Whitney’s Gone, But the ’90s Are Still Alive

    Now, one might think her passing last Saturday marks the final nail in the coffin of this golden, pre-millennial era. But curiously enough, despite the fact that we’ve been mourning Houston’s career and the industry itself for the past decade, the legacy of the ’90s is alive and well on the pop charts today. 

    Just look at Adele. The British singer touts the kind of traditional mainstream pop ballads that made singers like Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion such wildly popular recording artists, and the public has responded in kind; her mega-hit 21 has spent the most weeks on the top albums chart since the ‘90s (when the “Titanic” soundtrack spent 16 weeks on top). 

    Though the pop charts are mostly full of a lack of subtlety (Rihanna, LMFAO), Adele recalls a distant time when artists dressed all fancy and sang songs that made people want to cry, rather than have really raunchy sex. When it comes down to it, a song like “Someone Like You” isn’t so different from “I Will Always Love You” — it’s sob-worthy vocal histrionics that every mom in America can love.

    But Adele isn’t the only throwback artist on the radio these days. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne rivals the excess of Diddy, Biggie and, well, Jay-Z himself in the ’90s. To be fair, hip-hop hasn’t exactly lost its penchant for champagne and bling — it seems popular rappers will always spend a reasonable amount of time bragging. But in recent years, a significant change has also occurred: hip-hop is turni
    ng inward, a trend made evident by Kanye himself. 

    While many rappers are still reveling in and overwhelmed by their wealth in the same way The Notorious B.I.G. was in “Mo Money Mo Problems” (take Drake on last year’s Take Care, for example), this conflict is finally being reflected in the sound itself. Hip-hop in the ’90s was all maximalist braggadocio — horns a plenty, samples on top of samples on top of samples, crooning female vocalists — but today it’s all minimalist melancholy. 

    Records like Kanye’s own 808’s and Heartbreak, the aforementioned Drake and Shabazz Palaces’ brilliant Black Up aim for an aesthetic more often seen in the work dubstep producers like James Blake, imbued with distant electronics that recall silence instead of lush musicalit
    y.
    But Watch the Throne was different, which is why it feels so dated and out of place already. Tracks like “H.A.M” and “Niggas In Paris” ignore the more interesting turns that hip-hop has made since the ‘90s, giving the work an air of nostalgia for a time that was ultimately so ridiculous we’d like to forget it.

    Still, it’s no surprise that the Grammys piled the awards on Adele last Sunday. The award show is yet another institution longing for the money-soaked times of the 1990s. The problem is, such throwbacks ignore the music that actually defines here and now. 

    They should take a hint: Most of the ’90s heroes are dead — Tupac, Biggie, now Whitney — and times aren’t nearly as affluent. It’s about time we recognized what’s current, instead of putting on an out-of-touch show for soccer moms who don’t know any better. 

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