Have you ever been listening to music and had someone say: “they just don’t make music like they used to”? And then that same person will see a trailer for a remake of a classic film and complain that “we don’t need any more remakes” and beg for something new?
We live in a post-modern world. We have been recycling, revisiting, and revitalizing things since the 20th century, and we haven’t shown any signs of stopping. Some people find this frustrating and wish for the day that creative genius will strike again and usher us into a new era of modernist artistic expression. But is that even possible? We have been creating art for our entire history, so could it be that we’ve simply made everything already?
If we follow this logic, the only way to create something new when you’ve already made everything is to revisit the past and combine it with the present. A lot of the media we consume today follows this format, from movies and television to music. One incredible example of this from this year has been WandaVision, the new Marvel television series on Disney+. The show combined classic television with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, effortlessly blending the super-hero spectacle with vintage comedy. WandaVision has been hailed as Marvel Studio’s most unique and daring project, as it is something that we have never seen before in the superhero genre. However, all the elements of the show are rooted in things that have been done before.
WandaVision also does an excellent job of evoking the period of each episode with its catchy theme songs. Every episode is based on a different era of television, starting from the 50s and going all the way to the 2000s. For the opening of each episode, songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have created theme songs reminiscent of shows such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched and The Office. The duo has achieved this by using techniques unique to the time as well as instruments that were commonly used during that era. They used a brass band for the 50s episode, and then brought in an electric harpsicord for the 60s episode. When they reached the 90s, they had Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna sing lead vocals to cement the decade.
The Anderson-Lopez’s compositions for WandaVision have been critically acclaimed and well received by the public, with the song “Agatha All Along” rising to number one on the iTunes soundtrack chart, and even making it onto the Billboard chart, debuting at number 36. The track, which is less than a minute long, takes inspiration from the theme songs of The Addams Family and The Munsters. So, even though people claim that they are sick of revisiting the past, clearly, nostalgia is ticking all the right boxes.
Looking to the world of pop music, Olivia Rodrigo released her debut album SOUR on May 21st of this year, again to critical acclaim. The style of songs on the album varies immensely, and took inspiration from genres such as pop, grunge, and punk. The latest single, “good 4 u” stood out at once as a pop-punk track similar in style to the earlier days of bands such as Paramore and Fall Out Boy. The explosion of fast paced electric guitars, drums and belted vocals in the chorus calls back to the early 2000s, revitalizing a genre that has faded out over the last decade. Rodrigo mixes pop-punk technique with some modern practices, such as the close-microphone, almost whispered vocals, and the many layers of harmonies. In the parts of the song that include these techniques, we are reminded that we are in fact still in the era of Billie Eilish, not back in the noughties. Even so, people have been loving Olivia’s pop-punk references, even going so far as to combine past and present with a mashup of “good 4 u” and Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which currently has over 800,000 views on YouTube.
Rodrigo is playing on her audience’s love of nostalgia intentionally, and extremely successfully. If there were any doubts about her creative vision for the song, you only need to watch the music video to find more explicit references to the noughties. Rodrigo is seen wearing a replica of the cheerleader costume worn by Mandy Moore in the 2001 film The Princess Diaries, and some of the shots are reminiscent of 2009’s Jennifer’s Body. The intention could not have been clearer, and the video is a great visual representation of what Rodrigo is trying to convey through the music.
I have a theory on why revisiting the past is so appealing right now. We are living in a time of uncertainty. We have no idea what the future may hold, but the past is set in stone. It is the one thing that we can always count on to stay the same no matter what, because it has already happened. It cannot be changed. We find comfort in the things that we already know and understand, and comfort is often needed nowadays. With all the fear and anxiety surrounding the future, we look to the past to ground ourselves in familiarity. So, when you see Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany recreating scenes from Modern Family or listen to Olivia Rodrigo invoking Paramore, you are instantly brought back to the time in your life when you consumed that media, to a time when things, in recollection at least, weren’t so crazy. But you also get the satisfaction of consuming this media in a new way so that you don’t get bored of watching your old favorites repeatedly. It’s the perfect way of trying new things without having to step out of your comfort zone.
So, to everyone who complains that they miss the good old days, and to everyone who’s itching for something new, there’s something out there to satisfy either craving. And, if you still want more, here’s my advice: Make it yourself.