Even for those of us who were alive in 1999, it’s become impossible to transport ourselves back to a time before we knew about 9/11 or the XFL or that Magnolia was a perfect movie (let alone any time before March 2020, really). It was destined to be a monumental year before Prince predicted it to be seventeen years prior, and before murmurs about Y2K began picking up traction.
In terms of music, 1999 didn’t just give us 69 Love Songs and the Rage Against the Machine album with the Tony Hawk Pro Skater song on it (not to mention Tony Hawk Pro Skater itself, which introduced many of us to capital-M music), but a residual collection of songs honoring the end of the century, which have been somewhat consistently released up to the present day. While these tracks have covered a broad spectrum of genres, most of them are effective at the exact thing the Purple Guy had in mind with his own “1999”: really making us want to live in that year as opposed to slogging through the destruction that would potentially characterize the following year.
I guess since 1982, “1999” has become shorthand for the eve of destruction (he was only twenty years off), perhaps leading to a spike in cases of songs being called that. Below are just ten of the noteworthy “1999” singles, loosely ranked by how badly we’d like to return to the periods these artists are singing about.
10. Active Child, “1999” (2015)
Well, first off, this track, notably, doesn’t bang—it’s slow and yearn-y and falsetto-y in a not very sexy way. It’s a song about the longing that infiltrates your mind when you look back on your youth, so its tone feels warranted. I just think this one would bring the party down, man.
9. Shout Out Louds, “1999” (2010)
I guess after a handful of years of people telling Shout Out Louds that they sound like The Cure they really just went ahead and leaned into it on their gloomy third album. Another track about lost youth, another band we wanna keep away form the aux cord—Prince would have none of this.
8. Deep Puddle Dynamics, “June 26th, 1999: A – D” (1999)
OK, this is the only item on this list actually released in 1999, with the song titles’ (there are four songs on DPD’s only album called this) date serving as a sort of journal entry for the Anticon four-piece who effectively invented overly intellectual depressive hip-hop. Yeah, this one’s bleak too, though it’s more of a sign-o’-the-times bleak rather than a stuck-in-the-past downer. At least the beats slam.
7. Suburban Kids With Biblical Names, “1999” (2009)
Surprisingly chipper for a song by a band named after a Berman lyric, SKWBN’s take on 1999 unfortunately also takes us back to the year 2009 and all the saddle bags, Urban Outfitters comps, and dysfunctional white family dramedies with A-list casts that you somehow didn’t know existed.
6. Big K.R.I.T. & Lloyd, “1999” (2017)
I didn’t really know what “Back that ass up like it’s 1999” meant before asking Genius, but I like the idea of taking the Delorean back in time to the exact moment in pop culture we’re currently replicating in our fashion and music rather than just, like, going outside.
5. Charli XCX & Troye Sivan, “1999” (2019)
I guess as someone who was too cool for all the trends referenced in Charli’s “1999” video (I was too busy listening to Christian rock, for the record), this one doesn’t really resonate with me. Besides the line about being stupid back then, which is true.
4. Hovvdy, “1999” (2019)
Not exactly something I’d put on to lure Prince back from the Beyond, but Hovvdy’s take on nostalgia feels much more genuine than any of these other artists’. Visceral details like buzz cuts and hand-me-downs do much more for me in terms of nostalgia than Brittney and Steve Jobs, and the track’s minimalism gives you more than enough space to fill in the blanks.
3. Black Noi$e & Danny Brown, “1999” (2020)
Danny and I had very different 1999s.
2. HEALTH, “Strange Days (1999)” (2019)
I’d venture to guess that HEALTH named this track after the 1995 Kathryn Bigelow cyberpunk movie of its title (minus the “(1999)” park), since the album it appears on sort of rides that tech-noir aesthetic, not to mention the fact that that movie takes place in 1999. I guess that’s where this sort of gets confusing, since by ranking this song so high it implies that I’m really excited for the dystopian vision Bigelow had for 1999 four years prior, citing events like the LA riots as apocalyptic lubricants. So yeah, I guess I appreciate the memories of a time when we were only focused on one outcome of the abuse of power.
1. Les Savy Fav, “The Year Before the Year 2000” (2007)
This is as close to Prince’s original ode to 1999 as you’re gonna get—musically, it’s the most disturbed take on punk imaginable, with the lyric “Everybody please keep trying / Trying to party like it’s 1999” feeling like a more accurate sentiment for the eve of destruction. Which I think makes it all the more reckless and fit for the year in question.