Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019

New Kids on the Block ft. Salt-N-Pepa, Naughty By Nature, Tiffany & Debbie Gibson – 80s Baby

In which Generation X reclaims from the millennials their right to shameless nostalgia…


David Moore: She scattered clues around the house that methodically led both of us to screens on our birthdays, one screen on the first floor and another on the second, mine the endless scroll of Mario demonstrating the mechanics of his first platform adventure in a perfunctory loop, my sister’s the boys on the muted VHS tape silently mouthing their songs with a desperate exuberance, the picture already fuzzy in the corners on our forbidding and ancient television, and we both swooned, me for mine and her for hers, neither screen permeating the other’s world, at least not directly. With the slightest nudge, the images flood in, all from screens — I forget other images, the faces that were never projected back to me — while larger units of time dissolve. I can’t tell you with any clarity whether our scavenger hunts happened at the same time, at the midpoint between our birthdays, or if they were separated by months or even years. I don’t know whether they happened in 1988 or 1989 or 1990 or 1991, except I know it wasn’t 1992, because Mom would have been dead then and time was different after that. There is something sacred and fragile about that period — I was four, five, six, seven — and then afterward the whole world stretched out and arranged itself, and childhood never congealed in memory the way that those four years did, and not just from being four or five or six or seven. My sister was two years older than me and the same thing happened to her. It was the end of the first part of our lives, and we didn’t get to choose when to settle for living in the sequel. I wouldn’t experience anything like that blur, its magic and madness and incoherence, until my sons were born — two, three, four, five years old, and then you resurface and time relaxes and pulls itself together again. The boys from the video are now desperately exuberant men, back to pierce the cocoon of my memories, those four years that in popular reimagining are also ten years, that are the ’80s and the ’90s and occasionally the early 00’s, too. The attempt misses with clumsy gestures that scream their inauthenticity, as so many crass parasites on our nostalgia do, though not all. At the same time, I also find that even the faintest cue in an unexpected corner — in this case, those low canted-angle shots in the music video that pick up the glint of the stage lights — can rip through the scar tissue of time and transport me back into those little tunnels we ran through to find the treasures Mom hid for us, which is where I was myself hiding until I snapped out of it with a sudden need to know if it was Debbie Gibson or Tiffany who now sounds a bit like Kesha. (It was Tiffany, obviously.)

Tim de Reuse: Is this a heartfelt homage to the cheesy sounds of the Reagan era or a cynical parody that throws out a bunch of easily recognizable sound design tropes in hopes that comedy can be measured in references per minute? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone involved in making this track knew either.

Alfred Soto: Crushed that this wasn’t a mixed-up cover of K.T. Oslin’s classic, I understood anyway that this isn’t meant for us — it’s meant for the thousands of fans who book passage on NKOTB’s cruise. But this syncopated Frankenstein does better than expected, and the top line former stars acquit themselves with enthusiasm if not quite inspiration. I wish I could say Joey McIntyre sang as good as he looks now, and someone must remind NBN that while “O.P.P.” is Poppy Bush Interzone, “Hip Hop Hooray” is not. 

Jessica Doyle: I was a certified preteen in 1989-90 (it was not “tween” back then) and have the remembered overidentification with Mary Anne Spier and encyclopedic knowledge of the Duke University men’s basketball team to prove it. So. First: Cheryl James sounds just as great as she did; Tiffany sounds better than she did; Joey McIntyre is approximately 5,000 times more attractive than he was circa “Please Don’t Go Girl,” a miracle none of us deserved; and I’m glad Naughty By Nature was willing to tag along but question the absence of Digital Underground, Biz Markie, and Sir Mix-a-Lot.  (One of them, surely, could have provided a more on-brand base than “The Message,” which was before our apparently-eagerly-remembered time.) But it’s nostalgia. which is a strange force that warps and leaves distortions in its wake. (See, for example, our “1999” entry: 21 blurbs, 39 comments, zero mentions of Columbine.) I can understand it, a bit; I’m not fond of this whole growing-old thing either, and there’s a certain defiant joy in the continuity. And maybe saying I’d rather stay 40 than go back to being 12 is just a marker of how good I’ve had it, and my unease is privilege talking. But it still feels to me that nostalgia is more dangerous than consoling. And potentially deliberately stupid: if you’re going to celebrate music, celebrate it because the music itself was worth celebrating, not because it happened to be popular during a time that’s now over. During a fit of old-school dancing silliness the other night in our kitchen, my husband and I queued up “Push It.” As you youngs would say, it bangs.

Will Adams: Even as someone who was neither alive nor even conceived in the ’80s, the cynicism of this nostalgia summit is not lost on me. Legacy tours are one thing, but an entire recorded song that achieves even less than modern day remixes as far as recapturing ~how things used to be~ feels like a profound waste of time for everyone involved.

Alex Clifton: I suspect I would like this more if I’d been born in the ’80s or had listened to any of these artists growing up (this is the first NKOTB song I’ve ever been able to identify as such). But we got “2002” and “1999,” so why not the ’80s, especially since synths are still in vogue? Like a lot of ’80s pop music, it’s fun and a bit corny, but thankfully not Ed Sheeran-corny — no “both of our lungs” here.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I admit the title is kind of clever, but everything else is a flattened hodgepodge of ideas and sounds from artists who are shamelessly trying to relive their glory days. I can’t tell if I pity or admire them.

Stephen Eisermann: A touch of gimmick, a hint of features, but mostly an excess of cheese.

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