Five Things I Have Learned Watching VH1′s “100 Greatest Songs Of The 90s”

Dec 21st, 2007 // 14 Comments

smellslikenostalgia.jpgIf you’ve been paying attention to Idolator lately, it’s pretty clear that, thanks to some “shit, I’m old” spasm, I’ve been on a pretty sad enjoyable 90s nostalgia kick. Still, I wouldn’t have needed the specter of aging to twist my arm to sit through VH1′s 100 Greatest Songs Of The 90s, and of course I’ve been enjoying it in full knowledge of the final list, which hasn’t stopped me from groaning with displeasure when “Ice Ice Baby” is unveiled ahead of “No Diggity,” because I’m a very sick man who probably needs to drop out of American society entirely for some kind of pop cultural master cleanse. But for tonight’s final installment, I believe will heed the words of commenter “orangepixistix”: “I don’t know if I would really say half of this list makes sense as ‘top’ songs for the 90s, but I do think they are the songs that probably stood out for the 90s when it comes to mainstream music…. I sort of wish certain songs were higher and certain songs even made but list but I guess I cannot complain. Every generated list, even if its based on on-line votes, will have some sort of flaw.” So true. And so in lieu of kvetching about things we cannot complain about, here are five things I have learned watching this monstrosity every night this week.

1. Liz Phair thinks “Sex And Candy” is the greatest song of the ’90s: Just jam your thumb in the wound there, Liz.

2. Rock critics are officially swimming in the deep end without the little arm floaty things on these shows: Surely I can’t be the only rock critic hopeful to nervously note this, right? In the midst of the non-stop mugging over the true meaning of “Peaches” (debate thumbnail: Dave Holmes thinks its about fruit, Mark McGrath thinks it might go deeper), Rob Sheffield will pop up to try to add a little winky socio-historical whatever to his quippery (“the Presidents Of The United States Of America were actually signed to an indie label owned by Cheech Marin’s son”*) and he’ll immediately be elbowed aside by Godfrey’s willingness to do the Hammer dance in a flannel shirt or that Squirt TV douche strapping on a pair of fake dreads and singing “Mr. Jones.” I’m already practicing supermaning that ho now for when I’m (hopefully!) called up to the bigs for the “100 Greatest Songs Of The ’00s.” If you’re reading, VH1, I’m making the little pinky-thumb telephone right now.**

3. “Never trust a big butt and a smile”: Why yes, male VH1 talking heads, that is just as true now (high-fives!) as when it was released, when of course I would have been young enough to be confused as to why a big butt would prove a liability later in life. If only I had a time machine and access to Ronnie DeVoe.

4. Comedians on VH1 countdown shows have achieved some no-jokes-necessary zen: Sweetest gig in history. The dude comedians just have to recite the lyrics of the song in question in an exaggerated monotone. (“And all you rappers in the Top 10….” long pause to allow drool to collect in slack jaw “…please allow me to bump thee.”) The chick comedians do the same, except in the voice of Shirley Hemphill. (“You so crazy”–head does 360 swivel–”I think I wanna have your baby!”) This has been a long and ongoing process and so surely someone has written an entire thesis (or blog post) on it re. the dumbing down of comedy in the context of VH1 listicles, but it’s become the default mode as of this ’90s show, i.e. impossible to ignore, your enjoyment contingent on the kinda thrilling don’t-give-a-fuck-just-please-pay-me nihilism of it all.

4A. My roommate asks: “Are Nelson ever filmed without guitars now?”

5. I don’t care what anyone says, I will enjoy watching these shows until the site of my eyes shrivel up and pop out of my skull: Even with the stack of books piling up unread next to my bed (like Planet Of Slums is going to stand a chance against Hanson kissing Ice Cube’s ass), even with the full understanding of the fact that it’s the same show every time (except exponentially dumber and with different kitsch elements plugged in), even with the even fuller understanding that my enjoyment is predicated on being part of multiple problems (I will not be spared when the comet finally comes), VH1′s gravitational pull (especially when intoxicated) is strong, and I have grown to respect it. Anyone who thinks that makes me a bad person can kick those nasty thoughts on over to 1-900-MIX-ALOT. (Make bug eyes at camera and then cut to the next post.)

EARLIER: VH1 Ranks The ’90s, Blames Gerardo Inclusion On Viewers

* Not actually true.
**Totally serious. I have flexible morals and a total lack of shame despite horrid Catholic upbringing. Call me.

  1. Dickdogfood

    The dude comedians just have to recite the lyrics of the song in question in an exaggerated monotone.

    I think the rock-crit equivalent of this is music-blogging.

  2. Maura Johnston

    The irony of Nelson never being filmed without guitars these days is that it was the keyboardist who was *really* the hot one.


  3. Dickdogfood

    Also: I have flexible morals and a total lack of shame despite horrid Catholic upbringing.

    Despite or because of, Jess?

  4. Jess Harvell

    a little from both columns, mike.

    i also forgot to add: “3A. Andrew WK can make the weird faces from the ‘Black Hole Sun’ video without the aid of special effects: But we probably coulda guessed that.”

  5. Al Shipley

    One thing I will say about this list: a lot of the songs suck, but at least VH1 is mostly sticking to their guns with stuff they actually played during the 90′s. There’s something really unseemly about the way they have their cake and eat it too with the “one hit wonders”/”awesomely bad” lists that pay backhanded compliments to shit the channel unironically forced on the viewing public at the time.

  6. Anonymous

    @maura: The keyboardist is pretty hot, but it’s not too hard to look better than the Daryl-Hannah-twins.

  7. SuperUnison

    For what it’s worth, Patton Oswalt has a great bit about being fired from a Vh1 gig.
    @GovernmentNames: I agree, it makes me wonder if that kind of thing as it exists now (Soulja Boy etc.) is elevated in a way that is designed with a future kitsch lifespan in mind.

  8. Maura Johnston

    @SuperUnison: I think about yr second point a lot, actually, what with the way culture right now takes “all press is good press” to a completely absurdist level.

  9. heyzeus

    Bad news, Jess. There will be no “Best Videos of the ’00s” because nobody has yet seen a video in this decade.

  10. Jess Harvell

    i refuse to believe america isn’t waiting for me to imitate ok go on the treadmills in comedy slo-mo

  11. hotshot

    @heyzeus: True but this is the best “songs,” not “videos.”

    That said, I was this crap with regularity and can’t be pulled away from it. A few weeks back, VH-1 did a Top 40 Videos of 2007 thing like this, and I”ll be damned if I’d seen, max, 10 from that list.

    Actually, though, I think the popularity of the music video in the ’90s is part of the draw of this series. For instance, in my mind, “Black Hole Sun” and its video can’t be looked at separately — they’re a single entity almost. If there ever were a Best Songs of the ’00s special, they’d certainly include video clips in the series — just to get some visuals on the screen — but, really, what good would they do? They certainly wouldn’t inspire the nostalgia that this list does.

  12. hotshot

    @hotshot: *was=watch

  13. prolixrush

    Is it just me, or is Rob Sheffield slowly morphing into a Bratz doll?

  14. Jasonbob7

    @SuperUnison: Also, Michael Showalter has an episode of his web series (The Michael Showalter Showalter) where he takes the piss out of Michael Ian Black about his career in pop-culture commentary. Check it here:

    I always looked at Mo Rocca as the black sheep of the Daily Show’s early correspondents. Anyone else feel that way?

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