It’s hard to explain Vanilla Ice, Right Said Fred and Gerardo to anybody who wasn’t there, but for those who lived through the one-hit wonders, they know the 1990s were a decade of wonder. Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States while names like Boris Yeltsin, Yasir Arafat and Nelson Mandela were on the forefront of national politics discussed on the evening news by Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings. The 1990s were a time of unparalleled growth, with computer ownership in homes exploding thanks in large part to the introduction of the Internet and a young wizard named Harry causing record breaking sales in books.
Pop culture is what often defines a decade. What people were watching, listening to and experiencing is what people remember. Despite the unintentional (or was it intentional) comedy behind the likes of those musicians listed above, most people can tell you what was happening in their lives when those songs were popular. If you were too young to remember those musicians, you likely can recall flipping on the TV and seeing Rugrats, Talespin or Ren & Stimpy. Things we thought were great back then are laughable now and there are other things we took for granted at the time that we realize now will always be important to us. Our memories are tied to what was popular in any given time, and that extends beyond just TV and movies. It’s about the first time we ever saw someone, be it Beyonce or the first time we tried something new, like writing an e-mail.
It’s completely subjective what decade is the best, but for those who lived through the 90s and remember everything from the introduction of Gogurt to the retirement of Wayne Gretzky it’s hard to make an argument that the 1990s, in all of its neon splendor, was truly the greatest decade. Here are 12 reasons – the good, the bad and the ugly – why we loved the ’90s.
11. The Sports
From Michael Jordan cementing his legacy as the greatest basketball player to lace up a pair of Nikes to Cal Ripken, Jr. finishing the longest consecutive games streak in the history of baseball, the ‘90s were an amazing time if you’re a sports fan. It was an extreme decade with such events as the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, Mike Tyson getting knocked out for the first time and The Undertaker tossing Mick Foley off the top of a cage. The ‘90s introduced us to a host of athletes who would remain in the forefront for years to come including: Lance Armstrong, The Rock, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter. These are just some of the names who helped make the last decade of the millennium arguably the best.
10. The Sitcoms
Before reality TV and before non-stop police and medical dramas, the 1990s can be pointed to as the last great decade of the sitcom. ‘Friends’ introduced us to six new young stars and ranks in the Top Five of most critics lists of best sitcom of all time. Who can forget “The Rachel” haircut? When “Friends” isn’t at the top of the list, it’s usually replaced with another ‘90s staple, ‘Seinfeld’ which introduced us to such catchphrases as “No Soup For You,” “Yada, Yada, Yada” and “Master of My Domain.” While he had already made some waves with his rap, Will Smith became a megastar after ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ hit our TVs in 1990 Other sitcoms synonymous with the ’90s were ‘Home Improvement,’ ‘Frasier,’ ‘The Nanny,’ ‘Boy Meets World,’ and ‘Blossom.’
9. The Toys
Put a Furby or a Tamagotchi in front of a kid today and they’ll probably say, “Is this all it does?” but these were high-tech toys for the ’90s, especially when you got your Furbies to interact with each other. Tamagotchi can best be described as portable precursor to Farmville. Don’t pay attention to your virtual pet and it all goes to hell. Another technological leap was the introduction of the Nintendo Game Boy, even if it did leave people playing Tetris in their sleep. The nerds of the playground were in love with Pogs, a game that involved little more than slamming round discs into one another and for those who were “outside” kids, you couldn’t be seen with a pair of rollerskates once Rollerblades hit the market.
8. The Junk Food
If people love Rice Krispies Cereal and people love Rice Krispies Treats, then certainly people will love Rice Krispies Treats Cereal, right? It seemed like a great idea to the braintrust at Kellogg’s, but this breakfast cereal never quite took off as planned. Another spin-off cereal, French Toast Crunch couldn’t live up to its predecessor, Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Chocolate is popular in any decade and we were introduced to both Dunkaroos and Butterfinger BBs in the ’90s, but if you had to give the award to one classification of junk food as the most popular of the decade, it would have to be processed fruit category with Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit Gushers and Fruit by the Foot making their way into every lucky kids’ lunch box… provided Mom didn’t care too much about tooth decay.
7. The Clear Liquids
The 1990s were a decade for clear liquids that are no longer with us. Bottled water took an interesting twist with the introduction of Clearly Canadian, a lightly-flavored, slightly-carbonated glass bottle of water. It probably won’t be remembered for much more than introducing us to the loganberry. For those who preferred soda, Sprite briefly introduced us to Sprite Remix and Pepsi even more briefly introduced us to Crystal Pepsi. That’s right, Pepsi that’s clear. Somebody must have lost their job over that one. If adult beverages are more your thing the 1990s saw the rise and fall of Zima, a clear, malt-flavored beverage designed for the person who needed a bridge between wine coolers and beer.
6. Trash TV
Sure, there was the first Gulf War which took a few weeks and plenty of strife in other countries, but in America, we had the rise of tabloid television, a mix of the nightly news, Entertainment Tonight and a talk show. Where else were we going to turn for our daily gossip about the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding ice skating debacle or the latest rumors about Michael Jackson being weird, inappropriate or weirdly inappropriate? Never fear! ‘A Current Affair,’ ‘Hard Copy’ were here. When you needed your fix of lesbian nuns, transvestite eskimos and husbands who slept with their cousins, look no further than ‘Ricki,’ ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ ‘The Sally Jessy Raphael Show’ or ‘Geraldo.’ Shows like ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ and ‘Rescue 911’ tried to put a serious spin on the genre, but trash is trash.
5. The Scandals
Every decade is going to have its scandals and the 1990s were no different. While both Michael Jackson’s behavior and the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding’s rivalry got plenty of headlines, it was more serious scandals that grabbed the attention of the nation. It’s a toss-up whether the saga of O.J. Simpson or the affair of Bill Clinton was bigger news. After all, one involves a National Football League Hall of Famer accused of murdering two people and then running from police on national TV, leading to the most watched trial in history. On the other hand, you’ve got the President of the United States hooking up with an intern in the Oval Office using a cigar for who knows what resulting in a blue dress being an important piece of evidence. He fessed up and was subsequently impeached while O.J. was found not guilty in the criminal trial, but guilty in the civil case. Whichever one was worse, for people who like their scandals televised, nothing has lived up to the ‘90s.
4. The early days of the Internet
Ah, the good old days when people used to surf the ‘Net. Technically, the Internet existed for decades, but aside from geeks in their mother’s basement who were inspired by the Matthew Broderick movie ‘WarGames,’ few people had either heard or knew how to access it. America Online launched in 1991, winning the battle for nationwide access against other online companies like Prodigy and Compuserve, largely because of their popular Instant Messaging feature. Just a year later the game was changed when the European organization CERN revealed a new project called World Wide Web, introducing these weird new things called browsers like Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer into our lives.
3. The Fresh Faces
Every decade welcomes a new group of celebrities. Some flame-out quickly while others seem to never go away. In music, the 1990s introduced us to the debut efforts of Nirvana, Britney Spears, The Foo Fighters, Weezer and Pearl Jam. The ’90s were the first time we saw the popular faces of Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz on a big scale for the first time.
2. The Movies
Hands down, the 1990s was the best decade in the history of motion pictures. Need proof? Fine. How about The Silence of the Lambs, Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Titanic, The Lion King, Pretty Woman, The Sixth Sense, Home Alone, Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, The Matrix, The Jungle Book, Independence Day, Goodfellas, Seven, American Beauty, The Usual Suspects, Schindler’s List, The Big Lebowski, Boyz N The Hood, Reservoir Dogs. Need more proof? Fine. Saving Private Ryan, Trainspotting, Toy Story, Fargo, Edward Scissorhands, American History X, Eyes Wide Shut, American Pie, Good Will Hunting, Philadelphia, Scream, Clueless, Dazed and Confused, Boogie Nights, Sleepless in Seattle and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. We rest our case.
1. The Music changes, and so does MTV
Up until the early 1990s, MTV was the place for pop artists, hair metal bands and clean rap. These musical artists would do whatever they could to get on MTV and the channel reciprocated, showing music videos on nearly a 24-hour loop. Then two things happened. The first was when seven stranger were picked to live in a house on a little show called ‘The Real World’ that doesn’t get enough credit as the show which brought the world the “reality” genre for the first time. It also showed MTV there were more ratings in shows instead of videos. The other was that the musical artists seem to no longer care if they got on MTV. The rise of the grunge and hip-hop movies was decidedly anti-MTV as if rebelling against the music they heard in the 1980s. Yes, we were still introduced to pop acts like The Spice Girls and Christina Aguilera, but once the musical acts realized they didn’t MTV, MTV found a way to not need them.