1997 was twenty years ago.
If that mere sentence horrifies you, you’re probably as old as I am. I’ve always felt that 1997 was a great year for music, but was that really true, or has the sheen of nostalgia just settled down too tightly? To decide, I dug up the top 100 songs from that year, and recruited my husband [B] and my sister [S] to go down the list with me and share our memories, thoughts and general feelings to try and come to a conclusion: the music of 1997 – good or overrated?
We started from the bottom up and skipped songs that two out of the three of us were not familiar with.
You Must Love Me (Madonna)
[L] This is from Evita, a movie that was first described to me as “You won’t want to see that, it’s about a woman who sleeps her way to the top.” Well screw you, boy I had a crush on for most of middle and high school. I love that movie anyway. This song was written for the movie and wasn’t in the original Broadway show. As far as new songs added to movies based on Broadway shows are concerned, this one is pretty memorable. I still listen to this all the time.
[S] This song is too thirsty for Evita. The first third of the movie establishes that she’s the best lay in all of Argentina. You don’t need to go begging for dick, girl! Time to go north for an upgrade. What’s Truman up to?
[B] All I remember about this song is that the video played endlessly and it didn’t help that my mom played this soundtrack for like seven months straight.
[L] Anyone else remember how they made a big deal of Madonna singing this at the Oscars because she was pissed she didn’t get nominated for best actress? Pop Up Video for Take a Bow taught me that she used that whole shoot to lobby hard for this part.
[S] Executive : “No way we’re hiring Madonna. She’s not believably Argentinian.”
Madonna: ::stands next to bull fighter::
Executive: “Gasp! My god!”
[B] If my memory serves me correctly wasn’t that the video “Take a Bow”? (yeah, I believe I said that already.-L) I just remember that the video was her sitting in bed all day and me going “I want that kind of life.”
You’re Makin’ Me High (Toni Braxton)
[L] I remember thinking this was a “sexy” song, and upon relistening to it I can see why that’s my only memory of it. This song still feels pretty contemporary.
[S] This song totally made me want to grow up and make out.
[B] Oh god. All I remember about this song is the sexist video where Toni and her friends judged men in an elevator. We are not meat! Men have feelings too.
[L] So you have a problem with like the one music video that objectifys men? I see how it is.
[S] Toni wears a spandex white jumpsuit in that video and PULLS IT OFF. I just think history should remember and appreciate this.
[B] That would be appreciated if Toni Braxton was attractive…
[L] He finds no one attractive. I sometimes question if he really finds me attractive.
I Like It (The Blackout All Stars)
[L] I had no idea what this song was until I listened to it. I feel like this has to be a Jack Jams staple, right?
[S] This song rocks. The video is bizarre. I feel like The Blackout All Stars stole clips from corporate training videos, Pepsi ads, and a Mexican telenovella to make this happen. But it works. It’s worth a watch.
[B] This song makes me want to suffer a head injury. That way I can possibly forget it.
[L] I watched forty-five seconds that video and see exactly what she’s talking about.
[S] Now that I remember this song exists, I’m playing it at all future parties. I got soul, I got soul.
[B] I will no longer be attending her parties.
Let Me Clear My Throat (DJ Kool)
[L] I’m fighting the urge to do research on this song, because this sounds so much earlier than 1997.
[S] This song is like a trap for white people. Or maybe it’s just this white person. God does it make me want to “break it down”. But my arm flails and awkward jerks break down nothing but the spirit of my parents, who lovingly shelled out money year after year for dance lessons.
[B] Oh man do I remember this on Hot 97 playing all the time. It was also a staple on mix tapes to get you hyped! But it’s completely what a white person dances too. In fact I’m pretty sure it was made to get white people to dance and make fun of them.
[L] I lost that fight against doing research. This song samples two older songs, which is why I thought it sounded 80’s. Also the video has clowns partying with regular people like they belong there. Why?! In no way does the presence of clowns improve anything.
[S] The clowns dance better than I do.
[B] Don’t be shy with your funky fresh moves!
When You’re Gone (The Cranberries)
[L] I was not a fan of The Cranberries back then. Their song “Zombie” makes me want to tear my ears off, but this one is actually pleasant.
[S] The Cranberries are from the much cooler half of the 90’s. The Cranberries were the music of My So Called Life, back when it was like…so lame to be excited about stuff. But then 1997 ushered in a much cornier age of music, and we were all bopping to Disney cartoon music and Broadway musicals, apparently. The Cranberries’ presence on this list is like the last stand of the true 90’s.
[B] I don’t remember any of their songs outside of “Zombie” and that other one they released with the crazy clowns in the video….. Was never a fan.
[L] More clowns in videos?! Why?! I don’t wanna know…
[S] You have to remember that this was 1997. Clowns were our heroes then. All kids grew up wanting to be police officers, fire fighters, or clowns. I wanted to be a fire fighting clown, but my giant pants were extremely flammable.
[B] Considering the other Cranberries song was about heroin use the crazy clowns make a ton of sense.
[L] That doesn’t make it right.
Barbie Girl (Aqua)
[L] This song may be a stupid gimmick one hit wonder, but I love it anyway. Come on Barbie, let’s go party!
[S] I’m really glad the internet wasn’t a big thing in the 90’s. Can you imagine this crap “going viral”? Cause I sure as shit can, and the thought gives me a full body shiver.
[B] I remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking “holy product placement batman!” It’s horrifically catchy, like some sort of terrible ear STD.
[L] The video for this song is amazing. It should go viral again right now. The world needs more Scandinavian pop music. Best of all, it contains 0 clowns.
[S] Since I’m a serious writing professional, I listened to Aqua’s entire catalog in preparation for this piece. And it turns out “Barbie Girl” is a nuanced, heartbreaking ode that fits into a larger arc of their Tommy-esque Scandinavian pop opera.
Or it’s just terrible nonsense.
[B] I just wished I could have been a fly in the room when they came up with the concept of this song.
Go the Distance (Michael Bolton)
[L] I saw Hercules in the theater like twice. I thought it came out later than 1997. While I love the movie and I love this song as performed in the movie, I’d rather listen to that version than this one any day. But that’s the case with pretty much any version of a Disney song they’ve redone as a pop song.
[S] This is my least favorite song from Hercules. Seeing a hum drum song from a lukewarm Disney movie topping the charts seems so jarring to me now. Like almost quaint. Especially when you add in Bolton. I ask, when did America change? Was it 9/11? Let’s blame 9/11.
[B] I was at Disney World and they played this song endlessly on their TV channels. I mean Disney doesn’t have a lot of stuff to really show on their TV channels but at least you could show like Mickey Mouse cartoons on occasion.
[L] I feel like by 1997 Bolton was already way down in popularity. I feel like he was more of a thing in the early 90’s. He was probably happy to make this top 100.
[S] Don’t tell Bolton how to feel.
[B] I much prefer the newer Michael Bolton stuff like his collaboration with Lonely Island.
Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Madonna)
[L] This is the song probably most associated with Evita. Can you imagine a song like this being played on the radio now, even if it was sung by a major star? I feel like those days are kind of over. You didn’t see “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables topping the charts when that movie came out. Granted, that is a depressing song.
[S] Girl, you’re the best lay AND you’ve got a whole country crying for you? That’s awesome. #goals
[B] I can see something like this on the radio if it was catchy or poppy enough. Remember the days when Madonna had talent and didn’t pretend she was British?
[L] Does she still do that? I feel like that was 10 years ago. Is this what getting old feels like?
[S] I think these days she just pretends to be relevant.
[B] Well she does come late to her own concerts and oddly cries on stage now. Maybe a call for attention?
[L] Whatever. No one can take her performance in A League of Their Own away from her. #classic