Now that millions of songs are as available at your fingertips wherever you want them on services like Spotify, it's hard to remember a time when the Sony Walkman was your only means of portable music.
Arizona native Ben Giroux remembers using a Walkman fondly, along with other things the 32-year-old actor/producer misses from being a kid in the '90s.
"I grew up in Central Phoenix and went to Sunnyslope High School," Giroux says. "My parents own All About Books & Comics at Central and Camelback. Growing up in a comic store was a blast, and set the stage for a diverse career in entertainment."
Now living in Los Angeles, he called on his friend, musician Jensen Reed, to write, record, and produce a love letter to his childhood. This became the now massively viral music video, "Back to the 90s."
It starts with a young boy riding a self-balancing scooter up to a neighborhood garage sale. When Giroux and Jensen try to sell him a Walkman, he looks at it like it just landed from another planet. The duo nod to each other, and the beat starts as they pull in the screen to a standard definition aspect ratio. That's when you realize they aren't messing around when it comes to their '90s knowledge.
"There were dozens of iterations of the original track," Giroux says. "We had a massive list of '90s references we compiled over months. Literally hundreds of references were sliced to make room for the homages that ultimately made the cut."
The final product is a relentless nostalgia trip, narrated through a wildly catchy pop song performed by — you guessed it — a boy band (including Garrett Clayton from Hairspray Live!) Everything from Beanie Babies to Bagel Bites to Britney are featured.
"[Production designer Melissa Lyon] relied on friends lending us original '90s memorabilia, [as well as] Craigslist, eBay, and flea markets," Giroux says. "Since this project was all about the design, Melissa and I met months prior to production in order to plan."
In fact, the project ran about two years from the inception, composition, and production, to the release. The good news? It's paid off in a big way. As of this writing, the video has garnered over 36 million views on Facebook and has been shared close to 762,000 times since its May 1 release. They released the track on iTunes and it premiered at #11 on the Billboard Comedy Digital Tracks chart.
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"I’ve been an indie filmmaker for 10 years [and] every project I’ve made has been eagerly released for the world to consume. Some are home runs, some don’t find legs," recalls Giroux.
"But something about this project felt extra special. We knew the video would strike a positive chord with our generation."
It also struck a chord with the stars of his generation, including Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean, who surprised Giroux and Reed during a KTLA interview to invite them to join them on stage at an upcoming show in Las Vegas.
New Times chatted with Giroux about how he spent his time growing up in Phoenix, landing his '90s kid dream job on Nickelodeon, and what to expect for future installments of "Back to the 90s."
New Times: What were some of your favorite hangouts in the '90s in the Valley?
Ben Giroux: I was all about the Esplanade and the Biltmore in high school. But in the '90s, I remember a time when MetroCenter was cool. I bought many baggy JNKOS at PacSun. Also, Castles n’ Coasters for life!
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Were there any specific memories of growing up in Phoenix that made their way into the video?
I used to go over to my friend’s house and play Nintendo together. I remember before we could play the game, we had to physically blow the dust out of the Nintendo cartridge or the game wouldn’t work. It was gross and weird and so representative of a time before iPhones and Facebook. I specifically wrote that moment into “Back to the 90s.” In addition, I tried to find a neighborhood setting that mirrored a Phoenix suburban street. A throwback visual to playing in the front yard in Central Phoenix instead of being glued to our modern screens.
What was the one '90s reference you absolutely had to include?
I grew up watching Nickelodeon. Nick shows defined my childhood — Doug, Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy ... I knew from the beginning that we should include a ton of animation in “Back to the 90s.” I’m actually currently starring in Butch Hartman’s new Nickelodeon animated series Bunsen is a Beast! Voicing my own Nickelodeon cartoon makes life feel incredibly full circle now.
Was there anything that didn't make it or you regret not having?
After 34 million views online, I’m getting a ton of flak — all in good fun — for not including a Pogs reference. The other thing we really wanted to do was re-create the original Seinfeld set and rap as Jerry and George. Luckily, the momentum of this project has instantly led to a sequel happening — which is currently in the works. So stay tuned … “Back to the 90s” Part 2 may have some very familiar faces coming to a screen near you.