Charli XCX, Troye Sivan, and Music’s Nostalgia Obsession

Remember when nostalgia was thought-about lame? Specifically, a bit of underneath 15 years in the past, when Wichita Falls pop-punks Bowling for Soup’s cowl of Baltimore kindred spirits SR-71’s “1985” grew to become a minor hit on the airwaves. (Interestingly, each bands dispute who got here up with the thought to have Bowling for Soup cowl the music — an occasion the place remembering the previous felled each outfits.) Both variations differ barely of their references to their titular yr — swapping George Michael for Duran Duran, including call-outs to snakeskin and The Osbournes — however the narrative stays the identical: A married-with-children lady named Debbie retreats to her supposed ’80s glory days to flee the drudgery of her fashionable life. Her youngsters assume she’s uncool, she’s on Prozac, and he or she has what each bands confer with disparagingly as an “common life.” Her escapism is forged as unhappy — pathetic, even — each by advantage of what she desires of, and what she’s craving to run away from.

For a lot of the 2010s, taking a stance in opposition to nostalgia has been as modern as, effectively, listening to Bowling for Soup or SR-71. Over the previous a number of years particularly, wanting backward to previous eras and pop-cultural artifacts has infiltrated practically each nook of mainstream in style tradition —from pure-and-uncut style workout routines like Stranger Things and Mandy to reboots of virtually each historic property possible, from Scream and Roseanne to Murphy Brown.

Musicians have at all times borrowed from previous eras and sounds, however the veil of nostalgia has not often weighed heavier than within the 2010s; chillwave — an electronics-heavy sub-genre of indie rock that zeroed in on hazy samples and flickering-VHS visuals — was initially met with derision however has since confirmed probably the most prescient musical motion of the last decade. Big-ticket rock bands starting from Paramore to the 1975 have pleasurably pilfered the ’80s’ clear, neon sounds with nice success, rappers starting from Joey Bada$$ to A$AP Rocky have gone again to the effectively of their style’s previous stylistic tics, and up to date strains of indie rock have resurrected the combination of sincerity and sneer that embodied the style’s ’90s heyday. On their music “Like Dylan within the Movies,” Scottish indie-pop act Belle & Sebastian (whose identify, mockingly, was taken from a 1960s French cartoon) informed us, “don’t look again”; over 20 years later, wanting again is all we do.

In 2018, even the world of pop — a style of music so completely consumed with the thought of “new” that its monetary stability and cultural relevance virtually rely on it — has educated its often-wayward gaze towards the previous. The preoccupation hasn’t a lot borne fruit musically (relating to developments, little or no has) because it has lyrically: over the previous a number of months particularly, two pop artists have launched singles named after years, their lyrics loaded with pop-cultural references and a way of craving for what’s been left to reminiscence. What’s extra, each musical expressions of nostalgia come from throughout the pond: there’s British pop upstart Anne-Marie’s “2002,” which was one thing of a worldwide hit earlier this yr earlier than seeing launch within the U.S. in August, and futuristic pop genius Charli XCX’s just-released Troye Sivan collab “1999.”

Despite sounding radically totally different from each other, each “2002” and “1999” share just a few issues in widespread: for one, their lyrical considerations are anchored by pop-culture references that quantity to literal namechecks and never way more. Anne-Marie and Charli each explicitly reference Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” a single from 1999 that additionally counts as one of some anachronistic references on Anne-Marie’s finish, together with an allusion to Jay-Z’s 2004 single “99 Problems.” “2002” and “1999” additionally use nostalgic visible cues to promote their respective “remember-when” flights of fancy. The video for the previous options dance routines lifted from Britney’s aforementioned hit in addition to N’SYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye” (from 2000 — choose a yr and persist with it, Anne-Marie!); the only artwork for “1999” options Charli and Troye decked out as Neo and Trinity from The Matrix, bullet-time not included, whereas the video visually calls out 1990s artifacts from Titanic to G-Shock watches and Surge soda.

With a gargantuan listing of songwriters starting from Ed Sheeran, Benny Blanco, and Julia Michaels to Nelly, Max Martin, and Ice-T, “2002” leans particularly laborious on its references, with a shortly delivered refrain over an ethereal guitar-led construction that namechecks the aforementioned songs, together with Britney’s “Oops, I Did It Again!” and Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” in addition to a flashy pattern of Nate Dogg’s iconic “Hold up” hook from Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.” The message isn’t particularly deep in any other case — reminiscences of misplaced love and good occasions with associates, the notion that only one kiss can kick you again to the early aughts — and in a considerably sublimely ironic twist, the staid unique sounds a lot better when given a bouncy trop-house spin on the remix from Irish DJ Jay Pryor.

It’s unsurprising that “2002” sounds higher when forged as an EDM-adjacent banger; one of many few identifiable lyrical qualities of the advertising term-as-genre designator has at all times been connecting wistfulness for the previous with a way of impulsiveness towards the current, future be damned. The present period of Charli’s music is usually all in regards to the future, sonically and lyrically —her deliriously glitchy “Femmebot,” from 2017’s instant-classic Pop 2, casts synthetic intelligence and sexual politics as each intertwined and diametrically reverse to one another—so a primary hear of “1999” generally is a little jarring, as she waxes about “Drivin’ round/ Listenin’ to Shady” over the kind of springy electro motif she seemingly commissions in her sleep.

But Charli’s additionally established herself as certainly one of pop’s most potent chroniclers of millennial ennui, and so there’s one thing extra advanced than first kisses and dancing on automobile hoods being expressed on “1999.” “Never underneath stress, oh/ Those days it was so a lot better,” she intones robotically, after shouting out All That and CDs. “Feelin’ cool in my youth, relaxin’/ No cash, no issues/ It was straightforward again then.” There’s a deeper sense of craving in these strains, one thing that scratches the floor past “Lol Gushers.” For most of millennials’ pure lives, the world has been more and more and catastrophically fucked, and all indicators level to the phobia practice we’re all presently using not stopping any time quickly. Can you blame Charli — or anybody, actually — for eager to basically retreat to a carefree, nearly womblike state?

If you adopted music on-line on the flip of this decade — particularly when you labored in music writing — you seemingly witnessed the beforehand talked about derision towards chillwave, which shared a lot of “1999”’s core beliefs. Practitioners (and shoppers) of the style had been criticized for a supposed ideological infantilism, chalking up chillwave’s nostalgic impulses to stoned laziness. The decade progressed, issues acquired more and more extra horrible, and out of the blue every little thing — “1999” included — was virtually chillwave. People younger sufficient to know that voting for Brexit or Trump is a nasty concept desperately want an escape from know-how’s stranglehold and the gross, despicable, and unavoidable public horrors of the each day information cycle. If the kind of nostalgia that Charli XCX and (much less successfully) Anne-Marie are peddling isn’t one of the simplest ways to dissociate for a couple of minutes, then the place are the higher choices?