Take your seats, class: We’re finishing up our weeklong look at the role of music in seminal coming-of-age films. Check out yesterday’s class, featuring Pretty in Pink and Footloose, or skip ahead and see how you score on our final exam. Stick around all summer long for future EW University courses on Lost, Harry Potter and more.
The 90s: Rocking out in the Irony Age
Aswe know, the show-business circle of life (hakuna matata, Hollywood!)tends to travel in the same recent-history cycles – the ‘70s and early‘80s brought us looks back to the ‘50s (Grease, Stand By Me, Diner,etc.); the ’80s took us back to the ‘60s (Dirty Dancing, cult-favoriteShag); and the ‘90s celebrated the ‘70s (Dazed and Confused, Crooklyn).Essentially, they’re all films for and by people nostalgic for a timethey were too young to truly experience, but old enough to remember.
The 1994slacker comedy-drama Reality Bites expertly captured Generation X’sobsession with the Me Decade’s pop-culture touchstones: Thrifted actionslacks and poly-print dresses, Charlie’s Angels lunchboxes, All in theFamily reruns — and, of course, Me Decade music. In Bites, Winona Ryderand co. escape their uncertain post-college present by embracing boththe artists of their childhood (Squeeze, Pete Frampton) andthen-current alt-scene favorites (Dinosaur Jr, Juliana Hatfield, thePosies), while also creating a few new icons of their own (Lisa Loeb,and the less enduring Ethan Hawke-as-greasy-balladeer).
Empire Records— 1995’s episodic day-in-the-life of a ragtag crew of youngrecord-store employees, including Robin Tunney and a pre-Jerry MaguireRenée Zellweger — focused firmly on the present. The movie may havetanked at the box office, but its soundtrack prevailed (remember theirresistible thump and jangle of Edwyn Collin’s “A Girl Like You”?)with its intensely mid-‘90s collection of acts like the Cranberries,the Gin Blossoms, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Did it hurt to haveAerosmith icon Steven Tyler’s daughter Liv, just beginning her actingcareer, dancing on a rooftop to The The’s “This Is the Day?” It did not!
In1997’s Good Will Hunting, filmmaker Gus Van Sant brought a much subtlersort of songcraft to the masses with acts like the Dandy Warhols, AlGreen, and the Waterboys, though the biggest impact by far came fromthe hushed, haunting compositions of his then-fellow Portland resident,the revered singer-songwriter Elliott Smith. To see the late Smith (hekilled himself in 2003) performing onstage at the Oscars alongsidefellow Best Song nominees Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion was assurreal as his rendition of the film’s “Miss Misery” was stunning.
Hiphop received far fewer mainstream cinematic tributes than rock in the‘90s, but some of the best artists of the era finally got their due inlast year’s indie dramedy The Wackness, set in NYC circa 1994. In it,enterprising high schooler (Josh Peck) sells pot out of a Popsicle cartand reveres the sounds of the city’s rap royalty: the Notorious B.I.G.,Craig Mack, KRS One. Still, some rockers of past generations eek theirway in too: Mott the Hoople (“All the Young Dudes”), Donovan (“Seasonof the Witch”), and the Velvet Underground (“Sister Ray”). But nocultural moment exists in a vacuum, right? Rappers like the lateNotorious B.I.G. happily sampled from artists of the past, from MinnieRipperton to the Isley Brothers; no doubt they would appreciate thepresence of a few golden oldsters.
For Reference: Lisa Loeb,“Stay”; Me Phi Me, “Revival”; Elliott Smith, “Between the Bars”; TheWu-Tang Clan, “Tears”; Big Mountain, “Baby I You’re your Way”; Nas,“The World Is Yours”; Edwyn Collins, “A Girl Like You”; Evan Dando,“The Ballad of El Goodo”; The Gin Blossoms, “Til I Hear It From You.”
Extracredit viewing: Rushmore, Kids (specifically for Folk Implosion’s“Natural One”), Cruel Intentions (best use of the Verve’s “BittersweetSymphony” to incite a coke-y Sara Michelle Gellar character), Can’tHardly Wait, and the not-strictly-coming-of-agey but still crucialSwingers, Trainspotting, and Singles.
For discussion: Whenwe look back at this decade, say, 50 years from now, and the artiststhat defined it — from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Mariah Carey and RKelly — which ones will ultimately stand the test of time?
Class is dismissed. Your homework? Check out some of the trackslisted above. And see how you fare on our final exam.
More on coming-of-age film soundtracks from EW University:
At the Hop:Mid-Century Nostalgia
Closerto Groovy: Cruising into the ’70s
Totally‘80s: The Greed Decade Goes Pop
The1990s: Rocking Out in the Irony Age
TheIndie Aughties: “This song will change your life”
HappyAnachronisms: These soundtracks mix classic and contemporary hits
Final exam:Test your knowledge of teen angst anthems