how pop music archived our most iconic millennial fashion moments

2000s music videos provide a surprising, although wonky, mirror to decades of trends and obsessions.

27 May 2016, 6:25am

Screengrab via YouTube

Fashion has always been the art form of the people. It's not only a way for us to express ourselves individually, but can also serve as a mirror to society at large. Our deepest feelings are shown through what we wear and worship. Looking back on recent history, community growth and regression can be marked and measured by trends; and where are trends at their most concentrated and celebrated? Music videos.

Trawling Youtube provides a surprising insight into our collective conscious. Plus, any excuse to make a case for bringing back leather bootcut pants. 

Y2k and the Rise of the Machines

At the close of the 20th century the world was a scary place. As people hoarded water and swore computers were going to turn on us, music videos became wonky portals into our own fears. It's pretty clear looking at the presence of clips set in outer space and our taste for metallic tracksuits that we weren't feeling super comfortable on earth.

While we might have been nervous about a dystopian future, thanks to the Matrix we were at least looking forward to the outfits. Highlights included TLC's No Scrubs that warned of dead-shit dudes while predicting the dawn of wearable tech, and the Backstreet Boys' legitimately unnerving Larger Than Life.

But the biggest shoutout goes to Jessica Simpson's underrated classic Irresistible. Any pop princess trying to rebrand as a sexual woman with frosted highlights and a Spanish backbeat is worth a mention. But rocking flared leather in the futuristic urban wasteland populated by ninjas just combines too many cultural obsessions of 2002 to ignore.

The (Awkward) Dawn of a Global World

When the internet went from being something on Beyond 2000 to part of post-school life, a lot of things changed. People still love phrases like a "shrinking world" and a "global village", but when the planet suddenly opened up it took us a few years to work out how to process the information overload.

This is awkwardly apparent in our slow wake up to the cultural appropriation conversation. Today we're debating Kim Kardashian's boxer braids while lauding Prada's ability to use clothes to address the immigration experience, but things weren't always so nuanced.

You could write a thesis on the presence of white girls rocking henna, belly chains and elaborate nose rings but Gwen Stefani has emerged as the poster girl of how not to engage with someone else's ethnicity.

When Love. Angel. Music. Baby. turned 10 last year, VICE's Hazel Cills remembered it as a "racist pop Frankenstein". She might have been the only one surrounding herself with a crew of silent, subservient Asian women but she wasn't the only one who fetishised Harajuku culture. The record did take on other themes that feel pressingly current, most notably the pressure of female performers to effortlessly have it all.

Before Clean Living, There Was 'Sex-ercise'

After watching countless clips for this article, this trend really does feel rooted in our obsession with intensely low jeansunder-boob and wearing corsets with everything. Sure today the fusion of fashion and sport feels seamless, but call it athleisure wear or sports luxe—the movement was born at a time when we realised we wanted to feel as shiny and new as our millennium.

Pre Instagram filtered raw food revolutions and green juices, our taste for the 80s' hyper sexual take on fitness remained. There was Eric Prydz's Call on MeMadonna's Hung Up and Goldfrapp's amazing pagan take on the workout video, Alive. But our heart belongs to the ultimate expression of our dawning love of healthy living: Kanye West's The New Workout Plan. What can we say, we're a sucker for a smiling Kanye.

A Bratty Introduction to Fourth-Wave Feminism

When Avril Lavigne released Sk8er Boi in 2002, few would have argued that the singer's Dickies and ties were a lopsided attempt to dislodge gender norms. But considering she was taking on one of the most intense bro crews of the times—Pop Punk—she deserves some credit for those cargo shorts.

Sure, Avril wasn't quite hitting Alessandro Michele levels of fluidity, and the bratty anthem included a bit too much shitting on other girls to count as a cut and try new-feminist classic. But her I-can-do-anything-the-boys-can-do message could arguably position her as a precursor to Carly Rae Jepsen or Taylor Swift. Just with a lot more eyeliner. 


Text Wendy Syfret