Tag: 90s

A Malaise of Meaning: What’s with ’90s music?


Before the rise of atheism and Communism, there was Nietzsche and Dostoevsky. Both men managed to pick what would come after the retreat of religious faith, and fans of both authors point to them as nearly having ESP with regard to the future zeitgeist.

I was thinking of the predictive power of art while listening to horrible punk and emo music from the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think it explains the increase in government corruption, the rising suicide rate, and the opioid epidemic. Almost all the songs are musically repetitive and very few could… how I put it… sing? They yell in a manner related to the musical instrument about how they find school boring, society unfair, and their attempts at coitus unsuccessful.

All these topics are fine sources of artistic inspiration, but these songs seem devoid of any depth. However, like Michel Houellebecq’s novels, the emptiness seems to paint a fascinating picture of ennui, though with far less artistic skill.

U2, “The Playboy Mansion”


The year was 1997. At the end of the 20th century, how did everything end up depressive but frenetic? The ’90s started with the greatest political shift since WW2–after the Berlin Wall fell, so did the USSR. What a Christmas gift! A new world was supposed to open up. A great world. No more fear, no more war.

U2, same as every artist, rushed to Berlin. They came back to report with Achtung Baby and Zooropa. The title says it all, Europe is now a zoo. We’re no longer real people; we’re the caged beasts of our past selves. We’re the pets of the people we fear we’ve become. But of course–that left America. Ten years after The Joshua Tree, which was Bono playing high priest in the temple of Americana, U2 went back to America, the great rock-Christian hope of the world. They reported with Pop, their most maligned album, but perhaps morally the most realistic. It’s criticism that is finally self-criticism; rock stars without any of the sanctimony or self-preening left. Our moral crisis belongs to all of us; that’s our last form of equality.