What’s the new line for retro music?

For anyone over the age of 40, and even some of those over 30, this might be some painful reading but it might soon be time to move the bar up about what falls under the ‘retro’ banner.

The fact is, beyond a certain mark all music and culture end up being retro to the new generation, and considering we’re now getting college graduates who were born after the millennium, that time is rapidly approaching.

But what exactly is the benchmark for retro, and what decades now get that elderly mark on them?

Outside of Music

To get a feel for where retro currently sits in the wider cultural world, we have to look at games, movies and other media. The trend on this side is quite easy to see: the 80s are undisputed as being retro now and are actually in fashion as the trendy retro style.

There has been a string of 80s-themed films of late as well. Between Top Gun: Maverick still dragging Kenny Loggins‘ “Danger Zone” along in its wake and Rocketman being a spotlight on the legendary career of Sir Elton John, 80s music has rarely been seen this much since the 80s themselves. Even American Made managed to include the Talking Heads‘ “Slippery People” in the soundtrack, despite the rest of that movie’s music being all over the past 50 years otherwise.

The comedy The Goldbergs and the recent crime drama Snowfall both sit comfortably in the 80s time range, and both are certainly classed as retro.

Even video games are getting in on the act, with both Rocket League and Fortnite delving into 80s themes, characters and designs as part of their retro collections. For the former, they even remixed Kenny Loggins’ “Playing With the Boys,” which is about as 80s as it gets. If you weren’t already convinced, other areas of the gaming industry are doing the same as searching for retro casino slot games on sites like Betfair Casino immediately brings up Retro Rush which is neon themed. They also have slots for Top Gun and The Naked Gun, films which both now land firmly in retro territory.

So we’re clear on the 80s, but what about the 90s?

Are the 90s retro?

This is where things get a little hazier and opinion feels a little more divided. The issue is no one can seem to completely agree on what qualifies as being retro, and the range can be quite substantial.

For instance, in clothing and fashion, the 90s have been described as retro for several years now, with that classic Seattle grunge look popularized by bands like Nirvana being especially prominent. Crop tops, huge earrings, and high-waisted jeans and joggers that you’d find in any random selection of 90s R&B music videos are also now back in for 2022 as the new retro.

Nineties video games also seem to be considered retro, although these are a little less surprising. Classics like Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot all land in that decade, and for the first three of those, it feels like they are somehow much older given how far that industry has come.

What about 90s music?

This is where the murk sets in, as lots of other terms to retro start popping up, such as classic, vintage, and oldies, the last of which is certain to upset some 90s kids.

The distinction often seems to come in for specific artists and genres. Some bands that started in the 70s or 80s and lived on through to the 90s, like Guns N Roses and Metallica, are still considered oldies regardless of later work. This isn’t universal even within the metal genre though. Where Soundgarden and Motorhead now feel old, it feels very difficult to apply the same label to, say, Pantera, who also started in the early 80s, albeit with a 90s peak in popularity, but are now reunited with two original surviving members.

As it comes to the bands that personified the 90s, that feeling of retro or perhaps vintage does start creeping in. Oasis and Blur are 90s through and through and there is certainly an older feel to some of their most well-known songs. The same goes for groups like Blink-182 and even Pearl Jam, both bands that came to define entire genres within the decade.

With that said, if there’s one group that came to define the 90s but now definitely feels like a bit of a retro relic, it has to be the Spice Girls. Aside from their styles and language being a perfect cross-section of so much of that era, someone listening to their music could never confuse it for being a song made today. It is quintessentially a sound from a bygone era, and when you consider that Wannabe celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, you realize that the sound you’re hearing is millions of knees creaking and hips aching around the world.

In short? While some songs have entered the “timeless classic” territory like “Wonderwall” and “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” unfortunately, it really does look like the 90s are now in retro territory.

Now the big question…

We know that retro has gone past the 80s and into the 90s, but is that really as far as it’s gone? The Wikipedia definition for retro is more than 20 years but less than 40, and some definitions go as low as 15, so that puts it squarely in the mid-00s. This means an entire extra generation can go and have a quiet sit down for a few minutes, but does that extend to music?

Let’s first look at some of the most iconic songs that came out just after the millennium. “Stan” by Eminem, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers, “Hey Ya” by Outkast, and “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes all dropped in the first half of the decade. Each of these songs can be seen as a classic track of the era, but do they have a “retro” feel to them really?

The consensus seems to be that this generation of music is not quite at retro status just yet, but it really won’t be many years until it is, as sounds in pop, rock, and R&B have all just moved on so far. The peak of millennial music is safe for now, but here is something to mull over: Britney Spears‘ “Toxic” was released in 2003 and is now nearly 20 years old. It’s a concerning thought.

So that wraps up our run-through on the state of retro. The 80s are no question, the 90s have probably been there for longer than anyone wants to admit, and the 00s are only a few short albums away from landing in there too. This might call for a hot drink.

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com