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.
As a member of Gen X, I am touched that anyone asked us anything.— Michael A. Sampson (@MichaelASamps10) November 14, 2021
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.
Definitely the movie “Swingers”. I bought the soundtrack and danced to it for months. The drunker I was, the better I seemed. pic.twitter.com/WFsSZiS3ZW— 🇺🇸 Geek Freak 🇨🇦 (@GeekFreakBoutiq) November 14, 2021
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.
I remember this 90s GAP ad. The 90s had a little bit of everything. It was a good time. pic.twitter.com/JfDyG39qBu— Neil (@neilbelieves) November 14, 2021
It was a Gap ad that started it. I can’t explain it. It was like mass hysteria. We were sitting there minding our own business watching Reality Bites for the 47th time and suddenly a thing called The Squirrel Nut Zippers existed. And the guy from Stray Cats.— DAN (@Dan_Higgins) November 14, 2021
May have started in 1992 with this scene in A League of Their Own. Madonna was a pop icon at the time. Many of our parents listened to swing, so it was not unfamiliar to us. Full clip here: https://t.co/5nqFo5BB2tpic.twitter.com/CFFGEn5MMY— Javier Happy Warrior 🐝 (@javiergleddy) November 14, 2021
they played that movie "Swing kids" on TV a lot in the mid-90s and it was one of the only period movies about politics but also which featured bohemians rather than soldiers, it was completely formative for dudes my age, ask anyone they've seen it like 4 times pic.twitter.com/EZb5fTQFTX— Matthew Chovanec (@al_mutaghatris) November 13, 2021
I know people cite Swingers. But it also seemed to come on the heels of 3rd generation ska like Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Also, there was briefly a fetishization of all things Rat Pack.— Bryan Behar (@bryanbehar) November 14, 2021
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.
Once the Seattle grunge scene was over, we got into anything that wasn't "mainstream" for 15 minutes. Swing, sure. Celtic, give it a listen. Latin, por que no? Mambo, dig it. Scat, sure, why not. The late 90's were a directionless musical genre blender, and it was glorious— Bill Cassidy (@offstageleft) November 14, 2021
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.
We were basically a generation that was raised by wolves. So, when we hit young adulthood, we looked WAY past the Boomers for models of correct adult behavior: swing dancing, cocktails, more formal clothes, etc. All processed through a punk rock lens.— Dean Hacker (@dhacker615) November 14, 2021
Because it's 150% awesome and Gen Xers have better taste in music/ dance/ culture than any other generation and we dgaf what anybody thinks of us— Leah Hampton (@pludger) November 14, 2021
Swing music? it could have been worse.
It wasn't just the music.— Lucy Anda (@malfunctiongirl) November 14, 2021
You kids wouldn't have your espresso martinis and craft cocktails without us picking this torch back up. pic.twitter.com/XPtZpGUA43
Wait until you learn about our Ska phase pic.twitter.com/KvRSR4dM6X— McNeil (@Reflog_18) November 14, 2021
Two more things: 1. The 90s had a broader affection for 40s/late 30s fashion, kind of like the 80s had for the 50s, and 2. The boomers would never shut up about how the 60s were the one true youth culture, which made it extra appealing to embrace their parents’ music over theirs.— Jane Yager (@Jane_Yager) November 14, 2021
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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