how does december 1997 compare to december 2017?
It was a good time. It was a bad time. It was a time populated with funky toe socks, Aqua and Blair’s Babes. So how does it compare to now?
In 1997 I was a freshly hatched 16-year-old; the sky was high and blue, the sun clear and bright. Life was optimistic, those huge round paper light shades were the height of sophistication, you could cart your music around with you on your discman, holding it on your flat palm, like an offering to the great gods of popular culture. Everyone watched the same eight TV programs because there were only four channels, you could get into Glastonbury by jumping the fence and you could smoke everywhere. What a time to be alive! Let’s take a trip down memory lane and compare it to now.
Music in 1997:
In 1997 to have ownership of the Christmas number one was to have the keys to the kingdom: it was a time when charts ruled all -- a time where it was your civic duty to tune in to Zoë Ball’s neon-lit domain, Top of the Pops, the live studio audience high on the musk of any Brit Pop artiste that might be gracing the stage that night. To find out who was number one was a mandatory experience for the entire family. So. If you, as a popular recording artist, could capture the spending power of the record buying populace over the festive period and have Britain’s Number One single for Christmas Day™ (a day when the entire nation would sit slumped on the sofa in their individual toe socks and boot cut trows), would you not be the most powerful musician in the land?
The single that topped the charts over Christmas in 1997 was Eh-Oh by The Teletubbies. Let’s take a critical look at it:
The structure of the song is simple, naive at best. The sample of Baa-Baa Black Sheep that the middle eight hangs off of is packed with effects -- like some proto-Kanye nursery rhyme on spice, the drum loops are sugary and lack any gutsy punch that a latter day producer -- The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, et al, could have added. The video features four waddling overweight fools gyrating around what appears to be a nightclub in the wee hours of the dawn, with a goggle-eyed hoover ejaculating custard on them. I’ve been to a lot of gay clubs and frankly, this looks like the most depraved of them all.
The Official Charts are officially dead -- shout out to Spotify who tried to fix the music industry but really ruined it with their complex algorithms, offering you all the songs you could ever possibly imagine you wanted to hear! Which is great* but it doesn’t exactly leave space for kinky baby aliens to capture a nation’s imagination, does it?
It is 1997. I am 16. I have grown breasts and hips and, in the words of my contemporary, Britney Jean Spears, I am not a girl, not yet a woman. Fashion is only available via magazines: The Face (didn’t buy it regularly because the girls at school called it gay, plus frankly, the styling was a bit weird for my hometown’s taste), Cosmopolitan (too many sex tips on how to achieve the best orgasm, Vogue (clothes featured are quite spenny but copying a feature on Hussien Chalayan landed me a job in a top fashion store in 1998).
Let’s have a look at what fashion was on offer:
In 1997 apparently no one had breasts or hips. They had the tailend of heroin chic, of Tom Ford’s Gucci, all hard angles, jutting hips, that square G logo, black gloss and shiny fabrics. There was a lot of suiting and tiny dresses, suspended over tiny frames with spaghetti straps. There was cultural appropriation. The technology to make shiny, holographic fabric had just been delivered to us by God; the dancefloor at Bertie’s, where you could get in with a very bad fake id and no questions asked, looked like a swath of shimmering moon-monkeys on shots of Goldschlager. There was a lot of glittery lurex, a pleasant contrast to the mucho quantity of brown cord that was also on offer. Brown cord and holographic glittery lurex tops. You had to go to the clothes, rather than make them come to you. Saturdays would be spent rotating between these shops and their offerings:
Topshop: Communal changing rooms. Moto jeans that lost their colour and shape after two washes.
Morgan De Toi: No-one who wasn’t a size 8 shopped here. Everything had the Morgan De Toi logo on.
Kookai: No-one who wasn’t a size 8 shopped here. Everything had a white love heart on.
Warehouse: You could buy a suit for £34 here. The jacket would be long and brown pinstripe, the trousers an unflattering flare.
Miss Selfridge: Glittery / holographic / lurex clobber.
French Connection: T shirts with FCUK on.
Karen Millen: Fancy
If say, you saw something you liked on a pop star, you would have to spend months and months keeping your eyes peeled for something similar or endless hours trawling through charity shops to find something vaguely related. There was no As Seen On Screen. There was no buying off the catwalk. You had to work for fashion and quite often fashion did not work for you.
Fashion in 2017.
Anything goes, doesn’t it? Walking into Urban Outfitters, I ask myself, I once owned every single one of these garments, and, here now, in 2017, I do not want a lurex glittery spaghetti strap dress and a pair of brown jumbo cords, thnku.
Politics in 1997.
In 1997 Tony Blair saved us -- he was our generation’s political Jimi Hendrix, he shooed boring old John and Norma Major out of Number Ten and ushered in his groovy little family. He promised us education, education, education, he gave us Blair’s Babes. His 179 seat majority showed an electorate toss aside the tired old Tories -- it was time for New Labour! It was an optimistic time, Britain wasn’t at war, we won Eurovision, we gave Hong Kong back to China, Harry Potter was first published, Scotland voted to create its own parliament, the Titanic came out… and if you didn’t want to take part in any of it you could quite simply opt out by switching the telly off in that gap between Neighbours finishing and the news starting.
Politics in 2017.
Well, it’s complicated, isn’t it. We have a Prime Minister that we didn’t vote for, who’s formed a very expensive coalition that no-one wanted, with a party that no-one knows who they are, with incredibly far right leanings and who voted leave in the Brexit campaign. So who knows! But what we do know that the halcyon days of cool, relatable rockstars being invited to number 10 for a drinks soiree are long gone my friend, long gone.
Films in 1997:
1997 was a seminal year for film. Sem. In. Al. You’ve got Titanic. You’ve got Fifth Element. You’ve got Austin Powers, Men In Black, The Full Monty, Got Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets, Donnie Brasco, Liar Liar, Chasing Amy, Grosse Pointe Blank, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Boogie Nights, A Life Less Ordinary, Jackie Brown. You’ve got Bean. If you weren’t at your local UCI every weekend, where the fuck were you?
Film in 2017:
If you’re not waiting for the Austin Powers reboot, are you even alive?
This article was originally published by i-D UK.