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From Boy Bands to ‘Boy Meets World’: Why the ’90s Are Making a Comeback

Brenda Chase, Hulton Archive (3)

If you almost climbed through your TV when the Kids’ Choice Awards aired to steal Ariana Grande‘s ’90s Nickelodeon-themed purse or have recently felt the overwhelming urge to start papering your walls with centerfold posters from Tiger Beat magazine, you’re not alone. The ’90s have come back with a vengeance. From ever-present boy band reunions (read: the Backstreet Boys, New Kids on the Block, 98 Degrees — and, for one hot second, even ‘N Sync), to re-tooled spin-offs of beloved shows and nostalgia-themed reruns from the decade (‘Girl Meets World,’ ’90210′ and VH1′s entire ‘I Love the ’90s’ series, just to name a few), millennials have been salivating over the treasure trove of ’90s goodness that has seeped back into our current pop culture repertoire. While we’re certainly not complaining (dear James Van Der Beek, more Justin Timberlake anecdotes, plz) we are curious: What is it about the world today that has set the stage for a full-on ’90s resurgence?

The Internet + Social Media

If, like those of us who grew up in the ’90s, you didn’t get a computer until fifth grade… I feel you. The Internet just wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, and nothing like social media had even been dreamt into existence. (The closest we had were the sweet sounds of dial-up in ‘N Sync’s ode to webcam sex in ‘Digital Get Down.’)

But thanks to awesome ’90s-themed ‘Then + Now’ editorial features by yours truly on PopCrush, and blog sites like Tumblr where entire fandoms can exist around even the most specific aspects of artists — like Uncle Jesse’s mullet or Helga G. Pataki’s obsessive love for Arnold — those of us who came of age in that decade have been able to share our fondness for the ’90s on an incredibly large scale. And when the Internet demands it, the Internet gets what it wants.

Social media platforms have completely altered how fans and artists interact with each other. That impenatreable wall that once existed between the famous and their admirers has been shattered by Twitter, and for the first time ever both the fans and their idols can have a constant, personal connection just by the typing of 140 characters. Take O-Town‘s recent reunion announcement, for example (and yes, we are aware that they were of the early 2000s era, but let’s go with it). While the guys have admittedly tried to reunite in the past, it was only in 2014 that they were finally able to take the leap — and they did so by teasing hints and getting fans hyped about the reunion via social media for weeks before the official announcement was even made. A similar thing happened with the making of ‘Girl Meets World.’ Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel (aka Cory and Topanga, one of the best TV couples of our generation) signed on to reprise their roles in the project in part because of the love and strong response from fans.

As beneficial as social media is for followers (who doesn’t love up-to-the-minute, behind-the-scenes glimpses into stars’ lives?), it is crucial for the artists as well, who are now able to see all of the fan excitement in ways they couldn’t in the past. Think ‘Full House’: Almost every day, some combination of the Tanner family is ribbing each other on Twitter or posting a ridiculous Instagram throwback (or better yet, a real-time reunion). Heck, Danny, Joey and Uncle Jesse even starred in a Super Bowl commercial and sang Jimmy Fallon to sleep — none of which would’ve happened if it weren’t for social media.

Sweet, Sweet Nostalgia

There’s a certain comfort tied into childhood memories. That warm, fuzzy feeling that you get while listening to Hanson‘s ‘MMMBop’ or hearing Steve Urkel’s nasal voice mutter, “Did I do that?” most likely happens because you associate those things with happy (albeit rose-tinted), carefree times. Nostalgia is a powerful thing — and it can set wheels in motion. Rumor has it that it was the college interns at Nickelodeon who convinced TeenNick to start their ’90s nostalgia block, ‘The ’90s Are All That,’ which shows classic ’90s Nick programs like ‘All That’ (duh), ‘Kenan & Kel’ and ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’ for several hours each night. But, like social media, nostalgia works both ways. Chances are, the boy band that just reunited or the television cast that just got together did so in part because they were looking to relive a piece of their childhoods, too.

And according to ’Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past’ author Simon Reynolds (who literally wrote a book on pop culture resurgence), the revival of the ’90s isn’t just for those who grew up during the decade. Now, kids who were too young to even remember pogs or ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ are getting into the fad as well.

“The ’90s have a certain appeal to young people today who would have been infants at the time,” Reynolds tells the New York Daily News, “because it’s now long enough ago to have a certain romance.”

Break out the Sixpence None the Richer CD, because the ’90s have officially become romantic.

The Rise of the New Boy Bands

The enormous success of One Direction has proved at least one fact: Boy bands are back, baby! Fellow boy bands like Big Time Rush and the Wanted and up-and-coming groups of instrument-playing young guys like the Vamps and 5 Seconds of Summer only help to demonstrate the fact that the market for boy bands exists — and the fans are all over it.

So, what does this mean for all-male groups of the ’90s like BSB or 98 Degrees? Not only do they have support from the diehards who have been there since the beginning, but now there is an entirely new crop of teen girls out there just waiting to love them. While you may think that that might be a little obvious (there’s a new generation of people; of course there is going to be a new generation of fans), it doesn’t necessarily work like that. Like we said, the market has to be there. Which means, in a sense, that the new wave of boy bands have helped paved the way for the originals to return. Whaddya know.

Pop Culture Exists on a Loop

Ever wonder why you suddenly found yourself envious of pictures of your grandma’s 1960s beehive hairdo or your mom’s kickass leather jacket from the ’80s? It’s because fashion — and many other aspects of pop culture — has a way of recycling itself every few generations.

“Pop culture is cyclical, so within every 15 or 20 years, everything comes back,” Karla Hidalgo, executive producer of VH1’s ‘I Love the ’90s’ series, tells the New York Daily News. Think about it: In the ’90s, the ’60s and ’70s were making their own comebacks, with the Spice Girls proclaiming ‘Girl Power,’ and bellbottom jeans, peace signs and tie-dye everything circling back into fashion. In the ’70s, the ’50s were all the rage, with the creation of shows like ‘Happy Days’ and everyone’s favorite movie-musical ‘Grease.’ And today, ’90s fashion is totally back in style. We see it everywhere from the high-end runways of New York Fashion Week to the mazes of floral-patterned dresses at stores like Forever 21 and H&M. Even Tamagotchi (the brand that makes those addictive pocket-sized virtual pets) recently launched their own clothing line.

While the Internet, social media and the other aspects we mentioned have undoubtedly helped to propel this resurgence like never before, ultimately, the revival of the ’90s has arrived right on time. It is the current decade’s way of reliving the past, and it is perfectly on schedule. And there’s something about that tradition that we find super soothing, kind of like digging into a bowl of ‘Rugrats’-shaped Kraft macaroni & cheese or binge-watching Saturday morning cartoons.

It’s the comfort of a ritual.

Next: '90s Teen Heartthrobs Then + Now

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