Bright colours, flowing tunics, daisy dukes, direct references to In Living Colour, and tightly-choreographed dance moves—the video for Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s ‘Finesse’ single has the music media abuzz. It’s ‘retro’, it’s full of ‘throwbacks’, it ‘takes memes back to the 90s’. But in the current musical landscape, should this really be so shocking?
The 90s comeback has been a long time coming
‘Finesse’ may be the most strikingly, almost unbearably, 90s music video we’ve seen in recent years, but the trend of referencing the 90s extends at least back to 2015, when XXL compiled this list of 90s-inspired music videos. That list included no less than Rihanna, Big Sean, Joey Bada$$ and Tink amongst followers of this trend.
It’s not just a visual thing either. Musically, many hip-hop and R&B artists in particular have been harkening back to the golden decade in major releases. Nicki Minaj referenced 90s rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot for her blockbuster 2014 single ‘Anaconda’. Fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar has also taken note from the 90s in his recent releases, with 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly encompassing the rap/funk/jazz hybrid that was pioneered by 90s rappers like Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, and Gang Starr. Though sonically different, 2017’s DAMN. also has a 90s influence.
Moving away from the charts and onto the underground scene, UK R&B singer-songwriter NAO has taken inspiration from 90s icons like TLC and Brandy, updating and mutating their styles for the modern (or future) age.
Some of the 90s never went away
It’s not just young guns who are driving this 90s renaissance. Artists who first found fame in the period are still highly-regarded today, with many of them embarking on sellout tours and releasing hit singles and albums.
2018 Coachella headliner Eminem first emerged late in the decade, as did fellow headliner Beyoncé with Destiny’s Child. The festival’s final headliner, The Weeknd, turned to 90s stalwarts Daft Punk to produce some of his latest album, Starboy.
90s rockers Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had two of the highest grossing tours last year, bringing in $151.5million and $60.5million respectively, topping the likes of Adele, Ed Sheeran, and Bruno Mars.
In the rap arena, 90s veterans A Tribe Called Quest found huge success with their 2016 album We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service. Jay-Z continues to captivate the mainstream, despite keeping his music exclusive to his own premium streaming service. DJ Jazzy Jeff has carved out a career as one of the most respected turntablists on the planet, and a mentor to the next generation of producers.
On the electronic music front, the greatest 90s dance acts are still in-demand around the world, with many major DJs headlining global festivals. House producers who were big in the 90s, such as Danny Rampling, A Guy Called Gerald, and Carl Cox are playing major gigs of their own, as well as inspiring young up-and-coming producers and DJs on the scene.
Will the 90s comeback last?
If Cardi B and Bruno Mars ‘Finesse’ video represents the 90s renaissance at its peak, it’s worth asking if the trend is on its way out. At the moment, there’s no way to tell. Certainly, 90s-era artists don’t appear to be losing any steam, and today’s chart-toppers are still looking to them for inspiration.
Perhaps we should look at the late 2010s 90s fascination as a natural continuation of the heavily 80s-inspired early 2010s. (In 2010, the public named the 1980s as their favourite musical decade. The biggest artists of this decade’s first half all drew on the 80s for inspiration.) By that logic, we should be due for a wave of 2000s inspiration in a few years time, followed by nostalgia for… the 2010s. Which will only just be over.
In reality, it seems unlikely that the 90s influence on music (or the 80s influence, for that matter) will ever go away. It just becomes more and less obvious over time. Fans of the decade should rejoice that it’s having another moment.