somewhere in time

Savage Garden, Mase, and Third Eye Blind: Dave Holmes on the Songs of January 1998

Somewhere in Time

She’s on Twitter! Monica Lewinsky is finally on Twitter! So far, she has only tweeted eleven words, five of which were hashtags about gratitude, but I’m keeping my eye on this one. Who knows what she might say? As we follow and wait for more of her wisdom, let’s put on something that reveals our navels and drive my DeLorean GIF back to the week Linda Tripp pitched the shit right at the fan; here are the Billboard Top 40 Singles from the week of January 24, 1998. (I’m already out of things to say about Monica Lewinsky.)

40. “32 Flavors,” Alana Davis
Here, singer-songwriter Alana Davis takes the “I am what I am” subtext of Ani DiFranco’s song and makes that shit text. Still, that second verse — about how you’re screwed if you’re ugly or you’re pretty or you seem to be enjoying yourself in any way — is as relevant as ever, as we fight through a third day of thinkpieces about Renée Zellweger’s face.

39. “Going Back to Cali,” Notorious B.I.G.
Two things: (1) Bad Boy Records pretty much dominates this particular Top 40; and (2) “Sky’s the Limit” is the crucial “Life After Death” jam:

38. “Breaking All the Rules,” She Moves
She Moves is three former Knicks City Dancers who were hastily turned into a girl group in the wake of the Spice Girls by the producers of the Real McCoy, and everything about this video — the styling, the color palette, the choreography, the song itself — is almost right, but just the tiniest bit off. It’s basically Canadian. She Rules are the Rebel Pebbles of 1998.

37. “Criminal,” Fiona Apple
And here are some children’s crotches.

36. “Sock It 2 Me,” Missy Elliott
Children of the late 1990s, I have a question: Did Missy Elliott’s videos give you nightmares? I feel like they would have given me nightmares.

35. “4 Seasons of Loneliness,” Boyz II Men
If you were a black artist on the pop charts in January 1998, you were doing one of two things: You were either pointing at the camera and then placing your hand on your chest, wearing a billowing, monochromatic outfit and serving melisma on an overwrought ballad, like an American Idol hopeful on hour one of a 5 Hour Energy …

34. “Mo Money Mo Problems,” Notorious B.I.G./Puffy/Mase
… or you were rapping into a fish-eye camera lens. No other options were available to you.

33. “Spice Up Your Life,” Spice Girls
I, myself, was working in the world of advertising, supplementing my meager income by temping at nights and on weekends. Which aspect of that experience do you think was more emasculating: that I wasn’t able to make enough money at my day job to both live and drink the way a 26-year-old in New York ought to, that my temp job was creating PowerPoint presentations for abusive financial analysts who were, in most cases, two years younger than I was, or that check-in protocol required me to give the name of my temp agency before my own name, and my temp agency was called “Mademoiselle,” so that the literal first words out of my mouth when I would arrive for duty were “Mademoiselle Dave Holmes”? It was all of those things and more, and it served me my testicles on a plate like I was in a direct-to-video Hostel sequel. Good preparation for the world of hosting auditions, to be honest.

32. “What About Us,” Total
We are not even through the first ten songs, and we are already on our third fish-eye lens and fourth Bad Boy artist.

31. “The One I Gave My Heart To,” Aaliyah
Also, if you were a female artist on the pop charts in January 1998, you were required to give full midriff. No exceptions.

30. “Butta Love,” Next
Camera-to-chest, billowing-outfit slow song No. 2. Not as huge a hit as “Too Close,” but the R&B vocal-group landscape was crowded in 1998, and realistically, how are you going to top a jam about dance-boners?

29. “All for You,” Sister Hazel
Here’s how flush the record industry was in 1998: Somewhere More Familiar, the Sister Hazel album this song comes from, never charted higher than No. 47, but it still went platinum. Not one album released this year — not a single one — has gone platinum. Sister Hazel in 1998 did better than Iggy Azalea in 2014.

28. “Heaven,” Nu Flavor
Here’s Hispanic vocal group Nu Flavor, getting in on some of that sweet African-American billowing and pointing.

27. “Quit Playing Games With My Heart,” Backstreet Boys
This song contains one of the most confounding lyrics in pop-music history: “Sometimes I wish I could turn back time, impossible as it may seem.” Are they saying it seems impossible to turn back time, which it just is, or that it seems impossible to wish to turn back time, which it totally is not. It is possible to wish for literally anything; look at me now, I’m wishing this video’s stylist hadn’t made them all look like male Ukrainian prostitutes. Still, Kevin Richardson’s eyebrows are a national treasure, and I live for the moment when the rain falls and the whole thing turns into a David DeCoteau movie.

26. “Kiss the Rain,” Billie Myers
After the success of this song, Billie Myers recorded the title song for the Freddie Prinze Jr./Julia Stiles movie Down to You, in which, according to Wikipedia, Prinze’s character “attempts suicide by shampoo.” Is there a way to determine what that means without actually seeing this film?

25. “Foolish Games,” Jewel
Until there is a formal, written apology for “Intuition,” I’m afraid Jewel is dead to me.

24. “All Cried Out,” Allure featuring 112
An R&B girl-group meets an R&B boy-group for a ballad, or, in January 1998 terms: midriffs, side of billowing, hold the fish-eye.

23. “Given to Fly,” Pearl Jam
If you were the biggest mainstream rock band of 1998, your video power-move was “not making one.”

22. “Semi-Charmed Life,” Third Eye Blind
Listen: I do not believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. Life is short. Like what you like, and if you’re concerned about how people who aren’t you feel about what you like, and you are not 13 years old, talk to a therapist. I say this as a man with the first Wilson Phillips album in his car CD changer at all times. All of this having been said, I hate that I am attracted to Stephen Jenkins in this video. Dude can wear a sweater is all I’m saying. Most upsetting turn-on this side of Timothy Olyphant in Scream 2.

21. “I Will Come to You,” Hanson
When they make the Hanson movie, a 1997 Clea DuVall will play all of the leads.

20. “No, No, No,” Destiny’s Child
Fun fact: There was a time in pop-culture history when Beyoncé needed a boost from Wyclef Jean. Also, can someone explain why, in the bridge of this song, when the girls are giving smoldering looks to the camera while swinging on tree-swings, there are feathers flying through the air? Are Destiny’s Child taking a break after a vigorous pillow fight, or did a goose go through a plane engine?

19. “We’re Not Making Love No More,” Dru Hill
More pointing and billowing. And talk about melisma! This song is four minutes long, and it ends for three and a half minutes.

18. “I Do,” Lisa Loeb
Lisa Loeb deserved a longer career, but I think even she is grateful that Tina Fey bore the full brunt of looking like Sarah Palin in 2008.

17. “My Love Is the Shhh!, “Somethin’ for the People featuring Trina & Tamara
Okay, this song is an abomination. A hate crime. It’s up there with Boys Don’t Cry’s “I Wanna Be a Cowboy,” Kyper’s “Tic Tac Toe,” and your dullest friend’s Renée Zellweger status update from Tuesday. Its video is every bit as unsexy as you would expect from people who refer to their own love as “the shit,” but at least they’re saving money by using the same set as every video by Smash Mouth and Sugar Ray.

16. “How’s It Going to Be,” Third Eye Blind
Stephen Jenkins looks like a ‘90s alternative Doonesbury character in this one, and you are correct in guessing that I would still hit it.

15. “Dangerous,” Busta Rhymes
So far, the only hip-hop song that doesn’t have a video with a fish-eye lens shot is Notorious B.I.G.’s “Going Back to Cali,” and that’s just because it doesn’t have a video at all, largely because Notorious B.I.G. had died by the time it came out. Literally only death will release you from the obligation of the fish-eye lens.

14. “Feel So Good,” Mase
Fish-eye lens, downtown Vegas, bare midriffs, Mylar suits, wads of $100 bills being thrown like confetti: “Feel So Good” has it all. It is the “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” of hip-hop-video clichés.

13. “I Don’t Want to Wait,” Paula Cole
Eighty percent of the times when I hear the name “Paula Cole,” the face I visualize is that of James Van Der Beek. The other 20, it is Ana Gasteyer’s Lilith Fair comedian character, Cinder Calhoun. Incidentally, did you know Ana Gasteyer has an album out right now, that it’s actually sort of great, and that the first video is here and is much more enjoyable than sitting through “I Don’t Want to Wait” for a millionth time?

12. “A Song for Mama,” Boyz II Men
Here’s Boyz II Men again, describing their mothers’ love as “like tears from the stars,” which manages to be both incomprehensible and gross. If you would actually look your mother in the eye and tell her that “loving [her] is like food to your soul,” then by all means, enjoy. Let’s the rest of us hurry on past.

11. “I Don’t Ever Want to See You Again,” Uncle Sam
This is one I didn’t remember at all, and from the artist’s name, I didn’t know what to expect: a country crossover? The very last gasp of acoustic hair-metal? Nope: another R&B balladeer. But this one gets bonus points for taking the billowing monochrome outfit trend to its logical endpoint and spending much of the video in pajamas.

10. “You Make Me Wanna …,” Usher
Usher’s big breakthrough video, in which he shows more midriff than Total, Allure, and Destiny’s Child, combined …

9. “Nice & Slow,” Usher
… and his follow-up, which begins with him forlornly climbing out of a private plane, already ravaged by the pressures of worldwide fame. The machine works fast.

8. “Show Me Love,” Robyn
Robyn is my queen, and though I love this song, I think we can all agree that “Do You Know What It Takes” is the crucial early-Robyn jam. Vevo has what must be the original Swedish version of the video, which you need to watch if only to see Robyn looking like some trendy, troublemaking Brady cousin from a late-‘90s summer plot on Days of Our Lives.

7. “Tubthumping,” Chumbawamba
You don’t need to hear this song again; if you’ve been to any sporting event in the last five years, you’ve hit your quota. But you must admit it’s an unlikely pop success-story, and I honestly don’t understand why it has entered the canon and, say, Martini Ranch’s “How Can the Laboring Man Find Time for Self Culture” has not. (Really, I was just looking for an excuse to show you that video. Yes, that is a young Bill Paxton. Yes, that is a sweaty Judge Reinhold. Yes, that is Rick Rossovich wearing a fig leaf. This video is the best and also the only example of “sexy kitsch.”)

6. “My Body,” LSG
LSG was an R&B supergroup made up of Gerald Levert, Keith Sweat, and Johnny Gill. Here, they assert their importance by wearing outfits that are monochromatic, billowy, and leather. Power move.

5. “Something About the Way You Look Tonight/Candle in the Wind ’97,” Elton John
If Princess Diana had died this year and Elton John had released “Candle in the Wind ’14,” “Good-bye, England’s Rose” would be a thing dull young gay guys would say to each other at the end of brunch.

4. Been Around the World,” Puff Daddy & the Family
Later this year, TRL premiered, with me mostly out in Times Square talking to the screaming kids. The rumor among the screaming kids in 1998 was that Mase was mildly mentally handicapped, a person with what one such youngster called “just a touch of Down’s.” This is patently false for two major reasons: (1) one can no more have “a touch of Down’s” than be a little bit pregnant; you either have the extra chromosome or you don’t, and (2) from my experience having a cousin with this particular syndrome and spending many years working the Special Olympics, people with Down’s tend to be much more graceful dancers.

3. “Together Again,” Janet Jackson
A rare covered navel from Patient Zero of the ‘90s bare-midriff virus.

2. “How Do I Live,” LeAnn Rimes
This is a mindset I do not understand: Hey, here’s a hot new artist who is also a 15-year-old girl. Let’s put her in a pantsuit, give her Linda Grey’s hairstyle from Models, Inc., and have her sing a Diane Warren ballad against an office building. Nashville, you crazy for this one.

1. “Truly Madly Deeply,” Savage Garden
So, four months after this week, I showed up to an open call for a VJ position at MTV. The whole experience is one big candy-colored blur, but I do remember us all filling out a questionnaire while in line, and when asked to complete the sentence, “In high school, I was voted most likely to …” I wrote, “introduce a Savage Garden video.” It did not work out exactly the way I’d been picturing, but here we are. I’ll take it.

Dave Holmes on the Songs of January 1998