1999 Is Back, And It's Never Going To Die

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By Nathan Smith

These days, swing revivalists seem to have comfortably settled into their own niche in the music industry. Brian Setzer has cornered the market in playing swingin' Christmas carols to grown folks; Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, out on its own Christmas tour all month, will play a post-Christmas show December 27 at Wild Horse Pass in Chandler.

Back in 1999, they were riding high on the pop charts at the crest of the Swing Revival. Now, to put it kindly, they ain't. The Swing Revival was one among many odd little musical fads that took hold of the mainstream in the late '90s. In fact, identifying and exploiting new fads was the dominant business model of the record industry at the time, and it was successful as hell. Record companies had never sold so many copies of hit albums before, and they certainly haven't since.

Nobody's going diamond anymore, but the musical trend Class of 1999 has had a great year. Here's how they did it.

The Swing Revival: Led by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, the Cherry-Poppin' Daddies and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, a Swing Revival was in full, uh, bloom in 1999. Couples took swing-dancing classes together, and guys at my high school wore zoot suits to prom. It was certainly novel: Ska acts like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones had softened up rock audiences for a full-blown brass attack, and for a while there, the 1930s became retro-chic.

The peak: Setzer won a pop Grammy and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy showed up at the Super Bowl XXXIII halftime show.

The problem: The whole trend was started by a Gap commercial. The mall retailer used Prima's version in a "Khakis Swing" commercial in 1998, and I guess they must have sold a shitload of pants, because pretty soon swing was all over TV. At least you could dance to it, but the nostalgia burned out quick in the mainstream.

Today: Setzer and BBVD are both playing to large crowds across the country, Phoenix included.


Influenced both by the heavy grooves of Pantera and Rage Against the Machine as well as the attitude and flow of hip-hop, a new breed of rockers emerged in the late '90s armed with DJs, dreadlocks and down-tuned guitars. At the head of the movement was Korn, who titled their 1998 smash Follow the Leader as a kiss-off to the imitators.

Fred Durst and Limp Bizkit surpassed their mentors in Korn to become the big, dumb face of nü-metal in 1999 with Significant Other, a record reportedly done solely for the nookie. The Peak: Kid Rock's Devil Without a Cause was the tenth-best selling album of 1999, right behind Ricky Martin's Ricky.

The Problem: The angst that fueled much of the music proved unsustainable. Many of the trappings of the genre, from rapping front men and DJs to parachute pants and "ethnic" bassists became bizarre clichés overnight. Oh, and a lot of it was just plain awful, moronic music, as pop-metal tends to be.

Today: Korn also played a Christmas show in Phoenix this year, although they have a much different repertoire from Brian Setzer. Fred Durst played Tempe's Marquee Theatre while wearing an old lady's gardening outfit.

Boy Bands:

Easily the biggest - and most reviled - trend of the late '90s was the revived boy-band phenomenon. Stepping in to fill the void left by the all-grown-up Boyz II Men, pre-fabricated megastars the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC championed flashy pop harmonies and immaculate facial hair, and the imitators came quickly.

The Peak: The Backstreet Boys' Millennium moved more than 30 million units worldwide.

The Problem: The boy bands were a cynical money-maker from the very beginning, and almost no effort was made to hide that fact.

Today: The Backstreet Boys played most of Millennium to a Comerica Theatre filled with Class-of-'99ers. One Direction, their non-dancing progeny, will sell out University of Phoenix Stadium next March.

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