the a-z of y2k
Image by Terrell Davis
Tight leather pants, silver eyeshadow, shiny clothing, Oakleys, gradients, blobby electronics — for a brief moment at the end of the 90s and the start of the 00s, it appears popular culture really did catch the millennium bug. With the Cold War resigned to history and politics lending a sense of prosperity to all, the aesthetic of the time was gripped by a dot-com boom-fueled optimism. Sure, anthrax, 9/11 and the War on Terror lay just around the corner, but how were we to know that when the future seemed as bright and certain as a successful Victoria Beckham's solo career? Evan Collins' Institute for Y2K Aesthetics Tumblr page archives the era, so we asked this master of all things millennial to construct a special A-Z guide to the year 2000. So, switch on your lava lamp, take a seat in your inflatable chair, and reminisce about a time when holograms and iridescent clothing made as much sense as us all living inside The Matrix. Let the digital rain fall...
A is for Apple: With the release of the iMac G3 in 1998, Apple set off the trend for the colorful, blobby, transparent plastic that would make its way into the design of every product imaginable. The tech giant continues to release interfaces and electronics that carried this aesthetic through the early 2000s.
Honorable Mentions: Aaliyah, AOL, MTV's Amp, androgyny, Airline Industries, 'alien/altered/surreal' imagery, Attik.
B is for Blob: The era saw the rise of anything and everything blobby — from Blobjects, Blobitecture, blobs on album covers, to works by artists like Faiyaz Jafri.
Honorable Mentions: Biomorphism, Bubblegum Dance, Big Beat, "boyband body armor."
C is for 'Cyberbabes': With the advancing capabilities of rendering software coinciding with a concurrent interest in internet avatars and characters, you had all of these 'cyberbabes' (that's really the term they used back then) popping up to fill every sort of niche. From Motorola Mya, the "24-hour talking internet" with a commercial during the 2000 Oscars, to 'E-Cyas', a virtual pop star created for the online community 'Cycosmos'.
Honorable Mentions: The Crystal Method.
D is for Dotcoms: The dotcom boom of the late 90s (and the era's overall economic prosperity) fueled all sorts of insanity. You had million-dollar Super Bowl commercials for companies that would be defunct in a matter of months, products allowing you to 'smell the internet', and a $16 million party held at the MGM Grand by a sham company.
Honorable Mentions: Dreamcast, Dance Dance Revolution, Diesel StyleLab, dyed hair in all sorts of bright unnatural colors.
E is for Emigre: The influential digital foundry was responsible for designing fonts popular in the Y2K-era like Dogma, Platelet, and Dead History. The availability of digital fonts and modeling software in the 1990s led to widespread experimentation in graphic design and typography, with 3D text, various effects, and 'techno' fonts like Cyberotica, Aura, Flexure, and Dr.No-b.
Honorable Mentions: Electronica, adding an 'e-' to everything, GM's EV-1, email-themed pop groups, The Electric Highway Tour.
F is for Future-optimism: Techno-utopian ideals, imagery, and concepts inspired by rapid advancements in technology, the rise of the internet, and the relative calm following the end of the Cold War found their way into popular culture and art. Works by Mariko Mori and Micha Klein have a sense of serenity to them — a future where technology and humanity have merged peacefully.
Honorable Mentions: FRUiTS Magazine, FF Blur, Future Systems, Flux Television.
G is for Garbage: The incorporation of electronica sounds in both the 'Version 2.0' and 'beautiful garbage' eras, the futuristic fashion of Shirley Manson, and their cgi-saturated graphic aesthetics.
Honorable Mentions: Greg Lynn, Gap, George Michael.
H is for Hype Williams: The prolific director created iconic music videos for Janet Jackson, Busta Rhymes, and Missy Elliott among many others. Along with Mark Romanek, Joseph Kahn, and Chris Cunningham, he's one of the most influential directors of the time; his use of warped 'fisheye' perspective, shiny synthetic outfits, and futuristic environments helped define the era.
Honorable Mentions: 'Hair antennae'.
I is for Inflatables: Revived after their initial popularity in the 1970s, there was a proliferation of inflatable products, clothing, and architecture fitting within the overall interest in blobby forms and morphable temporary objects.
J is for Jet Set Radio Future: Representative of that excited, kinetic look and sound of the Y2K era, exaggerated characters were decked out in goggles, giant cargo pants, and ravey hairstyles.
K is for Karim Rashid: Almost single-handedly responsible for the rise of blobjects in the late 1990s, his extensive work in nearly every field of design exemplifies the candy-colored, translucent, soft, bubbly, gradated and sleek look of the Y2K era.
L is for Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes: The TLC rapper went for a very futuristic aesthetic, especially during the Fanmail era, in collaboration with other artists, and in her unfortunately short-lived solo career.
Honorable Mentions: Virtual VJ 'Lili', Lenny Kravitz.
M is for The Matrix: Very influential at the time, the film inspired a Christian Dior couture show, countless 'Matrix-themed' pop albums and so many videos, a line of sunglasses, the 'digital rain' motif, bullet-time effects, and a limited edition Nokia cellphone.
Honorable Mentions: Marc Newson, Me Company, Madonna, Max Martin, minibuns.
O is for Oakley: 90s Dennis Rodman's choice of eyewear, the brand's sleek, experimental, and strange designs popped up all over the place in Y2K fashion.
Honorable Mentions: one9ine design, Orgy, Olive.
P is for Prada Sport: In particular, the brand's 1999 collections exemplify the Y2K trend of 'utility chic,' different from the spacey, ravey, W-style aesthetic. It was characterized by the prevalence of sleek synthetic materials, buttons, zippers, plastic buckles, drawstrings, 'utility pouches', and experimentation with convertible clothing and wearable storage. Very popular within the D'n'B scene.
Honorable Mentions: Pseudo.com.
Q is for Qkumba Zoo: Though the trio is mainly remembered for the 1996 hit "The Child Inside," their 'tribal-techno' look was very representative of a larger trend at the time, seen in the fashion of Gwen Stefani, The Tribe, Janet Jackson, ravers, and fashion magazines.
R is for Rave Culture: Though warehouse raving may have peaked earlier in the 1990s, the culture's influence on the mainstream reached an apex in 2000, with companies aping the look of rave flyers and media, multiple movies being released over the course of that year, Moby's ubiquity, and a Time Magazine cover story.
Honorable Mentions: Ross Lovegrove.
S is for Sony: Though it has declined over the last fifteen years, back in 2000 Sony's influence on technological culture was pervasive, pushing out futuristic products like the Aibo and Glasstron, launching giant 'urban entertainment centers' like the Metreon, and releasing endless varieties of blobby CD and Minidisc players.
Honorable Mentions: Stefano Giovannoni, Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Sneaker Pimps, The Site.
T is for Translucency: Along with other aesthetic tropes like gradients, blur, overlays, and warping, translucency shows up in nearly every field of design from this era. Architecture, fashion, graphic, and industrial design all became obsessed with this quality, which was made more accessible through advancements in CAD and materials.
Honorable Mentions: Timbaland, T26.
U is for Ulala: The heroine of Space Channel 5 represents the influence of 1960's & 70's design on the Y2K aesthetic. It was characterized by the resurgence of space themes, metallic clothing, forms inspired by earlier architectural experiments in Organic and Googie architecture, and blobby environments.
Honorable Mentions: Urban Decay.
V is for Vaporware: Far too many to list with the dotcom boom giving rise to endless failed companies and products that never came to fruition, though one of note is the Scout Modo. While it wasn't technically vaporware, the product and service only lasted two months (it actually went on sale in LA the day after the company folded).
W is for Wipeout: The influential 1995 video game mixed futuristic graphics with electronic music, and was designed by prominent firm The Designers Republic. The sequel Wipeout 2097 pushed the mix even further, with improved graphics and tracks by Fluke, The Chemical Brothers, and The Prodigy.
X is for Xybernaut: The Y2K era was the first big wave of 'wearables', the Xybernaut 'Poma' being one of them. Even big names got involved: Philips collaborated with Levi's to create an 'Industrial Clothing Division'. The line, released in the summer of 2000, included a jacket with a built-in MP3 player and cellphone.
Z is for Zorotl" Yes, the 'blue' guy in the Eiffel 65 videos had a name, and his own solo career! He's just one of many examples of the proliferation of novelty hits; if it was popular at the time, someone probably made a song about it. Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the Dancing Baby, even parody bands had charting songs!