Ah, it’s not easy being ’90’s dance music. It’s like being an old lady in a tattoo parlor. We had FINALLY defeated carnal paganism in music, or so we thought, musicians like Pearl Jam and R.E.M. were vegan and/or socially conscious, and “alternative” rock, as proffered by Nirvana which bashed he-man misogynist types who would degrade women, was anything but the “alternative.” Room for mindless drunken skin-swapping in there? Hardly.
I attempted to look up the once-purported “techno conspiracy” theory online, which apparently had it that the cultural progress of techno was somehow thwarted in the late ’90’s, but the search was unfruitful — I got a SONG TITLE “Techno Conspiracy,” and I kept getting this crap about “Moog conspiracies” too. It looks like David Byrne isn’t the only gadgetry-oriented neurotic out there, with his claim on the Talking Heads album Fear of Music that “Someone controls the electric guitar”: it would seem only to get worse with the more futuristic moog! I can just imagine a roomful of overly stoned-out doom prophets out there finally confronted with their worst fear: a bunch of musical instruments possessed by the devil! Better stick to just Marshall stacks, for the ’90’s at least.
Anyway, let’s just compare the ’90’s with the ’00’s: on pitchfork.com, The Knife, Cut Copy, The Field, Hercules and Love Affair, Fennesz, and an “endless” bevy of more electronica musicians gain propriety… the music made increased sense for us now barricaded as we were by online reclusiveness and economic downturn, but packed in ever greater number in American cities. That computer-generated beat became synonymous with who we were, to an extent — homogenized droves all after the same token of survival. It was like a retribution for the ’80’s, in which, it seems, dance music was propagated excessively, with the mainstream dominated by Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince, the androgynous George Michael and Boy George… and then it took Sonic Youth, one band, to muster up all the mighty cathartic mayhem in response to this and finally say “Dance sucks! Let’s rock!”
Prince’s biggest hit from the ’90’s was the sedate, somewhat bizarre but palatable “Diamonds and Pearls,” which would be more likely to spur lighter-waving at an AIDS benefit than sweaty cheek-chafing in a club.
So if you asked the Real McCoy what they STAND for, what do you think they’d say? They just can’t let go of the ’80’s? They’re on a cultural crusade to prevent under-population?
This brings me to another typifying element of ’90’s dance: the pointlessness of certain members of the “group,” like that guy in the Real McCoy who comes in just to rap here and there, sounding all weird in the process, too. And obviously, I don’t even have to get into the Backstreets and ‘N Sync, some of whose best characteristics seemed to be their ability to hump on chairs.
In hip-hop, the ’90’s started with A Tribe Called Quest saying “I know I’d be the man / If I cold yanked the plug / On R&B / But I can’t and that’s bugged,” and ended with RZA’s introductory spoken word bit involving the observation: “A lotta rappers out there are trying to make R&B — ‘rap and bullsh**.’” But I mean what about the people have like no musical talent, but still wanna FU**? What are THEY supposed to do? I bet you didn’t think about THAT, did you.
All joking aside, this list is replete with musical redeeming qualities, or I wouldn’t have put it together in the first place. Madonna’s voice and muse are at her most succumbing, charming and evanescent, piping relentlessly over that hypnotic riff that U2 would steal for “Elevation.” And I think if Rednex prove anything, sort of like that one hilljack rapper who came out last year, it’s that hey, we still had to dance. So however they got it done, whether it was the art-eschewing Bloodhound Gang with the Franz Ferdinand post-punk drum pattern, or a pro like Timbaland on the beat, these, my friends, are the underdogs of humanity in the ’90’s who didn’t rap and didn’t rock.
Real McCoy – “Another Night”
Madonna – “Ray of Light”
Ace of Base – “All That She Wants”
Usher – “You Make Me Wanna (JD’s Remix)”
TLC – “I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”
Blackstreet – “No Diggity”
Michael Jackson – “Black or White”
Joey Lawrence – “I Can’t Help Myself”
Aaliyah – “Are You That Somebody?”
Aqua – “Barbie Girl”
Backstreet Boys – “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”
Gloria Estefan – “Turn the Beat around”
The Bloodhound Gang – “The Bad Touch”
Savage Garden – “I Want You”
Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping”
Rednex – “Cotton-Eye Joe”