I can’t believe I bought a brown lipstick today. I wouldn’t have done so, in the past one and a half decade. But, apparently, due to someone who shares her name with the Australian pop sensation Kylie Minogue, they are back now. As are most 90s things. It is a strange sensation, to finally be one of those people who are obsessively nostalgic about whatever they liked from the ages of 0-25. You know, the ones who post YouTube comments that go, “Today’s music is s***. Music from the [insert decade when they were young] is when music was real.” Yes, even I need to point out to young people that Katy Perry kissed a girl once, and Queen Bey used to be in a girl group.
Aging is a gradual, biological process, but being young is a sociological one. The moment you lose it, it will never come back. I cease to be relevant in a conversation about boybands when I first think of Backstreet Boys, and not One Direction. I always thought I could happily be current and yet, discover new in the old at the same time. As a child, I loved Bollywood movies in the 90s (still my favourite decade for them), but I watched tons of them from the 60s and 70s, without ever thinking whether it was cool of me to do so. It was all there, beaming from the same Idiot Box, and I took it the same without confusing, or preferring one over the other. How can you be nostalgic about things when you enjoyed both the current and the past? Aren’t they all part of your own current? And therefore, in ten years time, your past as well?
Say, if someone enjoyed Alicia Keys’ first album in 2001 when they themselves were 40, do they get nostalgic about it now at age 54? Or is nostalgia timelocked only with the condition of being young? That time machine called YouTube certaily makes some of it possible. Because my teen years coincided with the noughties, i.e. 2000s, I lived it more fully on a musical level than it would have been possible for me for any other decade. In twenty years, I could confidently answer in a quiz on Booty Music, where the term bootylicious originated from. But, I also loved The Ramones from the moment I heard “Sheena is a punk rocker” in a compilation CD before YouTube was invented. Does it not also add to my musical experience as a teenager? Where, unlike some people, I was not listening to a piece of music because it was part of some serious legacy, but because it appealed to me on an intrinsic level?
Take The Cure, for example. Leaving the weird visitations from Robert Smith in my dreams aside, I always thought their music wasn’t of a specific period. They started in the late 1970s, but while remaining true to a recognisable sound, they fit in comfortably with every decade ever since. Thus, we can all choose to be collectively nostalgic about them, or accept them as part of the dialogue in our lives that is as current as ever.
I do, sometimes, run into a song or a film or a TV show from my younger days, surprised that I even liked it. Because, I certainly, completely, forgot about it. But, I look at it clearly, and I see what appealed to me about it, this truly disposable pop thing that was a hit only because it represented something specific about that time period. That’s why, despite loving pop culture and often discussing pop culture, I firmly refuse to be a snob about it. Anybody who takes the moral high ground on what should appeal to young people, even if they themselves are young, do not understand the first rule of pop culture – giving the public what it wants. It was necessary for Beyonce to strut through that parking lot in red heels in the “Crazy in Love” video because those who knew her from Destiny’s Child needed to see her as a confident solo artist in her own right. Those complaining about the booty music today fail to remind themselves that it will cease to be relevant as soon as the audience are passed it, not the artists themselves. What will matter, like it has done for all the previous decades, is those who made things that aspired for more than appealing to the current climate, and succeeded at it.
The main casualties of nostalgia are the artists themselves. You can always tell which 50+ rockstar is performing material from their youth because they still enjoy it, and which because they want to feel the glory they once did. All we do is accidentally come across some piece of our youth (even you, young person reading this, will feel like it someday) and feel nostalgic for a moment, without necessarily letting it dictate what we do next. I may have bought brown lipstick, but I’m unlikely to go on an 90s nostalgia overkill. I am unlikely to wonder if Friends is better than The Big Bang Theory (it is, even though I love the second as well), because there is only so much time you can spend being nostalgic. You can try listening to a song about it instead, like Adele’s “Hello”, where those perfect five minutes allows you to reconnect with your own past, even if the song is as current as possible. And all you can give is five minutes, because how much more can you spend on things you’ve already lived through? There’s more to discover, both old and new, even for people who aren’t so young anymore.
The key idea behind nostalgia is, you can’t relive it. You might come across a piece of it, but you won’t get it back. Even if you did, as it often happens in dreams, you are the piece of the puzzle that is irretrievable, because you aren’t the same anymore. Brown lipstick was there, it went away, came back again, and will go away too, probably by Fall ’16. And when it comes back again, I’ll remember wearing it in my late twenties. I might be older relatively to young people now, but there will come a time when this old me will be young again, if only to myself because I will no longer be her.
What do you get nostalgic about?