The Edumacation of Maxine, Part I: Video Introduces Maxine to the Radio Star

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

People seem to feel pretty strongly either for or against the music of the '90s. There’s the school that thinks music today is garbage. Initially, it appeared these were the people who were into heavy metal and alternative rock, but the sentiment has since overcome those who were into bubblegum pop as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen statements such as this: “Aaron Carter was the Justin Bieber of the ‘90s! Justin Bieber is nothing in comparison.” Then there’s the school that remembers ‘90s music as being pop-dominated and, consequently, terrible … citing people like Paula Abdul, Hanson, Britney Spears.

In discussing '90s music this past weekend, I had a friend tell me she was trying to “put the '90s behind [her]”. I was flabbergasted. “The '90s were the best!!!” And I wasn’t just coming from a nostalgic standpoint. The world, I feel, was a little more innocent back then and unquestionably simpler.

I came of age in the 1990s, but particularly the late '90s. Until recently, my impression of early '90s pop music was saxophones, languid pulses rather than beats, synthesized xylophone-y sounds. Generally, music best relegated to late-night HBO “films”.

I remember thinking Janet was just so cool in this video and wanted to grow up to be just as cool.

Yesterday, I listened to a Pandora station I set up, based on Jordan Knight’s music. It brought up one Boyz II Men song after another, a couple sprinkles of Bobby Brown and New Edition, a couple dashes of Paula Abdul, Janet, Madonna and Color Me Badd. And it none of it was terrible, none of it gave me the heebie jeebies -- the feeling that a pervert would jump out at me with the first saxophone note. But most of all, I was shocked at how familiar I was with ALL of the songs. When did this edumacating happen and why was I not aware of it happening?

As far as I’m concerned, I was not borne to pop radio and pop culture until 1995, 1996. I am an only child to late-life parents, so I had no immediate influences as a child. Nearby cousins were 10 to 15 years older. My routine was pretty much school, park, home, homework, dance class, piano practice, baseball game, and repeat. I watched little television, and when I did, it was “Saved By The Bell” and “Full House”. I even remember thinking Tommy Page was a fictional character created solely for Stephanie Tanner’s birthday party. Maybe because he sang so horribly, it was impossible to believe that anyone would pay money to hear the pretty boy sing. (And now that I'm older, I see he's not even that pretty.)


Alas, I am not nearly as naïve as I once was.

Early exposure to pop music was thus: dancing to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” at a dance recital at 5 or 6, hearing that Donnie Wahlberg had been arrested and for some reason believing that one of the Knight brothers had died, “From A Distance” and other Gulf War tribute songs, Gloria Estefan, Michael Jackson, my mom’s Simon and Garfunkel and Carpenters vinyls, John Tesh, Kenny G, my dad’s affinity for Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Nat King Cole. And smooth jazz radio stations, because that is what my parents had set my clock radio to and I could not reach the top of my dresser to change the station.

Another song I did a ballet-jazz dance to at age 6. 
I thought the song was beautiful then; now I find my finding it beautiful comical.

Around 7 and 8 years old, I started attending summer camp and I had friends who would bring their Walkmans in with their Boyz II Men, Sinead O’Connor and Ace of Base cassettes. Ace of Base and Sinead were alright, but I liked Boyz II Men and I probably listened to the songs over and over again that summer.

Around this time, Mariah Carey was blowing up and was probably suffering from the same sort of overexposure Justin Bieber has been going through. I recall being over at an aunt’s house for a family dinner in what was probably late 1993 and watching a CBS (?) Mariah Carey special. I thought she had the voice of an angel.

I made my first musical purchase in the spring of 1994, and it was Mariah Carey’s “Music Box”. I was so proud of my little tape. I wore out my first copy and pretty much wore out my second soon afterwards.

The kids in my class started bringing in their CD players not long after. Artists I remember: Stone Temple Pilots, Green Day, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, Alanis Morissette (I bought “Jagged Little Pill”, thinking if the kids in my class liked it, I would too), No Doubt, TLC, The Fugees. I was still staunchly attached to my pop music and bought my first and last Mariah Carey CD, “Daydream”.

We got cable television, and a can of worms was slowly opened. On top of Nickelodeon and Disney (“Kids, Incorporated”, where I continued my musical education), I began watching MTV and, on occasion, VH1 (another fantastic resource). And, finally, in 1995, I began listening to pop radio.

Still, between the oh-so-divergent acts of Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey, when did I pick up Color Me Badd and New Edition but go forward unaware of most Beatles and early Madonna songs? I still do not know. But I can definitively tell you that Aaron Carter hung only loosely on the fringes of the '90s. He was probably a bigger deal in Europe and abroad, but I’m pretty sure he is only really known in the U.S. for his song “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)”, which came around in late 2000. And then he sank back into oblivion as far as the general American public was concerned. For all the years I have been a loyal Nick Carter and Backstreet Boys fan, a lot of my friends still cannot differentiate between Nick and his younger brother (of nearly 8 years!!!). Even from any biased perch I may be looking down from, I think Justin Bieber is much, much, much more talented and iconic than Aaron Carter ever was or will be.

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