Big shit happened in 1992. There was some sort of major shift in American culture that saw its peak in that particular year, and I have yet to hear anyone even mention it. I can’t put my finger on a cause, but there were definitely larger factors than music and fashion trends at work. But what were they? I mean, it couldn’t have been Desert Storm because – let’s be honest – who gave a fuck about that? Maybe it was because it was a leap year. Or was it the Bush-Clinton-Perot runoff and the upcoming handover of power? I sense that the reader at this point will be wondering what the fuck I’m talking about, so I’ll explain.
Pop culture in 1990 and 1991 seemed to be suffering from some kind of 80s hangover. Hair metal was as good as dead, the possibilities for far-fetched sitcom premises and movies had been exhausted, and excessive hair products and make-up were tired (for women AND men), but all of those things, in some haggard form, crossed the decade divide and stumbled on into the 90s. Shitty records like Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” and Poison’s “Flesh and Blood” and embarrassing sequels like Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and House Party 2 just kept coming out, while shameful TV series’s like that abominable Cosby Show spin-off A Different World just kept on going. There was simply nothing coming out that could replace them. Until 1992, that is.
There were obviously big musical changes afoot before 1992, but ’92 was still the turning point. In addition to the two bands mentioned above, there was Trixter, a band that was sort of a last gasp – along with Slaughter – before that whole scene of longhairs was replaced by dudes with long hair who weren’t trying to compensate for wearing make-up by being misogynistic pigs. We all know that Nirvana (although “Nevermind” had come out in 1991) got really huge in 1992 because music editors have been verbally blowing them ever since. I had a copy of Bleach in junior high, but I’m always way ahead of the curve. It was in 1992 that cholas at my high school started wearing that shirt with the fucking baby on it, and that meant that Nirvana had swum (swam?) into the main stream. About 6000 other bands followed, most of which sucked, but at least they were better than another Cinderella record.
A big shift happened in the rap world in 1992, too. NWA and Eazy-E had been around for years, but they were never mainstream; their shit was just too dirty. What changed? 2-Live motherfucking Crew won their case in the Supreme Court in 1992, that’s what. A cultural shift had taken place; it was now possible for a record about dicks and guns to go platinum. But it wasn’t meant to be for NWA, because Dre and Cube had broken off to hang out with Nate Dogg and Warren G and some other dude with “Dogg” in his name, and for some reason they weren’t into Eazy-E or MC Ren anymore. The resultant album The Chronic came out in 1992, “coincidentally.” That album sort of “changed the rap game.” I think it also made the spate of 1990s ‘hood films possible. (And speaking of the ‘hood, the fucking LA riots happened in 1992!)
TV completely blew in 1991. It also blew in 1992, but it blew differently. For one thing, The Real World came out (What the hell would be on TV right now if it weren’t for The Real World?), launching the career of my favorite TV personality of the 1990s, Eric Nies (later of The Grind fame). Melrose Place also debuted in 1992, saving the night-time soap opera genre after the demise of Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty. I think what the success of these two TV shows illustrates is that, by 1992, people were sick of the contrived story lines of the 1980s and wanted things boiled down to three essentials: people having stupid conversations, doing it, and fighting with each other. The entirety of 1990s television followed this format (e.g. Seinfeld, Friends, Thirtysomething, and all of the family sitcoms like Home Improvement, Full House, and Family Matters, none of which featured aliens, robots, or adoptees of another race/species/nationality).
Speaking of reality, people were getting sick of 80s-era artificiality, and nowhere was that more evident than in fashion. You could sort of see the change coming in Trixter (sorry if I’m making too much of such a lame band) whose music was still kind of silly and cheesy like the other late-80s hair metal bands, but who refused to wear (obvious) make-up or hairspray. Trixter actually presaged grunge fashion by wearing ripped jeans and flannel shirts. Big hair was tenacious. I had ridiculous hair in 1990 and even 1991. But in 1992, my shit was long, straight, and there was no product (especially no aerosol product) in sight. Dudes suddenly stopped putting hairspray and gel on their hair and drying the front to look like a frisbee while leaving a small, free-flowing mullet in the back. That was kind of sad, actually. But alas, it was over. Even neon, which had managed to hold on into 1991 in the form of bubble necklaces and surf clothing, finally died, as did spandex, which disappeared in 1991 in its last form, those biker shorts with lace at the bottom.
I’m sure you now see what a cultural turning point 1992 was. But what factors came together to lend that year such import? Was it the promise of residual Reaganism finally disappearing from the zeitgeist if his protege left office in 1993? Or was the shift in politics a manifestation, rather than a cause, of the cultural shift taking place?