Remember how excited we all were when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were spotted bumping into each other at the SAG Awards in 2020? One of the most iconic couples of the early noughties, the romantic nostalgia evoked by Brad and Jen was unparalleled. That is, until Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (Bennifer to you and me) confirmed their reunion in a steamy show of affection earlier this week.
But what’s really fuelling our obsession with the past, particularly previous relationships? Do we simply just need an excuse to call our ex?
Personally, I think it goes a bit deeper than that (and I’m not just bragging that I’m over my ex, honestly). Barely a year goes by without a vague cultural declaration that, “the 90s are *officially* back!” Whether it’s bucket hats à la Britpop or un-ironically buying a Groovy Chick duvet, it’s not just late 90s/early 00s relationships that we have a soft spot for.
Look at Friends: The Reunion, which saw all six original cast members of Friends (which ran from 1994 to 2004) reunite and reflect on the show’s impact. It broke viewing records across the UK, with around 5.3 million people tuning in, Sky News dubbed it, “the most-watched show on Sky One ever.”
And Friends isn’t the only reunion we’re currently obsessing over either. Two words: Spice. Girls. That’s right, the Spice Girls (minus Victoria Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice) are officially releasing a limited edition vinyl and cassette, titled Wannabe25, to celebrate their classic single, ‘Wannabe’s’ 25th anniversary.
A new study by One4all, which researched the nations favourite past trends identified that The Spice Girls, along with 90s grunge band Nirvana, had the most influence over our favourite trends from the past.
Could this also explain our enduring love for 90s fashion? The Spice Girls were, after all, known for some archetypal 90s looks, including the little black dress, retro sportswear (the original athleisure), scrunchies, tiny sunglasses and bikini tops. All of which wouldn’t look out of place in a beer garden on a bank holiday.
Our beauty routines haven’t escaped the 90s treatment either. Research from PolicyBee notes that nostalgic beauty trends are growing in popularity over on TikTok. While videos with the hashtag ‘Press on nails’ have accumulated 1.3 billion views, the hashtags ‘scrunchies’, ‘temporary tattoos’ and ‘middle part’, have also amassed a serious following, with over 1 billion views altogether.
I spoke to Dr Neil Ewen, Senior Lecturer in Communications at the University of Exeter, about what’s really fuelling our obsession for all things 90s.
According to Neil, “Nostalgia afflicts all generations, but people feel particularly insecure right now, and the 90s are attractive to my generation, who can remember living through the 90s, as well as to younger people, who are encouraged to identify with the 90s through media trends.”
He explains that this is all down to “prosthetic memory”, a term coined by American scholar Alison Landsberg, which means “remembering a past that you didn’t actually live through.”
Neil identifies two main reasons why we get so nostalgic over the past, in particular the 90s:
The world is an increasingly scary place
“The attacks of 9/11, and the so-called ‘War on Terror’ that followed, created a broad culture of fear and anxiety. Additionally, we are currently living though a crisis of capitalism, which was dramatized clearly in the financial crash of 2008, but continues to be the basis for a lot of discontent and pain.
The system is increasingly only working for a few very rich people at the top of the tree. Most people are in debt like never before, wages are lower in real terms than they used to be, the gig economy means that many jobs are insecure, and reaching the expectations placed on us is harder than ever before. Add to this the pandemic and climate crisis and you can see why lots of people are worried and others are protesting! The pandemic has amplified anxiety and therefore amplified desire for comfort.”
“The 90s marks the last period in history before Web 2.0 and social media changed our social realities in fundamental ways. We are constantly told that social media has ruined ‘real’ relationships and that we should stop tweeting and spend ‘authentic’ and ‘quality’ time together IRL.
“For me, this is at the heart of why the TV show Friends continues to be so popular: it’s a show basically about a group of young people hanging out and spending quality time together, before the smart phone became so central to everyday life.”
I mean, if that’s not an incentive to put our phones down once in a while I don’t know what is…