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Culture

Gen Xers are explaining that weird moment in the late '90s when everyone got into swing music

Gen Xers are explaining that weird moment in the late '90s when everyone got into swing music

The Gap brought swing to the mainstream with its "Khakis Swing" commercial.

Every Gen Xer remembers a small moment in time when swing music was extremely popular in the late '90s. Swing went from nonexistent to an alt-rock radio mainstay from 1996 to 1998 and then, it was gone in a flash.

During that time, young people rushed to their nearest dance studios to learn the Lindy Hop and bought up old-school, retro suits and fedoras. Swing clubs started popping up all over the country and MTV played swing-inspired videos such as "Hell" by Squirrel Nut Zippers, "Jump Jive an' Wail" by Brian Setzer Orchestra and "You and Me (and the Bottle Makes Three)" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Film editor Simone Smith asked Gen X to explain what the hell was going on in the late '90s that led to swing music making a huge comeback.


It's always hard to figure out how specific trends crop up, but according to Kenneth Partridge from Billboard, it began with the formation of Royal Crown Revue in 1989 by two members of the seminal L.A. punk band Youth Brigade. Royal Crown Revue's old-school '40s tough-guy aesthetic was something punks could relate to while also bringing back the danceable '40s sound.

The band had a Wednesday night residency at L.A.'s The Derby before turning it over to Big bad Voodoo Daddy, who were featured in John Favreau's 1996 surprise hit "Swingers."

"Swingers" was probably the most important moment in the swing revival. The film centered around friends who roam L.A. like a modern-day Rat Pack to a soundtrack featuring Dean Martin, Count Basie and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

Others attribute swing's rise in popularity to "A League of their Own," (1992) "Swing Kids" (1993) and "The Mask" (1994).

In 1998, The Gap brought swing to the mainstream with its "Khakis Swing" commercial, featuring good-looking young people Lindy-hopping to the sounds of Louis Prima.

​On a psychological level, the swing craze seemed to be a pivot from the dreariness of grunge rock that began to fade from the public consciousness by around 1996. Some also think that the upbeat, fun music was a response to the return to the prosperity of Clinton-era America.

At the same time, rave culture, which was also centered around dancing and had an upbeat aesthetic, was becoming popular as well.

Some Gen Xers did their best to explain the phenomenon that felt like it came out of nowhere.

Swing music? it could have been worse.


Smith may be confused that there was a big swing craze in the '90s, but she should also know that it wasn't the only strange musical comeback of the era. What in the world was the whole Gregorian chant craze about?












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