
But like I said…I like this stuff now. It makes me feel nostalgic for a time and place in my life that existed but I was never really a part of. Maybe my newfound appreciation for this stuff comes from my general “who cares” attitude towards 90% of today’s music, both popular and unpopular (thus the cycle of snotty contrarianism continues). As I did when I found all of the popular stuff insufferable, I’ve reached backward, getting more into The Replacements, Fleetwood Mac, and other ands that people usually discover sometime in their mid teens. Maybe my timing’s just off.
Speaking of timing being off, a side tangent: a more grating offshoot of this kind of radio-rock that I enjoy (albeit a bit more ironically) is buttrock, broadly defined as jocks who blew their knees out playing high school football and decided to become sensitive/tortured rock dudes so they could nail stupid chicks. Ever since Michael Nance swept me off my feet with his amazing karaoke rendition, “Lips of an Angel” by Hinder has seemed like something of a calling card for this genre, but this song came out in MOTHERFUCKING 2006. What???! This blows my mind. Everything about this song, video, and the band’s costumes look like it was ripped straight from 1999/2000. They could have shared a double bill with The Calling and Puddle of Mudd. The mind reels.