Some useful notes regarding the Real Life 1990s, from tropers who remember the decade.
- For the first time in U.S. history, more Americans lived in affluent suburban neighborhoods rather than in cities or towns or on farms. Fueled by this millions-strong middle class, the American "consumer culture" that had been burgeoning since The '50s reached its apotheosis. There were more creature comforts and general amusements than ever before (including some that were relatively new for the decade, such as cellular phones and hand-held video game consoles), as well as more people to enjoy them and more dollars with which to buy them. The factor most responsible for setting the stage for this fabulous prosperity remains controversial among social scientists and political pundits, but the general consensus is that the country was reaping a generation's worth of benefits from a dramatic economic shift (dubbed the "New Economy") that had phased out the old industrial labor market (which, had allegedly subordinated the material interests of laborers to those of management) and reoriented American workers toward businesses that capitalized more on individual ingenuity and creativity (such as computer technology).
- The 1990s were the point at which drug awareness reached its peak. Anti-drug public service announcements were sprinkled in between shows aimed at eight-year-olds, most of whom weren't exactly being offered to begin with. note Programs like DARE were at their most aggressive (and least effective), and Rachael Leigh Cook was tearing up her kitchen for unclear reasons. Amongst adults, employee drug tests were ubiquitous no matter your line of work.
- Moral Guardians were at their most hot-and-bothered since The '50s, as a result of shows like Beavis And Butthead and The Simpsons, violent video games (more on that below) and musicians like Marilyn Manson and most Gangsta Rap artists. The guardianship was thought to have jumped the shark in 1994 when a Jerry Falwell-produced video claimed that President Bill Clinton was a Serial Killer who had ordered hits on political enemies, but it came back with a vengeance after Columbine provided them with a holy grail of things to panic about — two teenagers who played Doom and listened to "violent" rock music shooting up their school while dressed in black.
- In the UK, there was a fair bit of controversy surrounding the James Bulger case of 1993, infamously involving two ten-year-old boys murdering the much younger Bulger, and it had been rumored they were trying to imitate horror movies such as Child's Play 3, naturally prompting a moral panic over the effects of violent media on children.
- TV ads were still the dominant form of marketing in the '90s. Because everyone was watching either cable or over-the-air TV, the formulaic advertisements that provided a telephone number ("Call 1-800-[number]"/"You must be 18 or older to call"/"But wait, there's more!") with the blue background and scrolling yellow letters were very familiar. While they still exist today, they serve as a nostalgic throwback.
- Anything being marketed to Gen-Xers became in your face and EXTREME!!! It usually came in one of two flavors: "Don't Just (verb), (verb) TO THE EXTREME!!!" or "This isn't your grandma's (noun)."
- Product synergy reached its weirdness apex in the '90s when Disney partnered with Nestle to create the Wonder Ball, a ball of hollow chocolate with character-shaped candy inside, and a hell of a lot of packaging.
- The '90s was also the decade in which advertisers sought to drive a wedge in between parents and kids. There was no shortage of ads that appealed to kids by outright excluding adults from the activities they enjoy, or in a more subtle form, creating "kids' clubs" so that kids can enjoy Burger King without the interference of the buzzkill parents that actually purchased the meal.
- Partisan politics (in the US) were extremely volatile, though nowhere near as much as today. Until the 1990s, right-wing media was more or less restricted to print, but new elements like The Rush Limbaugh Show (est. 1988) and Fox News Channel (est. 1996) helped bring political arguments into every day life. Left-wing media still had a few years to catch up.
- Though they'd made an attempt on the World Trade Center in 1993 and were certainly on the public's radar, radical Muslim terrorists weren't the hot-button terrorist threat du jour. In the US at least, that was mostly homegrown militia groups, religious cults, and other nutballs. The Unabomber, Oklahoma City, and the Atlanta Olympic Games are the most famous incidents, but there were many others, including a pair of high-profile abortion clinic bombings, and many feared an attack where they lived. Though domestic terrorism certainly didn't end, the media focus turned to Islamic extremism late in the decade.
- In the UK, the IRA continued to be a threat, albeit a diminishing one, until quite late in the decade, thanks to some political wheeling and dealing that required one of the Ulster Loyalist parties propping up John Major's government, and the continued financial support of the IRA from Noraid in the US.
- Starting in the '90s, a lot of the stigma surrounding such things as cohabitation and single-parent homes started to slowly fade away. (Murphy Brown's single motherhood — a fact of life that seems ridiculously banal today — was actually an issue in the 1992 Presidential election.) As opposed to the earlier decades when people kept problems to themselves, the mental focus of the '90s was all about being open with one's life issues. Gay rights were just starting to become a topic of conversation, though cultural mores generally kept gay relationships in subtext rather than text.
- School busing had become very unwieldy in some parts of the country, with very few kids going to their local school unless they had no other choice. So how did kids get to school? More often than not, your parents drove you. Unlike in The '50s, there was no stigma against it — that was just how you got there. Since this was the era of "Stranger Danger", it would only be under the rarest circumstances that a kid would walk to school — usually, only if you could see the school from your front yard, and maybe not even then. If you couldn't walk, and your parents couldn't drive you, only then did you take the bus. If you didn't have parents or a bus as an option (a possibility, if your school had enough students within walking distance that it didn't run buses), you walked in a group.
- People began to realize that the school day ended a couple of hours before the workday (typically a school day is 8:00 to 3:00, while a workday is from 9:00 to 5:00), which meant we had kids with some free time on their hands with no supervision. Obviously, we couldn't have that, so schools began investing in after-school programs to keep kids away from gangs, rap music, violent video games, and afternoon TV. Of course, these were optional, so many kids went home after the school day anyway — and which activities were offered, if any were offered at all, depended on the school.
- Also, people began taking note of the fact that few people went to their local school, so they began lobbying for a way to not pay taxes to a school they weren't even using. For a few months, a hot topic of debate in some parts of the country was the creation of "school vouchers", which allowed residents to apply their school taxes to a school of their choosing. A lot of private schools really liked this idea for obvious reasons, but it didn't gain enough traction to be successful. Part of the problem that many liberals had with it was that it would not only drain the public school system of money, but that said money would be put into religious schools — and in America, any proposal that would likely lead to government funding of religious institutions is a huge no-no in many quarters.
- Another hot-button issue surrounding education was the fact that some school districts had much less than other school districts, meaning they didn't even have the costs to cover anything but the most basic education. A "Robin Hood" legislation was proposed, where the richer districts would share their wealth with the poorer ones. Given what that proposal sounds like to most Americans, it went over about as well as a lead balloon.
- And a third hot-button issue surrounding education, particularly in affluent areas of the Northeast section of the United States, was the cousin of school vouchers (which were mainly utilized by various Catholic schools, not public ones), the "desegregation" program. There was a lot of backpedaling by officials to note that it did not refer to race, it referred to mixing "underprivileged" students in with affluent ones. Call it what you like, it didn't go over well either.
- Unlike in, say, The '50s, there was a huge stigma around dropping out of school. Not having a high school diploma essentially doomed one to a life of flipping burgers, pushing shopping carts, and other menial, low-paying jobs with few prospects. Skipping class was also a no-no and carried some heavy penalties. Going to college was more or less expected and was considered the rule, not the exception. While not going to college wasn't terrible for you, if you didn't instead get a good job or enter the military right out of high school you were seen as slacking off. This may have had something to do with a lot of fathers in the era being Vietnam veterans, whose schooling was either interrupted or impossible due to being drafted. They wanted their children to have the education they never got.
- Columbine changed the game at school, if only for a brief time. Towards the end of the '90s, most schools started really ramping-up security measures in fears that they would be the next target of a shooting. There would also usually be a seminar about being tolerant of other viewpoints and so on. But, for some reason, no one thought to tackle bullying; it would be about another decade before that became a hot-button issue.
- In general, it is worth noting things were a bit different to our counterparts across The Pond. For example, most people still generally went to their local school, and usually walked or took the bus (not the yellow-liveried school buses found in American movies, these would mostly just be normal buses provided by local bus and coach companies if not just the regular bus service). As car ownership continued to be ever on the increase, there was often much talk of the dreaded "School Run" which caused congestion outside of pretty much every establishment that parents were dropping their little darlings off at, much to the annoyance of older generations.
- This being in the days before Academies and Free Schools, most of the time secondary school kids would still be attending their local comprehensive (only a few areas still having grammar schools) and (except in Scotland) studying according to the National Curriculum, introduced by the Government at the end of The '80s.
- On the subject of the National Curriculum, this was the decade the National Curriculum assessments, colloquially known as "SATs" were brought in, designed to test kids in English, Maths, and Science at the end of every "Key Stage" (typically at the end of Years 2, 6 and 9). These have attracted a lot of criticism (including from teachers' unions) over the stress they were supposedly putting kids under, teaching to the tests, their use as part of school league tables etc.
- As for the US networks, NBC was the king of the roost thanks to its lineup of sitcoms. Fox had The Simpsons, The X-Files, and its massive sports contracts to fall back on, and CBS and ABC were neck-and-neck at the bottom. ABC did have a success story with TGIF, though. 1995 saw the birth of The WB and UPN, and while neither would reach the mass appeal of the Big Four, they would ultimately be successful within their own niches (teenagers and young adults for the WB, and African-Americans for UPN).
- Cable (and, in the US, it was just cable; satellite TV didn't become a thing until very late in the decade like it did in the UK) was still largely a wasteland of reruns, syndicated shows, cooking shows, infomercials, movies, and scrambled softcore porn. The common joke about cable, as told in a famous Bruce Springsteen song, was that it was "57 channels and nothin' on." USA Network, for instance, was mainly known in those days for their game show reruns and the USA Cartoon Express. The few channels that did become popular did so by carving out their own niches instead of trying to compete with broadcast television; MTV targeted teenage and young adult music fans, ESPN targeted sports fans, HBO targeted movie buffs, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon dueled for children's viewership, and the Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and TLC competed for people who wanted to feel smart. It was only at the end of the decade when HBO started debuting shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City proved that cable was a viable outlet for popular original programming; before then, the Big Four networks stood dominant.
- By the middle of the decade, digital cable, using fiber-optics and advanced (for the time) set-top boxes began to be offered, with many more channels available (including spinoffs of more popular networks, as well as the "multiplex" networks of premium channels like HBO) and an interactive programming guide, amongst other features. This soon became widespread by the beginning of the next decade.
- In the UK, it was this decade that finished The BBC and ITV duopoly once and for all, thanks in part to the deregulation of the Thatcher government and the emergence of satellite TV (and to a lesser extent cable). In terms of satellite TV, there was a short-lived rivalry between the government-backed British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), offering a 5-channel lineup of varied, mostly British-oriented fare, and Rupert Murdoch's Sky, broadcasting on the pan-European Astra satellite along with a number of other early satellite/cable ventures, and relying much more on entertainment and US imports. This ended with the two services eventually "merging" (read: BSB was taken over by Sky) in late 1990. On the terrestrial front, Channel 4 stopped being funded by ITV, and took a more commercial direction with sometimes raunchy live entertainment shows, as opposed to the more dry, intellectual fare it presented in The '80s; whilst the launch of Channel Five (with accompanying Spice Girls videos) promised a new, fresh approach to over-the-air broadcasting (but ultimately being notorious for its mildly sordid late night fare).
- The '90s was more or less the decade of the sitcom. Cheers, Married... with Children, and Seinfeld led the way, followed by Frasier and Friends. The two most popular setups for sitcoms in the era seemed to be either a) dysfunctional families (taking after Married..., Roseanne, and The Simpsons), or b) "hip" singles in the city, often living together (taking after Frasier and Friends). Sturgeon's Law, of course, was in full effect, and since the aforementioned shows were so popular, a deluge of uninspired copycats trying to cash in on the trend. The worst sitcoms today would seem positively mediocre compared to some of the things that aired back then, like Charlie Hoover.
- Animal Planet launched in 1996 as a spin-off of the Discovery Channel, focusing on nature and wildlife-centric programming. The network is still running strong decades later.
- The 24-hour cable news machine really got its motor running in the '90s, starting with CNN's famous coverage of the Gulf War. With national stories coming to a head (Bill Clinton's involvement with Monica Lewinsky; JonBenet Ramsey; Columbine; O.J. Simpson), a combination of the networks and the Internet made reporting what it is today (same info repeated ad nauseum, new info as needed). Sadly, this also started the trend of news networks latching onto and subsequently over-reporting on whatever they deemed to be the "next big thing".
- The Game Show genre hit its lowest point since the quiz-show scandals during the decade, as show after show got canceled. Of the shows that debuted in syndication for the 1990-91 season (reboots of Tic-Tac-Dough and The Joker's Wild, Quiz Kids Challenge, Trump Card and The Challengers), none survived into the next season, primarily because of the Wheel of Fortune/Jeopardy! combo snagging the good timeslots and destroying any other games put against it. The networks, especially NBC and ABC, had completely cleared their schedules of games by 1995, and CBS merely had The Price Is Right by that time. However, cable networks began to take over instead- the USA Network had both originals and plenty of reruns, and what was then The Family Channel took a similar approach. Nickelodeon had their own shows, as did Lifetime. GSN launched in 1994, to the delight of fans of the classics. But by the end of the decade, nearly all of the original cable games had ended, with Lifetime, USA and the newly-renamed Fox Family having eliminated their games, while Nickelodeon began focusing on other programming; and the GSN originals of the time (especially the infamous Extreme Gong) weren't very good. But at the tail-end of the decade, when ABC decided to import a show from Britain called Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the genre was given new life, with new prime-time games popping up overnight- even if half the new shows were Millionaire clones. This carried over into the next decade, with mixed results.
- Viewership of a show lived and died on the TV ratings. If, say, the network scheduled your favorite show out of order or preempted it with sports, the best you could hope for was to write a letter and hope they read it. There were no DVDs for repeated watching of a show, and whilst some shows might have got a VHS release (which was often impractical due to the bulky tapes taking up vast amounts of shelf space), Keep Circulating the Tapes applied in a lot more cases. Online communities (to get the word out about the mistreatment of a show) were still embryonic — it was only late in the decade that networks began caring (slightly) about a show's online "buzz", as this meant that the show was reaching a wealthy and educated audience. (The X-Files was one of the first shows to really see growth in popularity connected to its internet fandom.)
- Reality TV was getting its start with MTV's The Real World, but the genre didn't seriously pick up until the 2000s.
- The Star Trek franchise was at its zenith with three almost concurrent series in that decade, not to mention the feature films. However, viable TV competitors to Trek's Space Opera monopoly finally arose with the ambitious Babylon 5 and the amazingly enduring Stargate SG-1.
- Across The Pond, by contrast, this is the decade where Doctor Who was mainly conspicuous by its absence from TV screens, having been cancelled by The BBC in 1989. The one Hope Spot was the TV movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor designed to try and finally crack the US market for the show it never took off into a new series, which would have to wait until 2005. A loyal fanbase meant the franchise, along with various spinoffs and tributes, continued in other media, though.
- This is the decade where international interest in telenovelas truly exploded, expanding even further that it was in the previous decade. The decade was practically dominated by Mexican shows, with Venezuelan ones following its steps, at least during the first half. Thalia became a household name on three continents, thanks to the three "María" soaps she starred, up to María la del Barrio. On the latter half, interest for productions from Brazil and Colombia's soaps increased, due to the comparatively "grittier" and "realistic" feeling they had compared with the most classical Mexican exports, without putting the romance on the backseat. Among the Brazilian soaps, series like Pantanal and Xica da Silva generated intercontinental interest, while Colombia grabbed some on its own with Café con aroma de Mujer, Las Aguas Mansas, and Yo soy Betty, la fea.
- Western Animation started coming into its own after decades of stagnation.
- Fox Kids and Kids' WB! started in this decade, challenging the Big 3 with innovative programming (excepting NBC, which quit early in the decade to focus on Saved by the Bell and its ilk).
- After decades in the Animation Age Ghetto, animated series began to appear that were aimed at adults as well as children — and sometimes not even particularly at children. The Simpsons was the show that started this boom, acting as an edgy pop culture touchstone for much of the decade, its characters' catch phrases entering the "hip" lexicon. Following in its wake, Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man: The Animated Series, and most notoriously, South Park (among other less than successful attempts) really started to push the envelope as to what stories could be told via animation, often with fantastic results. Even children's shows like Rocko's Modern Life, Ren & Stimpy, and Animaniacs played a giant game of "let's see what we can slip past the censors" and often won.
- Action cartoons also began to try and break out of the ghetto with Hanna-Barbera's SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron, ABC's Sonic Sat Am (based off the mega-popular video game), and Universal's Exosquad having lots of rather violent action and dark plots for kids' cartoons; ultimately this, along with a bunch of other factors (What-A-Cartoon (see below) causing SWAT Kats to be canceled, Disney acquired ABC and remade it's Saturday AM lineup, resulting in Sonic getting the boot; Exosquad, being syndicated, was placed in crappy timeslots) caused them to end before they should've. All three series still retain an immense following (with Sonic continuing in a way via the Archie Comics series, and the creators of SWAT Kats creating a Kickstarter in 2015 for a rebooted series).
- Owing to the fact that cable was still a luxury for much of the decade, all of the broadcast networks still had their own Saturday Morning Cartoon blocks, and some even had afternoon cartoon blocks (when kids were just coming home from school).
- Cartoon Network began in 1992, initially airing reruns of older cartoons, before producing What A Cartoon! Show and Dexter's Laboratory in the middle part of the decade and continued to grow with the creation of the Cartoon Cartoons block showcasing original programming.
- Disney fans frequently cherish the decade as the studio's second Golden Age, an era known as the "Disney Renaissance". After a brief Dork Age in The '80s, the Mouse Factory came roaring back with a string of hits in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story. As a child growing up in The '90s, you were ostracized if you had not seen The Lion King yet.
- On that note, Toy Story started the trend towards using CGI in animated movies. While 2D and 3D animation lived side-by-side for The '90s, ever-improving CGI and the runaway success of Pixar meant that the handwriting was increasingly on the wall for traditional 2D cel animation.
- More accurately, Toy Story was the film that proved to the public that CGI was a valid animation format. As far as the animation industry at large is concerned, the title of "Trend Starter" belongs to Beauty and the Beast. The ballroom dance scene from that film, which was rendered completely by computer, was specifically pointed out as one of the reasons Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best picture, something previously considered impossible.
- DreamWorks Animation also began its rivalry with Pixar with their debut feature, Antz. Like Pixar's second feature film, A Bug's Life, it was a cgi animated film centered around bugs that was released in 1998. DreamWorks still did 2D features as well during this time as well, such as The Prince of Egypt, though they did not match the commercial success of their CGI films.
- Also on the 3D animation front, ReBoot got underway in 1994, as the first CGI-made TV series, and (much like ABC stablemate Sonic) gained renown for its complex plots. Unfortunately, when Disney took over ABC they banished Sonic and ReBoot back to Canada. However, ReBoot managed to survive in syndication and on Cartoon Network, and also led to Transformers being revived with the equally complex Beast Wars.
- And CGI was being used by most of the major networks and affiliates for news intros, movie presentations, idents, etc.
- Don Bluth's animation studio saw a string of flops in the first half of the 90s and closed after it went bankrupt in 1995. He rebounded though after being hired by 20th Century Fox to led their new animation division Fox Animation Studios. He and his longtime employee Gary Goldman co-directed the unit's first feature Anastasia. The film was Bluth's biggest success since the 80s and was one of the most successful animated films of the decade to not come from Disney. They also directed the direct to video sequel Bartok the Magnificent, the only sequel that Bluth has worked on in his career.
- Anime was just starting to gain a following in the United States. To begin with, though, whilst AKIRA might have proved that the medium could be taken seriously as adult entertainment, much of it was still adapted for kids. Girls had Sailor Moon and the boys had Dragon Ball Z, and... that was about it unless you wanted to really do some hardcore searching.note Of course, these anime were Bowdlerised out the wazoo, but most kids didn't know, as they had nothing to compare it to. The only way to acquire manga was through specialty stores and importers, and it was expensive and often poorly translated (if at all). In 1998, Pokémon showed up and really kick-started the anime boom, allowing it to take root in the West and become the industry it is today.
- Meanwhile, the liberation of air broadcasting in several Latin American countries in the early-mid '90s led to the need to fill endless hours of broadcast time in the early morning and late afternoon/early evening. With what they filled it, you ask? With several hundred hours of dubbed anime (mostly licensed Toei Animation fare), that's what. The anime boom came to Latin America a decade before it landed in the US, with series like Ranma ½, Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball (the full series, not just Dragon Ball Z), Slam Dunk and Captain Tsubasa, among dozens of others, becoming household names on par with The Simpsons south of the border.
- In the UK, anime fandom to some extent mirrored the US, though perhaps due to some terrestrial broadcasters' continuing public-service commitments leading them to show "niche" content, some anime being shown on Channel 4 in late-night slots and even BBC2 apparently showing Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise and possibly even AKIRA. (This has rarely been repeated since outside of Film4's occasional showing of Studio Ghibli films and one or two others.) However, anime's reputation in the country did suffer from the fact that most anime releases did tend to suffer from All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles syndrome, being violent, horrific or sexual. Then as now, there's also been a lot of No Export for You.
- Like the UK, anime exposure in Australia to some extent mirrored the US, but niche adult content such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Samurai Champloo were aired on SBS.
- Anime and manga also started to influence mainstream Western culture as well. Ghost in the Shell, for example, has been cited as a key influence on The Matrix.
- In other Japanese media news, the live-action Super Sentai franchise was also redone as an American production in 1993 and took hold as Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers on Fox Kids. In the wake of it becoming a hit, there were a bunch of low-budget live-action superhero shows square in the middle of the decade; some adapted from other Japanese series and some made from whole cloth — a number of them were even by Rangers producers Saban Entertainment, trying to replicate its success. By the time Pokémon arrived, only Power Rangers remained, having begun to Grow the Beard .
- James Cameron gained, or rather secured, his Auteur License by directing Titanic (1997), which would displace Star Wars from the seat of highest-grossing film in North America (Avatar and The Force Awakens have since passed it) and Jurassic Park as the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide (also since surpassed byAvatar) As well as becoming the first movie in history to make a billion dollars.
- Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise were among the biggest stars in Hollywood. While Mel had made some inflammatory remarks in some magazine interviews, and Cruise was suffering from media oversaturation with his then-wife Nicole Kidman, they were still beloved by moviegoers.
- Pauly Shore enjoyed a few years in the spotlight as a MTV host and also the star of several comedy films such as Encino Man, Son in Law, and Bio-Dome.
- The Nineties also saw the large-scale return of the Disaster Movie. After being a staple of Seventies cinema, the genre was almost completely absent in the Eighties, but from the mid-Nineties on, it blasted back. The difference was CGI, which was now sufficiently advanced (and sufficiently cheap) that all sorts of disasters could be simulated using it. The first new film of this type was Twister in 1996, but copycats swiftly followed it.
- 1995 saw the beginning of Dogme 95 by Danish filmmakers Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg who, in an attempt bring power back to the directors from the studios while restricting special effects and gimmicks, created a manifesto referred to as the "Vow of Chasity" containing 10 rules (such as no genre films and all films must be shot on location) filmmakers should follow. Vinterberg's The Celebration, released in 1998, was the first film to follow the rules of the manifesto (for the most part), and 34 other films have since been considered part of the movement.
- DreamWorks was formed as Dreamworks SKG in 1994 by director Steven Spielberg, ex-Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and music producer David Geffen. It was one of the first new Hollywood studios in several decades due to the vast expense of operating a studio. The studio focused on live action and animation films (the latter handled by Dreamworks Animation). It also operated a television division and a record label.
- Financial issues with then Mini-Major studios The Cannon Group and Orion Pictures caused both to see their film output and box office marketshare deteriorate. The latter closed in 1994. Orion had filed for bankruptcy in 1991 and while it relaunched in 1995, few of their films were successful. After 1999, they wouldn't have any involvement in filmmaking until it was relaunched by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 2013.
- A number of independent films managed to not only receive critical acclaim but varying degrees of success at the box office. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, released in 1990, grossed over 100 million at the box office and was the highest grossing independent film at the time. The Sundance Film Festival, owned by Robert Redford, helped gain momentum for an independent film movement. Mini Major Miramax Films helped launched the careers of many directors like Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Smith, They also began an 11 year streak of having a film nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture (a feat no other studio was able to do while the number of films that could be nominated per year was 5). By the end of the decade though, a number of the major studios either made their own independent film divisions (Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics and Paramount Classics) or bought a mini-major that specialized in independent films (Disney bought Miramax in 1993 and the Turner Broadcast system bought New Line Cinema in 1994 and merged it with Time Warner in 1996). This helped make independent films more mainstream and institutionalized in the process.
- Pogs! Anyone Remember Pogs? Originally the bottle caps from bottles of pineapple-orange-guava juice, they quickly became little decorated cardboard disks that were used to play some kind of game. For about six months in 1993, they were frickin ubiquitous, due to a merchandising deal with Coca-Cola.
- This was a tough decade for musical theater. With the "megamusical" trend Andrew Lloyd Webber spearheaded in The '80s quietly fading away, the only stage musicals that attracted mainstream media attention were RENT and two shows adapted from then-recent Disney Animated Canon successes (Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King).
- Elsewhere in live entertainment, the Canadian company Cirque du Soleil brought European-style "contemporary circus" to the masses. Its appeal was wide enough that in 1998 they opened non-touring shows in both a Las Vegas casino ("O" at the Bellagio — actually their second such show in the city, the first being Mystere) and a Disney resort complex (La Nouba, at Florida's Walt Disney World).
- Some of the most popular female sex symbols from the decade included Pamela Anderson, Cindy Margolis, Sharon Stone, Demi Moore, and Carmen Electra. Some of the more popular male sex symbols included Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Val Kilmer, and Denzel Washington.
- In 1993, Magic: The Gathering became the first successful collectable card game (at least in the United States). It would be followed by several other competing CCGs. None would succeed at surpassing Magic's popularity, at least until Pokémon came along... Even then though, most people with Pokémon cards simply collected them with no other motivation. It took until the following decade, when Yu-Gi-Oh! took the world by storm, for most of the kids with Pokémon cards to realize there was a game attached to it. Hence, Magic: The Gathering remained the only truly popular collectible card game people actually played.
- Kids book series really began to turn themselves into franchises, mainly thanks to their shared publisher, Scholastic. Goosebumps was an anthology of horror books by R.L. Stine which had kids confronting lots of creepy stuff - it spawned a TV show on Fox Kids. Animorphs revolved around a group of kids forced to save the Earth from an invasion of Puppeteer Parasites with the power to change into different animals, and the horrors of war were taking their toll on the group. It also spawned a TV show on Nickelodeon, albeit a mediocre one. On the educational side of things, The Magic School Bus took off on PBS (although the books began first), and was so popular it even aired on Fox Kids alongside Goosebumps (though it aired on weekday afternoons)! And Harry Potter also arrived on the scene, but didn't really take off until the next decade. Captain Underpants also appeared late in the decade, challenging adults who thought the series was "vulgar" and helping kids to get into reading. It hasn't really spawned much, although it has grown a dedicated fandom and got a film adaptation in 2017 (with an animated series soon to follow).
- Nowadays, '90s fashion is often remembered as being indistinguishable from either The '80s or the Turn of the Millennium, depending on whether or not the focus is before 1996. While there were some stylistic similarities due to the proximity of time (urban wear, in particular, has seen little change since the days of N.W.A.), in some respects the styles were vastly different. More noticeably different are the styles earlier in the decade; fashion in the mid-90'snote had a definite "grunge" look to it, and early '90s fashionnote included many features held over from the late '80s. Bright "pop" colors were very much au courant, with aquamarine sported by many boys and hot pink a favorite of girls (and, to a lesser degree, boys too).
- Leather pants were popular, for men and women, especially in the club scene in the mid-90's and everywhere else in the late 90's. Buffy, boy bands, and Ricky Martin were some of the biggest reasons. Black was the most common color, but brown, red and other colors weren't unheard of.
- Stores like the Gap and Old Navy cornered the clothing market. The Gap especially hit a chord with their ad campaign, which was mostly good-looking people wearing their clothes while singing pop songs and looking bored out of their minds. Towards the end of the decade, they began losing their momentum in the youth market to Abercrombie and Fitch, Aeropostale, and Banana Republic.
- In the early part of the decade, unless you were a child, your shirt was always tucked in, regardless of your gender or how formally you were dressed.
- For women and girls, overalls were extremely popular (starting about 1993), and high-cut jeans were the rule until the later years of the decade. (Just how much later depended on your location.) Unless you were in High School, skirts were practically non-existent. Acid-washed jeans held on for a while from the '80s, but spandex was verboten.
- Frizzy and/or voluminous hair also briefly remained as an '80s holdover, although flatter hair pushed it out early in the decade. The women's hairstyle most associated with the decade is the "Rachel" cut, worn by Jennifer Aniston in the early seasons of Friends — flat, straight, and square layered. Large, chunky blonde highlights, also known as "streaking" (no, not that kind), became popular around the same time as the "Rachel" cut, also popularized by Jennifer Aniston. Men's hairstyles, meanwhile, changed drastically throughout the decade, from shaggy in 1994, to a parted bowl-cut in 1997, to Bart Simpson spikes in 1999. Younger men and teenagers with brown hair cut into the bowl-cut sometimes bleached the longer hair of the "bowl" blonde and, if it was long enough, tied it in a ponytail.
- Impractically small backpacks were in vogue.
- Cargo shorts were very popular for men, though they seldom went below the knee.
- Men's business attire was particularly distinctive. Pastel-colored shirts and wide, colorful ties were the norm (this was a throwback to the "bold look" of the late 1940s). This is one fashion trend that seems to have survived well past the '90s, to the point that a man can come off as stodgy if he insists on wearing a plain white shirt with his tie.
- Double-breasted suits with low buttons and bold colors became the norm very suddenly around 1990, coming out of the great swing revival (see below). They disappeared just as suddenly at the end of the decade.
- Both plaid and neon were extremely popular designs for clothing. Neon more so, but everybody remembers plaid more.
- In glaring contrast to the arch accessorizing by young middle-class fashion plates in The '80s, kids in this decade (or at least during the early and middle parts of it) seemed to scorn looking like your clothes had actually been ironed. Fashions for young men became rumpled and rather clownish, with unbuttoned pendleton shirts, baggy shorts or jeans with ridiculously wide legs, and sloppy caps sported atop mops of unkempt, occasionally dangling strands of hair. Not all boys dressed like this of course, but the ridiculously casual aesthetic caught on to some degree everywhere. And if we are to believe Cher in Clueless, girls did not find this look attractive at all.
- From approximately the middle of the decade onward there was a revival of '60s and '70s Hippie-style clothes and jewelry — the Peace symbol, Yin-Yang, and Smiley Face in particular — and then Rave culture surfaced, which had an "infantilizing" effect (girls dressed as fairies and Muppets, guys looking like Dr. Seuss characters with giant hats, and neon pony beads EVERYWHERE).
- Hip-hop fashion, with its ridiculously baggy clothes, caught on amongst men (and a few women) in the middle part of the decade, especially in black communities (white people who wore it were often dismissed as posers). One of the most popular theories for the origin of this fashion style is that it developed in prison, where convicts couldn't get prison uniforms in the right size, and that they took this fashion with them when they were released. This style has been the default style for urban fashion for a long time. Thus making the urban fashion scene kinda stagnant till the fashion style of Swag Rap emerged (circa late 00's). But even then it kinda still exists as a weird awkward parallel to the latter style. Possibly signifying a separate urban culture.
- Clothing labels became a status symbol. Many articles of clothing had their brand name as the primary design element, letting the wearer proudly say "Yeah, I can afford this." Those who couldn't afford expensive sneakers were ridiculed, while those who did were occasionally murdered and robbed.
- Toward the later half of the decade, possibly because of the anime boom, there was a rise in the popularity of East Asian culture. Eastern symbols (mostly kanji) were popular on t-shirts, jewelry, and especially tattoos... even if most people displaying them couldn't actually read them.
- Tube tops made a brief reappearance in 1996/1997, but the fad didn't last long.
- Cut-off jean shorts were still acceptable for younger people in the beginning of the decade, but by the end they became, in many places, associated with the redneck stereotype.
- In the mid-1990s, "heroin chic" fashion models known for their skinny physiques, pale skin, and dark rings under their eyes (basically, they resembled heroin addicts) started appearing in advertisements as a response to healthy, vibrant-looking models like Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. The heroin chic fad immediately sparked controversy, with critics accusing it of glamorizing heroin use. By the late 1990s heroin chic had died out, with many people believing the heroin-related death of fashion photographer Davide Sorrenti to be a contributing factor.
Food and Drink:
- Fast food was a traditional alternative to cooking a meal, and usually relatively cheap. The menus weren't as diverse as they are now (a lot of them were changed to cash in on the low-carb craze), but they still had some decent stuff on there.
- Regarding dining out, it was usually a weekly thing for most of the middle class. Other days, you'd get fast food or cook at home.
- Shopping was a baffling ordeal; everything had a low-fat, low-sodium, fat-free, low-sugar, no-sugar, and (later on) low-carb version of itself on the store shelf. Organic food wasn't as popular as it is today, but it was still starting to appear on some store shelves.
- The '90s saw the rise and subsequent fall of Olestra products. Olestra was a fat-free food additive that made it taste really good, but made the snacks it was applied to have no fat content. If it sounds too good to be true, that's because it is: Olestra made the entire world head to the toilet with intense regularity. Olestra snacks sold like hotcakes in their first couple of years, then subsequently failed.
- "May cause anal leakage." As Ray Romano put it, "That's the only warning that the tobacco companies could look at and say, 'Well, at least we're not that.'"
- It seemed like there was a new fad diet every other week. Among the diets to last throughout this time period were the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, and the South Beach diet. The Atkins was probably the most famous: it was the brainchild of a Dr. Richard Atkins, and the basic point of the diet was to watch the carbohydrates one was taking in. The cultural impact was huge, and many donut shops and ice cream parlors lost business because their customers started switching to Atkins.
- The drink most synonymous with the '90s was coffee. Whereas in the past, coffee was what mom and dad drank in the mornings while reading the newspaper, in the '90s coffee became a trendy, must-have beverage, often ordered with a ton of modifiers (tall half-caf, no sugar, whipped cream, two shots of espresso, flavored syrup, etc). This was the point where Starbucks began to pick up in popularity and the franchise is still going strong. The fact that coffee was associated with the "hip" cultural center of Seattle was probably not a coincidence.
- The Drink Order trope started weakening, as not every person always ordered the same thing. Still, some drinks had certain images attached to them:
- Beer was still very much a working-class beverage - however, some "local" beers and microbrews had more of a classy connotation. Toward the end of the decade, foreign brews such as Ireland's Guinness Draft Stout acquired a surprisingly upscale image in the United States, with the British/Irish pub subculture beginning to gain popularity on the other side of the Atlantic.
- Wine was the drink of the middle-aged suburbanite wife who was waiting for the kids to get home.
- Margaritas were seen as a very "fun" drink and were popular with women.
- Mid-decade saw a brief, inexplicable fad for "crystal clear" versions of sodas, which tasted like Coke, Pepsi, root beer, etc., but didn't have the food coloring, so they looked clear. You'd pick up what you thought was a lemon-lime soda, but it would taste like a cola!!! Yeah... the novelty wore off pretty quickly (although some of us miss those marvelous drinks with a passion).
- One clear beverage in particular that deserves to be mentioned is Zima. It was a clear alcoholic beverage sold by Coors Brewing Company, and it was marketed as a "manly" alternative to wine coolers for guys who didn't like the taste of beer. The beverage was introduced in 1993 and sold well in its first year, but Coors was disappointed to discover that most people drinking it weren't men, but twenty-something women. Pretty soon comedians such as David Letterman started making jokes about Zima being a sissy drink for girly men, and sales of the drink fell sharply. Surprisingly, Zima would continue to be sold until 2008 before Coors quietly discontinued it, but most people remember Zima as a 1990s thing.
- Towards the end of the decade, some food products aimed at kids would advertise how "EXTREME!!" they were by coming in different colors. Green ketchup and blue french fries showed up on shelves, and a lot of kids food changed color when it was being prepared. The products didn't taste any different, but they did stain your clothes a lot more than the normal stuff, and the novelty of colored food died out pretty quickly.
- As Communism had begun to fall in many countries around 1989, the Cold War is said to have truly ended in '91 with the dissolving of the Soviet Union.
- The death of Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales, on August 31 1997, dominated headlines for several weeks. A fashion icon and beloved celebrity known as "The People's Princess" due to her down-to-earth personality and extensive charity work, her accidental death via car crash brought an unprecedented spasm of grief and mourning not just in the United Kingdom, but the world over. Numerous Conspiracy Theories would arise over the nature of her demise.
- Until the early 1990's, despite thousands of science fiction books, movies and TV shows, the only solar system astronomy had any solid evidence whatsoever for was the one we obviously lived in. Even in the late 1980's there were people wondering if our own solar system was a fluke - the planets being theoretically caused by gasses pulled from the sun by a passing star. Scientists were fairly certain there were other solar systems, but the mid 1990's is when the proof came in by measuring parent stars for gravitational wobbles.
- In 1998 it was first discovered (from observations of supernovae in distant galaxies) that the expansion of the universe was not slowing down due to the effects of gravity, but in fact speeding up. Whilst less obviously exciting-sounding than extrasolar planets, it had profound implications for understanding the ultimate fate of the universe: previously it had been thought that what mattered was not that the rate of expansion was slowing down or not, but by how much, so either the universe was "open" (and expansion would continue forever), "closed" (meaning that the universe would collapse and end in a "Big Crunch", the inverse of the "Big Bang") or "flat" (at the critical point between the two, which would still mean it would expand forever). note Now we knew that expansion would have to continuenote . Also, speculation into the causes of this prompted the invocation of "dark energy", a mysterious substance adding to "dark matter" to explain the missing mass in the universe.
- In 1996, Dolly the sheep became the first cloned mammal. Cloning had already entered public awareness as a powerful technology through the immense popularity of Jurassic Park, and the fruition of a mammalian clone brought considerable public fear that humans would be cloned next (not uncommonly for reasons based purely on fictional portrayals).
- Home size in the 1990s continued to increase while lot size decreased, resulting in the modern McMansion. In addition, many housing developments were isolated and rural, increasing commute times and decreasing worker productivity. This, despite the fact that the average family size was decreasing.
- Many homeowners in the '90s went to great lengths to update their (often old) homes with the latest in decor, which mostly meant investing in a lot of glass and granite. Mean property values in the United States skyrocketed.
- The size of the average family started getting smaller; whereas back in the day, families with six to seven kids were not unheard of, in the '90s it was very uncommon for a family to have more than three kids, and it was next-to-impossible to find a family with more than five kids. The exceptions were families that objected to contraceptives and families that couldn't afford it in the first place.
- While seemingly everything else was getting smaller, the family car was getting bigger... and bigger ...and so on. Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) were really popular in the '90s with families. Whereas in the past the SUV was the car a rugged camper or backpacker would buy to lug around all his stuff and was a two-door model often with a detachable fiberglass roof and a 20-year design cycle, the '90s saw the cars firmly associated with the soccer mom shuffling her kids to and from practice. The mantra was that they were safer (unless you were making a sharp turn...) No one thought about gas mileage (gas was very cheap, even adjusted for inflation) or a carbon footprint. Among passenger cars, 4-door sedans commanded an ever-larger market share with each new model year bringing fewer wagons, sporty coupes and small cars than the one before, and hatchbacks practically disappearing from the North American market towards the end of the decade.
- Homes usually had one phone line each at the beginning of the decade, but by the end of the decade most families who were serious about the Internet had a second phone line for Internet usage. Kids and preteens got very excited when they could get their own phone line to talk to their friends without their parents able to snoop; this was a holdover from the '70s and '80s, but by the '90s, it became particularly commonplace and expected for teens to want their own phone lines. Cell phones, naturally, killed this trope.
- Rudy Giuliani became mayor of New York City, thus ending the grimy "classic" New York of yesteryear. He was helped greatly by Disney. Disney wanted to adapt Beauty and the Beast into a Broadway play, but Broadway and Times Square were pretty rough at the time. Giuliani knew the amount of revenue that it would bring, so he assured those at Disney that it would be cleaned up by the time they were ready.
- A particular unit of Los Angeles' police department underwent a decade of corruption and mafia-style activity in what became known as the Rampart Scandal, later inspiring the television series The Shield.
- In 1991, several police officers were captured on video beating a suspect named Rodney King; they were acquitted in 1992, leading to six days of rioting in Los Angeles, and riots in several other cities in sympathy, including Las Vegas, Atlanta, Tampa and Toronto.
- The greater Los Angeles area began work rebuilding its massive rapid transit system, which is still 11-29 years from completion. Despite this, the system would not appear in popular media until 24.
- Seattle became a major cultural center for the country during the early '90s, as the home of grunge, Frasier and Microsoft Windows.
- The Denver suburb of Littleton, Colorado was shocked in the spring of 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two outcast students, gunned down several of their peers at Columbine High School in what was one of the heaviest-reported school shootings of all time. After the shooting, everything from Doom to Marilyn Manson was blamed.
- Also in the late '90s, America was shocked when a young beauty pageant performer named JonBenet Ramsey was killed in her home. News coverage of the search for her killer(s) dominated the airwaves for quite a while — to this day, it remains unsolved. It also had the effect of changing the opinion of child beauty pageants and the Stage Mom, since both were intensely dissected in the aftermath. Opinion changed from "Oh, she's adorable!" to "This is a little creepy."
- In California, former NFL running back Orenthal James "O.J." Simpson was allegedly involved in the murder of his ex-wife and a close friend of hers in 1994. While celebrity trials had gotten press before, this one (and the low-speed car chase along LA freeways that preceded it) absolutely dominated national headlines through 1995. The outcome of the trial (found not guilty) caused a great deal of arguing, particularly along racial lines. This trial also featured the first highly-publicized usage of DNA as evidence.
- As Keith Olbermann would note 20 years after the fact, it also marked the end of the transition in the perception of celebrity from "we don't want to know what's going on in their private lives" to "we want to know everything".
- Las Vegas, after spending The '80s in rundown shape, was gradually transformed into a luxury casino resort hotbed in the wake of the 1989 opening of Steve Wynn's Mirage Hotel and Casino. The city also tried to cultivate a "family-friendly" image in order to attract more affluent baby boomers and their tweener children, but this proved a dud and ended when Wynn's lavish Bellagio Hotel and Casino opened in 1998.
- In the United Kingdom it was all change for no change as the Right-Wing eighties conservative government hung on, generating sex-scandal, after sex-scandal, after corruption-scandal until 1997 and Tony Blair took power. The attempts by the Conservatives to hang onto power is generally considered to have delayed the Northern Ireland peace process for at least 3 years.
- Also in the UK, Glasgow began to throw off its Violent Glaswegian heritage and modernize the city center. This had the side effect of causing a musical and artistic explosion in the late '90s that bore serious fruit in the following decade.
- Russia saw little of the stuff described above. The still-smoking ruins of the Soviet Union were a place of suffering, rampant poverty, rise of The Mafiya, unrestrained corporate greed, a never-ending counter-terrorist war in Chechnya...
- Against this backdrop, two former Soviet republics, Armenia and Azerbaijan, went to war over the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, formerly an autonomous oblast within the Azerbaijani SSR, as soon as the Soviet Union toppled. The war ended in a ceasefire in 1994 that is still ongoing. Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence but has to date not been recognized by any country, at least until some peace deal is brokered.
- After spending the 80's in the economic doldrums Ireland began to grow much more prosperous in this decade, leading the boom years of The Celtic Tiger from 1994 onwards. As well as becoming richer the decade also saw a boom in interest in Irish culture overseas, shaped by the likes of Riverdance.
- In Japan, the economic bubble of the 1980s burst in 1991, leading to a decade-long recession that's now referred to as "The Lost Decade". Japan has yet to fully recover, because while Japanese companies were languishing in the 90s, rival companies in South Korea and Taiwan picked up steam, making it a lot harder for Japanese companies to start growing again after the Turn of the Millennium.
- In Canada, the country came within a hair's breath (within 1%) of the country splitting apart with Quebec voting to separate from that Canada in a provincial referendum. Fortunately, while the Federalists side despaired that all they seemed to do is delay the inevitable, the frustrated separatist Quebec premier inadvertently prevented that when he went into a Sore Loser tirade complaining about he was thwarted by "Money and the ethnic vote." At that rash statement, his comrades gave themselves a massive Face Palm while minorities got a forceful reminder at how brazenly ethnocentric the separatist side was, and thus the "winning conditions" to have a third separation referendum have proved frustratingly out of reach.
- Musical tastes in the 1990s varied drastically among different age groups and localities.
- To listen to Top 40 radio in the 1990s would mean being buried under endless waves of Sixpence, Suzanne Vega, and tons of more mellow vocal artists. In the late '90s, boy bands and pop princesses became extremely popular and started blanketing the airwaves.
- What was rock music like in the '90s? Well, Hair Metal hung on for the first couple of years in bold defiance of changing tides, but was soon acid-washed from history by grunge. Grunge, in turn, suffered a backlash as Kurt Cobain killed himself and increasingly derivative bands partook in a lyrical style that Nathan Rabin dubbed "Hunger-Dunger-Dang." However, even though grunge itself was out, the musical style influenced many bands in what is now known as "Post-Grunge", which became prevalent late in the decade and remained so until The New '10s. Nu Metal arose and peaked around the same time as post-grunge, and emo was first starting to get mainstream attention thanks to Weezer.
- Alternative Rock had finally escaped the college radio ghetto and saw the rise of such bands as R.E.M., Primus, They Might Be Giants, and Soul Asylum.
- Meanwhile, on the other side of The Pond, Britpop emerged as a backlash against the dourness of grunge, and became the dominant form of music in Britain. However, the only Britpop band to gain real traction in America was Oasis, with the rest becoming one hit wonders at best.
- Many college students across America followed Lo-Fi, the Los Angeles/Chicago-based indie rock genre spearheaded by Pavement, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Beck.
- Indie rock itself begins to make a name for itself after being an incredibly obscure genre for the last half of the '80s. Pavement especially become the most well known of the 90's indie bands to the MTV-watching public.
- Heavy Metal continued to have a large fan base (although not as large as it was during the peak of its popularity in the late-80s) despite being almost completely ignored by the mainstream media after grunge came along. Without a doubt the most successful and influential metal band of the 90s was Pantera, whose album Far Beyond Driven, without receiving any support from radio or MTV, actually managed to debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in 1994. Because many music festivals at the time did not want heavy metal acts playing, veteran metal frontman Ozzy Osbourne founded his own music festival, Ozzfest, in 1996.
- Industrial and Goth saw an apex of expression, if not popularity. Bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails saw considerable mainstream success despite, or perhaps because of, their image of rejecting the mainstream. Marilyn Manson in particular got the moral guardians' panties in a bunch, which is saying something in a decade where shock rock got more attention than it ever has before or since.
- The 1990s also saw the birth of "Nu Metal", a genre that blended elements of heavy metal, hardcore punk, grunge, and rap. Notable bands from this genre include Korn, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, and Deftones. Despite the name, however, the genre was (and continues to be) loathed by many traditional heavy metal fans, and many don't even consider it to be a real metal genre.
- The 1990s was the decade in which the popularity of Visual Kei in Japan became almost as widespread as it would ever be. The various subgenres formed out of and split off from Visual Shock, several of the original Visual Shock bands were at the apex of their fame for the time being (and some for their entire careers), and the era is considered one of the most creative and innovative within Visual. More can be found on the Useful Notes page for Visual Kei, but the scene and its subgenres that existed at the time were doing very well for a while. The combined onslaught of the years of the Lost Decade economy finally wearing down economic input and interest in the scene, a series of major break-ups and hiatuses (X Japan, Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, Luna Sea, SEIKIMAII and many others would all be disbanded by 2000, with most reuniting around late in The Noughties or early in The New '10s), a series of public scandals and deaths (including that of one of the founders of the scene, Hideto "hide" Matsumoto, and Malice Mizer's drummer, Kami), and general interest in rock and metal dying out for a while made this drop off as the 2000s began, until international interest and renewed interest locally, the advent of YouTube showing off old bands to new fans, and an infusion of new talent in the forms of acts such as Miyavi, Dir en grey and the advent of adapted styles such as the Lighter and Softer Oshare Kei and Digital Kei would revive the scene in the late 2000s.
- The '90s were the decade in which Hip-Hop and rap music first began to receive widespread attention from white listeners, and began to expand beyond its New York base. The Beastie Boys, RunD.M.C., MC Hammer, Cypress Hill, House of Pain and Vanilla Ice helped bring it to mainstream attention early in the decade (and late in the preceding one), but the defining trend in '90s rap music was undoubtedly Gangsta Rap. The influence of gangsta rap was such that, to this day, many people (particularly those who didn't grow up with hip-hop) associate all rap music with the thug life stories popularized by N.W.A., Snoop Dogg, 2pac and Biggie. These thug life stories were also the cause of a another major moral panic, with cultural critics on both sides deriding the music for its perceived violence, obscenity, misogyny, homophobia and black militancy. Gangsta rap peaked in the mid-'90s with the East Coast/West Coast rap rivalry, and while it declined in influence from there, it had given rap music enough cultural clout to survive on its own. For much of the '90s, white kids who listened to rap music were considered Acceptable Targets, and were frequently hit with Totally Radical jokes.
- For those who didn't want to listen to gangsta rap, Alternative Rap exploded and made hip-hop very chic for white college kids to listen to. There was also a wave of Afrocentric Political Rap and Conscious Hip Hop.
- In Latin America there were two main derivative from hip-hop. The first was the technomerengue, a fusion of poppy hip-hop with Dominican merengue, mostly embraced by artists of Caribbean origins like Proyecto Uno, Ilegales, Calle Ciega, Sandy & Papo and El General, among others. The other was the rap-reggae movement in Puerto Rico, specially the artists recorded in the albums series "The Noise", whose musical style eventually progressed into what we now call reggaeton.
- Latin America also saw the revival of bolero music (slow ballads from Cuba and Mexico) which went dormant in the 1960s following its popularity taken over by rock music.
- Latin ballads (especially those made for telenovelas) continued to dominate the Latin music charts as they did in the 1980s although they were lead by younger balladeers such Luis Miguel, Cristian Castro, and Enrique Iglesias.
- In tropical music, the softer form of salsa still prevailed in the early '90s. The '90s also see the resurgence of Nuyorican salsa which blended the music with other genres such as R&B. Merengue music began being prominent in the decade as well.
- Tejano music was popular among Mexican Americans in the United States mainly from Texas in the early '90s. Selena was the most popular Tejano singer in the country and gained media attention when she was murdered by her manager in 1995. Although Tejano still continues to played by a few Mexican American artists in the state, it has never been able to reach the popularity following Selena's death.
- In 1999, the US experienced the "Latino Explosion" where Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, and Enrique Iglesias became popular with the mainstream media. Needless to say, some Latin music purists criticized the music they played as watered-down and unauthentic.
- The mid-1990s also heralded the "rebirth" of Rhythm & Blues, though the result was much mellower and slower than the R&B of The '60s and The '70s with artists like Music/Babyface, R. Kelly, Gerald Levert, Boys II Men and En Vogue.
- There was also "New Jack Swing," a melding of R&B and hip-hop created by Teddy Riley that, for better or worse, paved the way for Hip-Hop/Soul.
- The "'90s singer-songwriter" was practically a trope in and of itself. Mention the names Liz Phair, Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Sheryl Crow or Sarah McLachlan to any woman in her late 20s/early 30s, and she will most likely regale you with tales of the great music festival that was Lilith Fair (whether or not she actually went there; there's a good chance she got her stories from people who did). The '90s were the first decade in which women in general (not just individual musicians or bands) were taken seriously as rockers, and the female rock stars produced by the decade became known for their raw, angsty lyrics (in true '90s grunge fashion). At the same time, the riot grrrls, while never enjoying the mainstream success of their male counterparts, also left their mark on the underground with their staunchly feminist brand of Punk Rock.
- Combining the above two points, the pop princesses of the 90's were mostly R&B artists. Mariah Carey, TLC, Brandy (whose TV show Moesha was the show for teen girls), Monica, and so on. The Spice Girls were the exception (Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera didn't get big until '99 and are thus better associated with the 2000's).
- Patti Smith, the archetypal punk rock goddess, made a nice comeback in the late 1990s after the death of her husband Fred "Sonic" Smith.
- The biggest one-hit wonder of the '90s was "The Macarena" by Los Del Rio. It stayed atop the charts for 60 whole weeks, which was a record at the time, and might still be. That song popularized, or at least revived the trend of a song coming with its own dance — while everyone in the '90s strongly denied knowing how to do the Macarena, they were probably lying.
- With the advent of The Internet, some music fans begin to start their own websites devoted to music, and begin the earliest blogs. Pitchfork Media, begun by a college dropout in 1997, would become a major player in music criticism in the next decade (after years of featuring hammy, poorly written reviews which often gave low scores to beloved records just because).
- The mid '90s also saw the rebirth of swing music/dance, as well as some clothing styles (mostly bowling shirts) from The '50s. Within a few years, the fad had faded, but the music, dance, and to a lesser degree the clothing, was at a higher baseline than before the boom. This is probably best showcased in the movie Swingers.
- For a small, brief moment, sometime around 1990-93, groups looking for a looser, more organic break from The '80s who did not want to join Grungemania donned bellbottoms, lacy (or striped) shirts, Dr. Seuss hats, platform shoes and vintage music gear (Wurlitzer electric pianos to the fore!), played 1970's-inspired rock, Power Pop and funk and formed the "retro" movement. Lenny Kravitz, Spin Doctors, Jellyfish, Blind Melon and The Black Crowes were the most famous artists from this movement, although it also provided its share of One-Hit Wonder alternative radio-to-pop radio crossover bands like 4 Non Blondes and School of Fish.
- Running alongside this trend (and indeed pre-dating it by several years) was Phish, a jazzy psychedelic band from Vermont, who became a touring juggernaut completely under the nose of mainstream music outlets. The band's improvisational "jam band" style made every concert a unique experience, and their fans often followed them from show to show so they could catch as many of them as possible. They were often compared to their heroes, The Grateful Dead, and they became the kings of the hippie world when Dead leader Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Jam bands like Phish also became a major touring trend in the United States in the 1990s, with Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, The String Cheese Incident, O.A.R. and especially the Dave Matthews Band becoming some of the biggest concert attractions of the decade.
- As a result of rapid development in computers, music technology and consequent reduction in the cost of equipment early in the decade, it became possible for a wider number of musicians to produce Electronic Music. Even though initially most of the electronic music was dance music, the genre developed more in the decade as musicians started producing music which was not necessarily designed for the dance floor but rather for home listening (later on referred to as "Electronica") and slower paced music which was played throughout chillout rooms, the relaxation sections of the clubs (later on referred to as "downtempo", "chill-out music" and "ambient music").
- Eurodance was extremely popular throughout The '90s and the early oughts in much of the whole western world (except for the United States). Some of the most recognized bands of the genre include artists such as the Dutch-Belgian/Dutch group 2 Unlimited, Italian group Eiffel 65 (best known in the States for their One-Hit Wonder "I'm Blue (Da Ba Dee)"), Danish group Aqua (best known in the States for their One-Hit Wonder "Barbie Girl") and group Modjo.
- In the early years of the decade, a genre called Trance was being developed in Germany and the surrounding countries. The early tracks were a combination of House Music and techno with the stylistic elements of ambient, marked by slow build-ups, long extended breakdowns, and focus on regular 4/4 time. Two tracks in particular, "We Came in Peace" by Dance 2 Trance and The Age of Love's self-titled song, stood out as the groundwork for the dance genre, which would go on to split into several different subgenres from different points around the world. Many producers and DJs in the genre such as Armin Van Buuren, Markus Schulz, Paul Van Dyk, Paul Oakenfold, and others would begin their careers in this decade and still maintain successful careers and dedicated fanbases to this day.
- A more raw and harder-edged style of electronic music called big beat, which usually uses heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns, gained great popularity in the later parts of the decade. Among the most commercially successful acts in this genre were European acts such as The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, The Crystal Method, Groove Armada and Basement Jaxx.
- The 90s also saw the development and refinement of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), which borrowed from forms such as techno, drum and bass, and acid house music and introduced more abstract elements, including heavy use of digital signal processing. One of, if not the most well known producer in this genre is Richard James, aka Aphex Twin.
- While electronic music was massively popular in Europe and was growing fanbases all over the globe, especially in Australia and parts of Asia and South America, the US music market was a much tougher nut to crack. Dubbed as "electronica", the music felt perpetually on the cusp of breaking through to the pop mainstream, but despite high hopes from fans, dread from conservative music listeners, and a lot of hype in the press, electronic music remained a largely niche phenomenon in the US. It wouldn't be until The New '10s that it would finally make a big splash.
- Electronic music also wasn't free from the scorn of the moral guardians, becoming something of The New Rock & Roll. Electronic music concerts, also known as "raves", and festivals such as the Love Parade, and nightclubs like Gatecrasher became notorious for their association with different kinds of hard drugs, most especially ecstasy. Laws such as the "RAVE (Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy) Act" were hastily passed in the process.
- The Beatles saw a nice revival in popularity, beginning in the mid '90s with Anthology and spilling over into the early 2000s with the release of Beatles 1, as a new generation discovered the band (and the original fans introduced the music to their children).
- The biggest celebrity of The '80s, Michael Jackson, started the decade off well with the album Dangerous. But in 1993, accusations of child molestation and his choice to settle out of court with the alleged victim's family, as well as with the son of one of his maids over similar claims, soiled his Friend to All Children reputation and started a downward trajectory for his career. By decade's end, he was better known (particularly in the U.S.) for his tabloid-friendly antics than his music, and this would not change until his death in 2009.
- No one saw it coming, but the 1990's were the last decade of the record/CD/cassette store. Some malls would even have two or three of them. There would be music playing on the sound system - and some stores even had several CD players with headphones so you could sample a CD before you bought it. Stores would sell T-shirts and other merchandise, too. Working in a music store was some good cred for a young adult, and definitely brag-worthy. The door was slammed shut on them in 2000 practically on the nose with the rise of Napster. You can still buy music on CD in a store now, but nothing like back in the 1990's. What few stores remain today adapted by expanding to selling movies and sometimes video games along with music, or with places geographically close to performers and record labels, live off of their reputations and the musicians themselves coming in to visit.
- The Nineties was also a decade in which Country Music rode a new wave of popularity outside its rural demographic, fueled by superstar "hat acts" and crossover performers like Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Shania Twain, Faith Hill (and her future husband, Tim McGraw) and Billy Ray Cyrus (yes, Miley's father), along with country groups like Lonestar, The Mavericks and Brooks & Dunn who found a way to market the style to modern, baby-boomer rock audiences while retaining a country/rural image and style. Albums like Garth's Ropin' The Wind and No Fences and Billy Ray's Some Gave All competed mightily with Nirvana and Michael Jackson on the Billboard album charts, and line dancing was a widespread trend. It helped that Walmart's Soundscan system reinvented how music sales were being counted, revealing a huge interest in crossover country with Walmart shoppers.
- The '90s saw something of a "Canadian Invasion", with Canadian artists like Céline Dion, Shania Twain, Barenaked Ladies, Alanis Morissette and Sarah Mclachlan scoring big hits in the U.S.
- If you ask South Americans, they will tell you that this was the decade of the Rock En Español. Many Argentinian, Chilean and Mexican rock bands became well known in the mainstream, although, in the case of Soda Stereo, it was basically becoming famous over the continent just in time to dissolve.
- As stated above, The '90s was the era in which the Moral Guardians were always in a tizzy. While it was brewing in the '80s and early '90s (Dan Quayle's complaints about Murphy Brown, the moral panics over heavy metal and Satanic cults), the presence of conservative Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush meant that the Christian Right felt itself to have a friend in the White House (regardless of how Reagan and Bush felt), and never felt truly pressured. However, the rise of Bill Clinton (the sax-playing, MTV-loving horndog who "smoked but didn't inhale") in 1992 and the high profile of his wife Hillary (who, during the election, gave off the image of a textbook Straw Feminist thanks to her snarky quotes about baking cookies and "standing by my man like Tammy Wynette") set off many religious conservatives. The first real shot was fired by Patrick Buchanan in his infamous "culture war" speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, which became a rallying point for millions on the Christian Right who made "public morality" a major issue throughout the '90s.
- The first big controversy was centered around Beavis And Butthead, which was never a favorite of those who made the rules. A young boy supposedly lit his trailer home on fire because he wanted to imitate the main characters' pyromaniac tendencies. The resulting outcry led MTV to move the show to a later timeslot, causing a decrease in ratings. Oh, and that boy who lit his trailer home on fire? They didn't have cable.
- Violence in the media was another hot-button issue. In the early '90s, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers had the Moral Guardians having panic-induced heart attacks at the thought of young children imitating their martial-arts style violence. As has been repeatedly stated before, Doom was the next big whipping boy, entering the public consciousness after the Columbine massacre, as was Professional Wrestling.
- Sexuality in the media was another big sticking point. NYPD Blue had an episode where Dennis Franz's naked ass was shown, creating a great deal of controversy. It also became something of a Never Live It Down moment for Franz.
- In the UK, it was 1994 before a Lesbian Kiss could be shown in a primetime, non-titillating and sympathetic, manner. It would be another four years before a transsexual woman could be shown in the same way.
- Even with all the Moral Guardians running around, the '90s saw something of a reversal of opinion on homosexuality, and the rebirth of the gay rights movement. While acceptance of gay people was a ways behind what it is today, and gay marriage was never on the table, views of homosexuality were still miles ahead of the blatant homophobia that ran in The '80s. This was helped, in part, by an increasingly large number of celebrities coming out as gay, some less than willingly. In the '90s, there was something of a drive by various media outlets to "out" as many people as they could.
- Ellen DeGeneres came out as openly lesbian, both in real life and on her sitcom. The show didn't last long after, but the disclosure surprised many and briefly had the entire nation discussing the role of gay people in society.
- Another, and possibly greater, factor in the rise of gay rights was the breaking of the taboo surrounding AIDS. Throughout The '80s, AIDS was perceived as "God's punishment against gays and junkies", which killed cruelly and almost immediately, and was transmitted through means not yet entirely understood. note But a couple of high-profile deaths — along with much-loved (and straight) basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson announcing that he was HIV-positive in 1991 — changed the public's opinion:
- Ryan White was a hemophiliac teenager who got infected through contaminated blood transfusions and died of a respiratory infection in 1990 at the age of 18. His story changed public perception from AIDS from a disease that affected only "those people" to something that affected everyone.
- Kimberly Bergalis was a straight woman who was infected (possibly deliberately) with AIDS by her dentist.
- Pedro Zamora, a fan favorite participant on The Real World: San Francisco, died of AIDS just after that season had aired. Pedro's sympathetic portrayal helped change people's minds about what gay and HIV+ people were like.
- Finally, there was the public health nightmare that AIDS caused in sub-Saharan Africa, thanks in part to all the misinformation spread about it. When a disease becomes The Plague for an entire continent full of people (who hadn't committed the perceived sins that the disease was being attributed to), it's rather difficult to claim that it's some sort of divine punishment.
- One of the key figures of '90s controversy was Joycelyn Elders, the Surgeon General under Bill Clinton. Everything that came out of her mouth pissed off her opponents: from the suggestion that schools distribute contraceptives and teach a more comprehensive sexual education program to the idea that drugs should be legalized. However, the one concept that will always follow her around was the suggestion that young people should masturbate instead of engaging in potentially risky sexual activity. This was the final nail in her coffin, and she was out after that.
- People started paying attention to the growing obesity issue in the late '90s. It seemed like every other report was about childhood obesity for a while.
- Or anorexia. Towards the late 90s, there was a big focus on shutting down "pro-ana" websites, and for a little while it seemed like the obesity rhetoric was toned down in favor or preventing eating disorders.
- It's noteworthy, however, that in the late nineties obesity started to be looked upon more as an actual disease than just a person who eats a lot. The term "eating disorders" eventually became a blanket for everything from anorexia to obesity.
- The hidden problem of sexual harassment and other indignities women had to face in the workplace was finally exposed to the world in the US Senate hearing of potential US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when his former co-worker, Anita Hill, came forward to claim that Thomas made her life hell with his sleazy treatment of her.
- Gender politics began to seriously change throughout the decade in ways that suggested the feminist movement of the late 1960's had been ahead of its time. Social attitudes and patterns of thought that had previously been acceptable were challenged and opposed as more women got into positions of power and influence, especially in TV and the media. There were some notable hangovers of "male chauvinist" hegemony: the Page Three Stunna in British Newspapers, for instance, and the emergence of "lads' mags" as a sort of backlash against against the new reality, such as the controversial Loaded and its wave of imitators such as GQ and Maxim. And in the mainstream, comedy had to move on from sexist cheap laughs and jokes at the expense of women, minorities and gays. Values Dissonance became obvious when considering older TV and radio comedy thought these groups were perfectly acceptable joke fodder.
- Environmentalism became a major concern, especially after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill at the end of the previous decade with Public Service Announcements and shows like Captain Planet and the Planeteers on TV.
- In the early 1990s, "Save the Rain Forest" was a particularly popular type of environmentalism, especially among young people. This resulted in films like FernGully: The Last Rainforest and at one point McDonald's even had rainforest-themed Happy Meal toys.
- Professional basketball exploded in popularity, thanks in no small part to Michael Jordan, the man often called basketball's version of Babe Ruth or Pele. It's no coincidence that the most watched basketball game of all time was in 1998. Also, thanks to a rules change the 1992 Olympics marked the debut of "The Dream Team" - a US men's national basketball team composed almost entirely of NBA superstars who beat their opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game on their way to the gold medal.
- The Toronto Blue Jays became the first non-American team to win the World Series in 1992 and 1993. The 1994-1995 Major League Baseball players' strike was a major turning point in the history of the sport. This was also the height of the Steroid Era, although the full extent of steroid use was not known yet. The second half of the decade saw the New York Yankees return to prominence after over a decade and a half of mediocrity. 1998 saw professional baseball get a big boost in popularity thanks to Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's chase of the single season home-run recordnote . Both men ended up breaking itnote , but the accomplishment would be tarnished by their later accusations of using performance-enhancing drugs. In addition, new teams were established in Colorado, Miami, Arizona, and Tampa.
- In American Football, the Buffalo Bills lost four straight Super Bowls at the beginning of the decade. The Dallas Cowboys were the dominant team in the mid-90s, and the NFC won every Super Bowl in the Nineties until John Elway led the Denver Broncos to two titles in 1998 and 1999 (while simultaneously lifting the onus of "never winning the big one" from his own career). Pro football also grew sharply in popularity in the South for the first time with the creation of two new teams in Jacksonville and Charlotte, and the World League of American Football (with its helmet-cams and experimental rules) established a bi-continental league in North America and Europenote .
- American motorsports saw a dramatic shift. Internal disputes within CART, the major Indy Car sanctioning organization at the time and once the most popular form of auto racing in North America, caused a second organization, the Indy Racing League (IRL), to split off in 1997. A self-destructive civil war ensued, which wouldn't be resolved until a decade later, causing many followers of open-wheel racing to leave in disgust. Along came NASCAR, which had steadily been growing in popularity nationwide throughout 1980s, and exploded in the 1990s, largely due to the exploits of a young, good-looking superstar from California named Jeff Gordon. The latter half of the decade saw open-wheel racing begin to fade into the backdrop as it was eclipsed by NASCAR in popularity for the first time in history, although NASCAR was unable to shake off its Deep South stereotype.
- The death of the beloved Ayrton Senna at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix was perhaps the defining moment of the decade for Formula One. The late nineties saw Michael Schumacher's dominion of the sport.
- Although snowboarding began in the 1980s, it didn't really become popular until the 1990s when most ski areas finally decided to allow snowboarders. Another contributing factor in the rise of snowboarding was the extreme sports craze of the 1990s, which made snowboarding very cool among young people. Snowboarding was so popular during the 1990s that it's credited with breathing new life into the ski resort industry, which had fallen on hard times after the 1980s.
- In response to the 90s extreme sports obsession. ESPN created an annual sports event called the X Games in 1995 that focused on various extreme sports such as motocross, skateboarding, and BMX. Two years later they would also launch the Winter X Games, which focused on skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling. Both the X Games and the Winter X Games remain popular to this day.
- Professional Wrestling experienced some significant changes in the 1990s. The first was NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling breaking away from the National Wrestling Alliance on August 27, 1994 and subsequently renaming themselves Extreme Championship Wrestling. The second was on September 4, 1995, when WCW debuted WCW Monday Nitro, launching the Monday Night Wars against WWF/E Monday Night Raw, which had debuted on January 11, 1993. Hulk Hogan's heel turn at WCW Bash at the Beach 96 on July 7 launched the NWO angle and made Nitro the number 1 wrestling show on TV for a year-and-a-half. Facing serious pressure in the ratings war, and with their current direction failing, WWE went Darker and Edgier by ripping off ECW to create the Attitude Era. WWE finally broke WCW's ratings streak on March 30, 1998, and effectively won the war on January 4, 1999, which saw Mankind (Mick Foley) fulfill a lifelong dream by defeating The Rock for the WWE World Heavyweight Title on a taped episode. Nitro, on the other hand, was live and announcer Tony Schiavone infamously mocked ''Raw,'' saying, "Yeah, that'll put asses in seats!" Nitro's "main event" that night? The Fingerpoke Of Doom.
- From our perch in The New '10s, the '90s can seem hopelessly primitive. In fact, dramatic change was the norm throughout the decade: it began with a handful of people on Usenet or text-only BBSesnote , and ended with everyone and their dog having web pages and sharing music on Napster. We even had viral videos — "The Spirit of Christmas" came out in 1995, and "Troops" came out in 1997. (You had to download them in pieces, because they were too large to be downloaded all at once.)
- This was the decade when personal computers really transitioned from the hi-tech novelty of The '80s to being an essential part of everyday life, in the home as well as workplaces and schools. Improving technology expanded the scope of what computers were for - multimedia, desktop publishing, and of course the internet - making them worthwhile for more people to get, whilst the rise of graphical user interfaces that had began in the mid-'80s made them more user-friendly than the old text-based/command line driven systems impenetrable to non-specialists and "whiz-kids".
- Nevertheless, computers tended to be much more expensive and a comparative luxury by modern standards. Like televisions in the '50s, most homes had only one computer for the whole family to use (if they had one at all), and in the early part of the decade, it might not have been the latest and greatest model (indeed, a small number of 8-bit machines like the Commodore 64 and the Apple ][ were still being made in the very early '90s). It would have almost certainly been a desktop, as laptops were bulky, expensive and underpowered compared to similarly-priced desktops, and didn't have the advantage of then non-existent wi-fi. Laptops were like cell phones in the early '90s: a status symbol for high-powered executives. For many young people, the only time when they had access to a reasonably modern computer was in school, and even then, it was usually only in the computer lab (if the school even had one). And even then, the odd old machine might be still lingering around for certain specific applications. As the decade wore on, PCs eventually declined in price, and it became a running joke that if you bought a new PC, chances are it would be out of date within 6 months!
- Another trend was the rise of the now industry standard PC, still sometimes referred to as "IBM compatibles" or "PC clones" due to compatibility with the original IBM Personal Computer. Already the de facto standard in the business world, it was with the rise of Windows 95 and falling hardware prices that the standard really became ubiquitous. Windows 95 incorporated a much-improved user interface to the already Fair for Its Day Windows 3.1, and integrated both Windows and nasty old DOS, the command-line now no longer being default. It also made something of the emerging multimedia boom. That said, Windows 95 and its sequels were, to greater or lesser extent, notoriously buggy and error-prone, so many businesses preferred the more stable Windows NT which also provided better support for things like networking, but wasn't really suitable for gaming.
- Prior to that, alternative, proprietary standards (most notably the Apple Mac, as well as, at least outside the US, the Amiga and that stalwart of British schools post-BBC Micro, the Acorn Archimedes), were still modestly successful, and to their supporters, vastly superior to your average "PC clone". As IBM-clones rose in popularity, Apple went through a Dork Age and struggled to keep up until Steve Jobs returned and the iMac was launched, ending the preconception of computers as boring beige boxes with its iconic case design, as well as having such revolutionary things as built in USB ports and the CDR-R/RW drive replacing the floppy drive altogether. The fate of Commodore and Acorn was not so rosy: they both went out of business, although the Amiga and RISCOS platforms were still kept alive by enthusiasts, and the ARM processors found in the Acorn Archimedes evolved into that which power our mobile phones, tablets and Raspberry Pis today.
- Printers were largely of the dot-matrix variety to begin with, before being gradually superseded by the usually superior (and much quieter!) inkjets as the decade progressed; we also saw the beginning of affordable color printing. Laser printers existed but were usually bulky, expensive, and monochrome, so were only really favored by large offices.
- The only real affordable portable storage came in the form of the floppy disk, and until CD-ROMs took over, it was the format most software came in as well. As software got more advanced and hence took up more disk space, it took up multiple floppies and provided much annoyance for users having to swap disks constantly when installing software or even in the middle of loading a game!
- It was also the decade of the CD-ROM, which as the acronymnote implied, was only meant for distributing software too big to fit on dozens of floppy discs. Before the internet was really well-established, we also had the phenomenon of the multimedia CD-ROM, an ideal format for educational and reference materials to replace old, musty, boring books and probably an ideal way to get parents to buy their kids a computer as they wouldn't be just using it for nasty things like playing Doom. This also had the upshot of meaning computers and games consoles, like the original Playstation, could play audio CDs as well.
- A failed attempt to make a market for the new technology was the Philips CD-i, which perhaps because people didn't know what it was supposed to be—the controls weren't really suitable for games, which were better served by traditional games consoles whilst PCs did everything else and more—never took off. Nevertheless as an all-in-one home entertainment system, it was arguably slightly ahead of its time.
- Most of what we now know as the Internet (and the word was always capitalized then) did not exist. Here is a look at how crude the internet was as recently as 1995. No friending networks, very primitive search engines, no streaming video, and use of the words "blog" or "wiki" in casual conversation would earn you blank stares. Message boards only came into their own late in the decade — before that, there was Usenet, a huge collection of discussion groups for every topic in the universe. The main three browsers were Netscape (and its precursor, Mosaic), Internet Explorer, and America Online. Yes, AOL, or as many people came to call it, AOHell. Millions got suckered into AOL's crappy business policy and spyware-ridden software thanks to its mass mailing of CDs and its ads proclaiming that it was "so easy to use, no wonder it's #1!". AOL was instrumental in kick-starting the Eternal September, which is when public interest in the internet first began to surge.
- Having an internet connection wasn't a given. Many people didn't have a computer to begin with. Many computers were too old to connect to the internet. Even new computers with the latest operating systems didn't always support Internet connectivity out of the box — Windows didn't until the second half of the decade. Many people who had modern computers simply didn't pay for service because it was too expensive for what was still a novelty then, and most people who did have it wouldn't go on for more than an hour at a time because doing so would tie up the phone line. Being able to afford a second phone line for the internet was a big luxury.
And it was always the phone line — broadband was an option only found in a few areas and at a very high price, which meant that its use was reserved for the rich and for specialized fields (research, programming). This sound came on every time you turned on your dial-up modem to hook up to the internet. If you wanted to, say, look for sexy pictures online, you would have to wait at least a minute for a grainy, 360x240 image of Cindy Margolis (one of the first sex symbols to become famous primarily through the internet) to slowly load on your screen. Basically, unless you had used the internet, you probably didn't even know it existed, especially early in the decade.
In addition, you were constantly getting kicked off the 'net for little reason, especially if you had AOL. At one point, AOL aired a commercial promising that they had hired a hundred thousand new workers for the sole purpose of making sure that this didn't happen so much. There was absolutely no noticeable change in the rate of sudden instant connection death whatsoever. And if you weren't blown offline, other internet users would do you the favor of showing you the door. AOL users were extremely unwelcome on the existing internet, particularly on Usenet. It was presumed that all AOL users (or AO Losers) were either immature twits or simply had no idea how to use a computer. An AOL email address was a sure way to get flamed.
- The internet was discussed in florid terms that have since fallen out of disuse. It was extremely common to hear the mainstream media, in all formats, refer to such things as "cyberspace", the "information superhighway", or refer to "surfing the web" as an activity or even hobby engaged in by young people. The internet was sometimes compared with virtual reality, and was occasionally portrayed as some kind of alternate reality while simultaneously derided as "not real life". This was also the first decade in which online interactions by regular people sometimes led to real life actions, whether that was business transactions or personal relationships - and both sometimes carried a mild stigma during this decade, as either a shady avenue of business, or a questionable way to meet people. Nevertheless, young people especially began shopping, hanging out, and dating online, eventually forcing all of the above well into the mainstream by the next decade.
- The late '90s saw the growth of the "dot-com" bubble, which is when everybody and their dog decided that they were an "e-ntrepreneur" and started up a website offering them some kind of service in the "new economy" that would be created by the internet. As it turned out, claims about the "new economy" were about ten years premature — the spectacular burst of the dot-com bubble early into the 2000s put a lot of people out of work, killed most of the start-ups that proliferated, and hammered the economy of Silicon Valley. Still, the dot-com bubble was, in hindsight, the clearest turning point in public acceptance of the internet as a necessity of everyday life, as proven by the fact that its bust had such a large impact on the economy. Afterwards, the "old internet" (or "web 1.0"), reserved primarily for computer geeks and first adopters, was replaced with the multi-billion-dollar networks we have today.
- Cell phones were in the transition period between the giant bricks of the '80s and the smaller, sleeker, multimedia-enabled devices of today. While prices were coming down, they were still most definitely a luxury item, even more so than a home computer, and were predominantly the domain of businessmen and people who worked on the go. For the rest of us, there were pagers. (Remember Buffy saying "If the Apocalypse comes, beep me"? That's a pager she's talking about.) Cell phones started becoming smaller, cheaper and more common late in the decade, but even then, anything beyond the basics (sending and receiving calls and text messages) was reserved only for the most high-end models. Service was found only in more urban areas, and was still rather spotty. Text messaging was a lot more expensive than it is today, and was practically unheard of. It wasn't for nothing that most people still relied on land lines during this period, and things like pay phones and the Yellow Pages (massive doorstopper books that listed all phone numbers in a given area, which still exist today, but are notorious for being immediately thrown out due to their uselessness) were commonplace. The mobile phone boom only really took off at the very end of the decade, when all of a sudden every man and his dog suddenly seemed to have one - even (gasp!) kids!
Due to this transition period, the 90s also saw some now nearly forgotten phone technologies, and strange juxtapositions. Rotary phones (the kind with an analog dial) were still a common sight when cell phones came into the market, so a single household might be using both early 20th century and cutting edge phone technology. There were also "car phones" which could not be used effectively outside the vehicle and were of questionable use inside the vehicle. At home, caller ID was first introduced, creating a minor revolution in how people used the phone, since calls could be screened without resorting to the hassle of an answering machine.
- Video gaming really started taking off with kids. The early '90s saw the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis (a.k.a Mega Drive outside of North America), which is seen by some as the first great console war — to this day, it's truly difficult to tell who was the clear-cut winner. Gaming started improving from a technological standpoint, and by the late '90s we had both a 64-bit system and the birth of the compact disc as a gaming medium. Nintendo briefly owned the market again after Sega started imploding thanks to infighting between the American and Japanese divisions and general mismanagement, but Sony would take over with the Playstation (one) starting in 1995, and held a choke-hold until the Wii came along in the mid '00s. With video games going 3D, side-scrolling platformers fell out of favor (until nostalgia revived them in the next decade), and by 1997 you could expect to be ostracized for still having a 16-bit system. Ironically, 16-bit platformers have aged much better than most early 3D efforts.
A number of noteworthy trends took place in early-mid '90s gaming. Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog pioneered the Mascot with Attitude in 1991, bringing a Totally Radical flair into gaming and spawning a legion of copycats who would often take digs at Mario and Sonic. This trend went out of fashion by the end of the decade, as the Sonic franchise went through its Saturn-era Dork Age and many of its copycats ran head-first into the Polygon Ceiling, with 2001's Conker's Bad Fur Day, a South Park-esque parody of the genre, providing the denouement. Full Motion Video and virtual reality were also hyped up, with many people predicting that the future of gaming was in interactive movies and the ability to actually be in the game, man. After a few years of grainy, sub-VHS-quality video with production values to match, eye strain, and bombs like the Virtual Boy and Night Trap, gamers realized that, no, this was not the future.
The later part of the decade, meanwhile, saw the appearance of numerous games that would go on to influence the industry for the next decade. This includes Half-Life, Deus Ex, the first three Resident Evil games, Final Fantasy VII, both System Shock games, the first two installments in the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and Silent Hill, among many others. 1998 in particular may go down as the single "best" year in gaming history, much like how 1939 is remembered by film buffs as the high point of The Golden Age of Hollywood.
Of course, accompanying the growth of gaming was the genesis of the anti-gaming movement, which managed to bring about a Senate hearing over the violence in Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. This prompted the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to preempt government censorship. Near the end of the decade, Columbine managed to cause a second moral panic over video game violence, this time targeted at the burgeoning First-Person Shooter genre. Video games were still viewed very much as a children's activity, and anybody over the age of 16 who still played games was viewed as either a shut-in nerd or an Eric Harris-in-waiting.
Outside the PC and console arenas, arcades were still popular in the first half of the '90s. Many big restaurants and other establishments had at least one or two machines, and many department stores of the day had a section (usually at the entrance) where the arcade games could be found. At the start of the decade, these machines only needed one quarter to play, just like in the '80s. Then Mortal Kombat and other games came out which needed two quarters to play, and the prices would only go up from there. Around the mid '90s, arcades began a long decline in popularity, as home consoles started catching up to what the dedicated hardware of an arcade cabinet was capable of. While they were still somewhat popular by 2000, by then the writing was on the wall. Averted in Japan, however: In Japan, arcades are viewed as social hang-out spots for children and teenagers, particularly in urban areas. Any noticeable decline in arcade density in Japan would not occur until around 2014, and for entirely different reasons than in the west.
Speaking of arcades, pinball would see its highest ever heights and its rock-bottom within this decade. Beginning on a high note with 1990's Fun House, in 1992, Bally would release The Addams Family, the top-selling pinball machine of all time and arguably the only pinball machine that went mainstream. Due to The Addams Family, every arcade had a few pinball games somewhere. However, by 1999, pinball would become so obscure and unpopular that every company that made them either went out of business or moved to more profitable industries, rendering pinball a dead industry for the decade's last few months.
- After years of planning, HDTV began to take its' first steps in the mid-90s, with some models available by the end of the decade. However, these early HD sets were huge and costly, and you couldn't find much in the way of HD content at the time either.
- The DVD first came into the United States in 1997, with Twister and Blade Runner: The Director's Cut the first two movies to be released on the new format. However, it wouldn't be until the following decade that the DVD really shone in popularity and sales figures. Until then, we were stuck with the poorer-quality, and much bulkier, VHS. The Laserdisc, the DVD's older, bigger cousin, was still around for the first half of the decade, but once the DVD emerged, LaserDisc popularity began dropping (though in Europe and especially Asia, the format remained popular into the early 2000s). All sorts of offshoots of VHS, LaserDisc, and even mutated forms of the by-now largely forgotten Betamax were invented throughout the decade, mainly for semi-pro and professional use, or for means other than movies (karaoke, for instance).
- Meanwhile, in the music world, it was the domain of the CD, and to a lesser extent the cassette; vinyl had been pushed into obscurity and at most was only really used by DJs, collectors and the hopelessly backward. Cassettes were the main means of recording audio and listening to it on the move, although portable CD players existed and by the end of the decade, recordable CD formats (CD-R and CD-RW) had become affordable for consumers. A whole host of technologies had previously tried to replace the analogue audio cassette; besides a whole host of not-very-successful digital tape formats, by far the most well-known was probably Minidisc, though even that never really caught on and the players/recorders remained quite expensive compared to cheaper cassette machines. The CD had already been introduced in The '80s, but was considered an expensive luxury for audiophiles. It was only around the turn of the decade that the format finally began to take off, thanks to dropping prices of players and discs.
- CDs briefly created a widespread issue with "skipping", the phenomenon where a jostled disc player can repeat or go silent as the laser loses track of its position on the disc. No other medium has this issue - records are played on large players that should not be moved under normal circumstances, and cassettes and mp3 players are immune to the problem as a result of not using sensitive lasers. This meant that while a cassette Walkman could be used while cycling down a bumpy trail, a CD player might fail to play correctly even in a car if you hit a particularly nasty pothole. It wasn't until "skip proof" or "sports" disc players came out (with dramatically shorter battery life) that portable CD players didn't have to be babied while walking.
- MP3 and other audio file formats also came into existence in the decade, but the earliest dedicated MP3 players would not be seen until 1998, had very small storage space and were hideously expensive. Downloading an MP3 file on dial-up internet could take ages; nevertheless, early MP3 downloading sites and file-sharing emerged in the decade (see below). Those with less money and patience were stuck with ripping CDs to their computers or simply playing them straight off the disc.
- In June 1999, Shawn Fanning, John Fanning, and Sean Parker launched a website named Napster, which allowed people to download music for free and share it with each other. It was the center of a ton of controversy, like everything else in the '90s. While it lasted only two years before it was shut down, its legacy proved impossible to erase. It was one of the first beacons of the death of not only the compact disc, but the whole concept of music needing a physical copy — in 2003, just two years after Napster was shut down, the record companies would rally behind iTunes in order to undercut the explosion of file-sharing websites that emerged to fill the void Napster left.
- Preceding Napster was the now less well-remembered mp3.com, which, starting in 1997, provided a forum for indie artists to share music digitally for free. (Yes, both free and legal, not that you would think it possible given the controversy surrounding MP3 downloading in the early days.) Early in the following decade it would itself run into controversy after it tried to allow users to upload music ripped from their CDs and stream it anywhere, which the record companies didn't like at all- they successfully sued.
- Banking was changed forever by digital technology. In 1990, ATMs were rare note , by 1999, they were on every street corner. Ditto for in store debit, and the number of places that took credit cards. The '90s became the decade where the only reason to actually talk to someone who worked at the bank was to get a loan or open an account. Until the very late 1990's it was unheard of to pay for fast food with a card.
- .wav files were hot stuff. These were sound files much bigger than mp3s, so they were only really good for short sound bytes, not full songs. Sites popped up with all sorts of wav files from movies, etc - all ready to download and assign to different events on your computer. These sites stayed up for years until traffic costs and lawsuits threatened them.note
- Under the radar, in 1991, a Finnish student by the name of Linus Torvalds began working on a small UNIX-like hobby operating system, initially meant to be confined to x86 systems and other very specific hardware, and making use of GNU-based software tools. Today, of course, the outcome of this little project is known as Linux and has been ported to more platforms than any other operating system, being widely used on servers, supercomputers and even mobile phones. Back then, it was still developing and was seen as much more obscure and geeky than it is now, only hitting the mainstream in the following decade. (Incidentally, the iconic "Tux" penguin mascot was created in 1996, after Torvalds visited the zoo and became obsessed with penguins.)
DUUUUDE!! This is 90's Kid saying "What you see is what you get!"