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The 5 Worst Trends Started By the Class of '99

Brian Setzer strikes up the band. Er, orchestra.
Brian Setzer strikes up the band. Er, orchestra.
Photo by Jason Wolter

Chris Gray's write-up of the Brian Setzer Orchestra's "Christmas Rocks" show at the Arena Theatre a couple of weeks ago got me thinking. These days, the swing maestro seems to be comfortably settled into his own little niche in the music industry, playing swingin' Christmas carols to grown folks. But back in 1999, he was ridin' high on the pop charts. The Swing Revival was of the year's biggest trends, and Setzer was right on the cutting edge of a hot new look and sound.

Now, to put it kindly, he ain't. The Swing Revival was one among many odd little musical fads that took hold of the mainstream in the late '90s. In fact, identifying and exploiting new fads was the dominant business model of the record industry at the time, and it was successful as hell. Record companies had never sold so many copies of hit albums before, and they certainly haven't since.

The king of swing seems to be doing all right for himself, at least. But catching up with Setzer got me curious about what the other survivors of 1999's Year of the Fad are up to these days. Who was buying all of those Jessica Simpson and Coal Chamber CDs, and why can't those artists still move tens of millions of units?

Hey, the holidays are all about reminiscing. Let's revisit the Top 5 musical trends of 1999 and poke around for some answers, shall we?

The 5 Worst Trends Started By the Class of '99
Photo by Jason Wolter

5. The Swing Revival Led by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the Cherry-Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a Swing Revival was in full, uh, bloom in 1999. Couples took swing-dancing classes together, and guys at my high school wore zoot suits to prom. It was certainly novel: Ska acts like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones had softened up rock audiences for a full-blown brass attack, and for a while there, the 1930s became retro-chic.

Honestly, I still find it a little inexplicable. Swing sounded loud and fun and happy, I suppose, even if it was hardly to my taste then or now.

Zenith of Popularity: In 1999, Setzer's cover of the Louis Prima tune "Jump, Jive an' Wail" won the Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. That same year, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played the Super Bowl XXXIII half-time show.

Why It Was Lame: The whole trend was started by a motherfucking Gap commercial. The mall retailer used Prima's version in a "Khakis Swing" commercial in 1998, and I guess they must have sold a shitload of pants, because pretty soon swing was all over TV. At least you could dance to it, but the nostalgia burned out quick in the mainstream.

Where Are They Now? Setzer just brought his Christmas set to the Arena Theatre. BBVD is keeping a lower profile, but they're apparently still active. The Cherry Poppin' Daddies are set to release a new double album in 2013, if you're into that.

 

Korn's Jonathan Davis
Korn's Jonathan Davis
Photo by Jody Perry

4. Nü-Metal Influenced both by the heavy grooves of Pantera and Rage Against the Machine as well as the attitude and flow of hip-hop, a new breed of rockers emerged in the late '90s armed with DJs, dreadlocks and down-tuned guitars. At the head of the movement was Korn, who titled their 1998 smash Follow the Leader as a kiss-off to the imitators.

Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit surpassed their mentors in Korn to become the big, dumb face of nü-metal in 1999 with Significant Other, a record reportedly done solely for the nookie. Kid Rock and the Deftones also broke through to the mainstream.

Zenith of Popularity: Kid Rock's Devil Without a Cause was the tenth-best selling album of 1999, right behind Ricky Martin's Ricky.

Why It Was Lame: A lot of it was whiny. The angst that fueled much of the music proved unsustainable. Many of the trappings of the genre, from rapping front men and DJs to parachute pants and "ethnic" bassists became bizarre clichés overnight. Oh, and a lot of it was just plain awful, moronic music, as pop-metal tends to be.

Where Are They Now? Korn gave dubstep a try last year and released an album with Skrillex. They headlined Buzzfest this summer. The Deftones and Kid Rock continue to successfully tour and record, albeit sounding little like they did in '99. Limp Bizkit reformed to record a few times in the past decades as increasingly fewer fans would be caught dead listening to them. Many others can be seen each month at Scout Bar.

 

Jennifer Lopez at Toyota Center
Jennifer Lopez at Toyota Center
Photo by Marco Torres

3. The Latin Invasion Led by Ricky Martin's smash single, "Livin' La Vida Loca," Latin pop had a huge year in 1999. Established Latin stars Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias made a splash on the charts with their first English-language records that year, and Jennifer Lopez and Lou Bega hit the top spot. Carlos Santana had the biggest smash of his career with Supernatural.

Zenith of Popularity: Released May 11, 1999, Ricky Martin sold 22 million copies worldwide.

Why it was Lame: This was an explosion of commerce, not communication. The breakout English albums of four of the top crossover stars -- Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, J. Lo and Shakira - were all engineered by one company, Sony Music. The Latin Explosion was a marketing strategy from the very beginning, and when the fad was over, Sony was on to the next one. So was America.

Some of the Invasion artists had to work hard to reconnect with Latino fans, many of whom were unimpressed by the concerted effort to attract Anglos.

Where Are They Now? Still touring the world. Ricky Martin headlined Toyota Center last year. J. Lo, Marc and Enrique continue to pack 'em in, too. Santana never has to work again, but he's still out there. Nobody has heard from Lou Bega in about 13 years.

 

Britney Spears between classes.
Britney Spears between classes.

2. Pop Tarts In 1999, record executives suddenly discovered that sexualized teen girls sold records. Blame the Spice Girls, I guess. The most irresistible specimen of all was Britney Spears, who tantalized shamelessly without ever acknowledging her electrified sex appeal. The nice 'n naughty ('n blonde) routine would quickly be replicated to varying degrees of hotness by Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson and a slew of others that nobody wants to remember.

If that paragraph came off a little creepy, you're beginning to get the picture. The teeny-poppers were icons to little girls and lonely men alike. Both, as it turned out, have a lot of disposable income.

Zenith of Popularity: Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time", released January 12, 1999, sold 17.4 million copies that year, making it the biggest-selling debut of all time for a female artist.

The fad was driven by huge singles and hot videos, without a whole lot more going for it. Albums were chock full of garbage filler, and the hits were badly overexposed. The chanteuses may have enjoyed comparisons to Madonna, but Madonna had great songs and shows. Britney Spears didn't even pretend not to lip-sync.

Where Are They Now: Reality TV. Britney Spears judges The X-Factor; Christina Aguilera does The Voice. Jessica Simpson found greater fame playing a ditz on cable than she ever did as a Britney wannabe. Mandy Moore landed a few Hollywood roles and transformed herself from sultry jailbait to America's sweetheart.

 

NKOTBSB at Toyota Center
NKOTBSB at Toyota Center

1. Boy Bands Easily the biggest - and most reviled - trend of the late '90s was the revived boy-band phenomenon. Stepping in to fill the void left by the all-grown-up Boyz II Men, pre-fabricated megastars the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC championed flashy pop harmonies and immaculate facial hair, and the imitators came quickly. Remember 98 Degrees and O-Town? How about Hanson? Admit it, you liked "MMMBop."

Zenith of Popularity: The Backstreet Boys' Millennium, released May 18, 1999, became one of the biggest sellers in music industry history, moving more than 30 million units worldwide.

Why It Was Lame: The boy bands were a cynical money-maker from the very beginning, and almost no effort was made to hide that fact. After witnessing the cash-register destruction caused by New Kids on the Block, professional shyster Lou Perman put together the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC and hit it big. He'd continue the formula with O-Town, Take 5, LFO and a bunch of other hot dudes, many of whom later sued him.

In 2006, it was discovered that Pearlman had been running a massive Ponzi scheme. He's now serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison.

Where Are They Now: None of the Class of '99 found true solo success outside of Justin Timberlake, who fancies himself a leading man these days. The other Backstreet Boys and *NSYNCers pop up occasionally on reality TV, and Nick Lachey hosts stuff. The Backstreet Boys co-headlined Toyota Center last year with NKOTB, new music probably not forthcoming.

The ex-idols who keep out of the limelight are probably all too happy to put the whole thing behind them.



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