IN PRAISE OF 1997 — A HEAUXS THREAUXBACK
“We should have a 1997 party,” my friend Hilary suggested over beers one fateful evening. And at first, I thought, Wow, that’s an oddly specific theme for a party. But then she laid out her justification—1997, 20 years ago, was a cultural touchstone year for us in music, film, TV, cults, cloned sheep and a hell of a lot more. So we put together a spread of of-the-era snacks (think BBQ chicken pizza from California Pizza Kitchen) and a signature cocktail involving Surge (the hangover!), and spent the night reliving this pop culture golden age, complete with costumes.
It’s easy to look at 1997 through a pair of rose-colored ‘70s-revival granny glasses you bought out of the dElia’s catalog. A good economy, the music and movies we cherished, Twitter hadn’t been invented yet. And it should be noted that it wasn’t all grand. Titanic is like 45 minutes too long and we need to accept it. We did allow the swing revival movement to happen, after all, led by a band called Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. We let a band called Cherry Poppin’ Daddies happen. Ew, ew, ew.
Anyway, here’s a handful of our favorite cultural remnants from ‘97, in case you need a little IV drip of nostalgia to take away the sting of our ever-colder present reality.
The “Perfect Pop Song” Formula
The perfect pop song formula is simple: write lyrics about a thoroughly depressing topic and set them to an upbeat, earworm-y medley with an unforgettable chorus. 1997 is chock full of the finest examples of this beautiful synergy, including gleeful meth-abuse anthem “Semi-Charmed Life,” the very singable “3 a.m.,” which is about Rob Thomas’s mom’s battle with cancer. “Tubthumping,” by British anarcho-punks Chumbawamba, is maybe about alcoholism, or at the very least, wasting your youth at the pub, or at the very very least, about the dangers of mixing too many different alcohols. If you take a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink and a cider drink, you’re ending up with a brutal hangover.
At any rate, it’s fun to sing along to delightful hooks about someone’s deep existential pain.
“From North Caaaaaarolina…”
The Bulls are near the bottom of the NBA, second to last in the Eastern Conference at time of writing. I can name approximately one player on their roster without help from Google. Actually, I can name two, because you never forget a name like Quincy Poindexter AND YET. There’s a reason I can still go anywhere in the world, tell a local that I am from Chicago, and there’s a decent chance they will respond with a flourishing swish and a “Michael Jordan!”
Being a Chicago sports fan usually means setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment, heartbreak and listening to Ed from Tinley Park wax poetic about Bear Weather. But we keep coming back for those moments, those years, those dynasties, even, that are pure exhilaration and joy. And the (post-Space Jam) 1997 Bulls—complete with MJ’s iconic “Flu Game” performance—were all of that. Just watching that CGI stampede and hearing Ray Clay’s “Aaaaaaand noooooww…” bouncing off the United Center floor takes me back to a simpler time, one before Michael Jordan was that guy from the crying meme and Dennis Rodman was simply a very good basketball player with colorful hair, instead of potentially the one thing preventing our mutually-assured nuclear demise.
Of course the Spice Girls, perhaps one of history’s greatest examples of an entity being greater than the sum of its parts. Although, the parts mattered, too—ask any ‘90s youth who played Spice Girls with their friends how much time and effort and serious, measured debate went into deciding who was going to be which Spice Girl. You can actually still tell a lot about a person by which Spice Girl they were when they played Spice Girls (I was Sporty.)
But Girl Power as a maxim and theme for the year extended well beyond the release of the iconic, great-bad Spiceworld and its stars. Ellen came out with the “Yep” seen ‘round the world, setting the stage for (still not nearly enough, but hey, some) highly visible queer women on daytime TV! Missy Elliott made trash bags and glittery bike helmets extremely cool! Robyn released her first international jam of many international jams with “Show Me Love.” Erykah Badu implored the skeevy exes of the world to Call Tyrone. Jodi Foster made Contact. Long before Everyone Except Audra McDonald butchered a Rodgers & Hammerstein classic on network TV, Whitney Houston and Brandy improved upon one in the made-for-TV version of Cinderella, which I still watch when I need a reminder that the impossible, is possible.
And, lest we forget, 1997 was the advent of the Lilith Fair tour. Before Sarah McLachlan was most recognizable on your TV, bumming you out with pictures of shelter puppies, she was organizing a festival that put women musicians at the front, and, honestly, tell me you wouldn’t still get excited about this lineup today.
One of the few redeemable things about 2017 has been the long-delayed return of Shania Twain, who is back! Finally! With new music! And cameos on Broad City! And the return of Shania was the perfect opportunity to revisit her iconic album, Come On Over, which played pretty much exclusively in the Eanet Family Car from 1997 through about 2002.
In these trying and divided times, it can be refreshing, almost a relief, to find something on which we can all agree. I believe our Canadian country-crossover queen is one of those things. If you do not believe me, at the next wedding you’re at, when “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” inevitably comes on, watch literally everyone report to the dance floor immediately. Shania Twain will bring us all together.
Oh, but wait! You thought this was going to end with “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” didn’t you? Oh, no, friends. We haven’t even touched the karaoke standard that is “That Don’t Impress Me Much” or THE BALLADS. “From This Moment On” with Bryan White! “You’re Still The One,” which provided the soundtrack to many a sweaty-palmed bar mitzvah slow dance in the late ‘90s/early aughts. Just, go dig this album out of your CD case already.