Mining pop culture’s past is the lingua franca of the Internet, with people communicating in GIFs and YouTube clips of favorite old pop-culture moments. (Why just tell someone to shut up when you can send them a GIF of Rachel McAdams saying “Shut up” in Mean Girls?) We have easy access to the entire history of pop culture, and as a result, the past all starts to blend together as one big amorphous blob of entertainment minutia, with one-hit wonders from twenty years ago as oft-cited and indulged as a Gossip Girl quote from 2007. But when you get specific and dig into one year, revisiting everything that happened on the pop-culture landscape during that period, it makes for a wild time-travel trip. All this week, Vulture is taking a long look at the fame landscape of 1998: the stars, the trends, the music, the culture, the clunky technology. It was just fifteen years ago, the time spent in this world without a driver’s license, and yet it feels like a different world.
This isn’t a voyage into classic Hollywood: no flashbacks to Cary Grant or Ava Gardner elegantly strutting the red carpet. We had many of the same stars in 1998 that we have today — and yet back then they looked like (and acted like) kids. You’ll see Leonardo DiCaprio in the Titanic frenzy, sowing his “Pussy Posse” oats. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon look like frat brothers celebrating victory in a formal beer pong tournament as they rejoice in their Good Will Hunting Oscar victory. Gwyneth Paltrow canoodles (what a ’98 word!) with Brad Pitt … then Ben Affleck. Justin Timberlake has frosted blond hair in a hot new band called *NSYNC, at a time when — a year before Napster — the record industry was at a peak, from which it would quickly crash. And these celebrities had the spotlight all to themselves: Neither reality TV nor the Internet would yet give them much competition for tabloid space.
So stick with Vulture this week for your deep immersion of Fame in 1998. All the faces both still famous and forgotten, the music, the scandals, and, of course, a quiz to test your recall of the year of “Yo quiero Taco Bell.” You’ll hear James Van Der Beek talk about blowing up after the debut of Dawson’s Creek, a Friends writer explain that year’s beloved plot twist, and former MTV VJ Dave Holmes expound on screechy-voiced oddity Jesse Camp and the debut of Total Request Live. And you will almost certainly get Chumbawamba stuck in your head for the next fifteen years. First up: Let’s flash back to the couples who occupied 1998 gossip pages and revisit the days when Gwyneth left Brad for Ben, Tom Cruise sucked face with Nicole Kidman, and shock rockers strode red carpets with C-list actresses wearing dental floss.