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Nostalgia Item #2: Why Do We Long from Music of the Past, Anyway?

We seem to be in the midsts of a period of nostalgia for music of the 90s. To be fair, though, it’s not just music; it’s a lot of stuff from that era: movies, TV, video games–in short, pop culture of all sorts. Why? takes a look at the science of nostalgia.

It’s fitting that nostalgia, as we know it today, was “discovered” in the ‘90s, because nostalgia for the ‘90s is booming.

Take “The Splat”. It’s a daily block of programming on TeenNick that only airs classic Nickelodeon shows like “The Rugrats” and “Hey Arnold!” during its 8-hour, late-night run. Most of these shows are from the ‘90s (there’s some earlier and later Nickelodeon sprinkled in the mix) and are surrounded by classic ad-break bumps from the era. It’s actually an extension of what used to be a 2-hour long block of programming. Much like the expansion of Cartoon Network’s [adult swim], “The Splat” has grown into a behemoth block of TV — only instead of imported anime and raunchy originals, it’s serving up Nick programming from the archives.

‘90s nostalgia shows no sign of slowing, really. The “X-Files” and its precursor “Twin Peaks” have gotten revivals, defining acts across the musical spectrum like Sleater-Kinney and Wu-Tang Clan have launched full-on reunions, and the classic MTV programming block “The 10 Spot” has been turned into the hit musical “Hamilton”. (That’s what it’s about, right? Haven’t been able to score tickets.)

Video game nostalgia’s been creeping towards the ‘90s in the broader culture, too. Many, if not most gamers today are too young to remember the boom era of arcades. Instead, they started with home consoles like the original Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES). Nintendo’s leveraged their stellar library of 8-bit games in the past on handhelds and digital download services, but now they’re going full nostalgia overload with the NES Classic. For $60 dollars — the price of a single new, on-disc Xbox or Playstation game — you can buy an adorably miniaturized version of the NES preloaded with 30 games. There’s not a single Christmas disappointment game on that list either — all-time triumphs like Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and all three original Super Mario Brothers games make the line-up.

Of course, nostalgia can also be the icing on top of something brand new. From “The Shining” to “The Green Mile”, Stephen King was dominant throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Now Netflix’s “Stranger Things” has plugged King’s sense for the terrifying and strange into the equally nostalgia-inducing adventure formula of Amblin films like “The Goonies” and “Jurassic Park”.Netflix seems happy with this approach: this year they also plugged Baz Luhrmann (with ‘90s hits to his name like “Romeo + Juliet” and, you might not know, that earworm “Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen”) into the ‘70s Bronx musical revolution. Creators and aesthetics with heavy roots in the ‘90s are being thrust into the spotlight in projects new and old everywhere you look.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37880 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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