It was only a matter of time before the 1990’s received the same treatment as the decades that preceded it. Even when living in the moment I knew it would happen some day. My dad’s favorite radio station when I was a kid was Oldies 103.3 playing mostly hits from the 60’s and 70’s, at the time. Sometimes I would think to myself that this could be me one day, only the radio would be playing the hits of the 80’s and 90’s. Of course, this didn’t quite happen as FM radio is practically irrelevant in the year 2016, but the 90’s are striking pop culture today in numerous ways.
It’s come along gradually, with novelty products showing up in specialty stores with a bit of a 90’s theme. I’m thinking mostly of t-shirts featuring bands and cartoons from that decade, or those oppressive POP vinyl toys of seemingly every licensed property invented from the 80’s and 90’s. It just seems like in the past couple of years we’ve been hit with a wave of nostalgia from that era, pointing to it being here to stay for the foreseeable future until it’s pushed aside by something else.
We’re near the two year anniversary of The Simpsons marathon that launched the FXX network. For this first time in well over a decade, those classic Simpsons episodes from the earliest seasons were back on television. The Simpsons has been a hit for FXX, and it’s not surprising that other networks have followed suit with similar packages. Last year, The Nickelodeon Network debuted The Splat on its Teen Nick channel. This brought back the shows from the 90’s every night starting at 10 EST. I’m not sure how The Splat has faired when it comes to ratings, but it’s mostly delivered what it promised even resurrecting old TV spots from back in the day. It’s second year hasn’t been as good though, with the network relying way too much on Hey Arnold! and later seasons of Rugrats. The grosser, more “90’s” styled shows like Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life seem to only pop up around holidays. And while it’s a bit of a trip to watch Double Dare, the show is so outdated and just not engrossing at all for an adult as the trivia questions are usually absurdly easy or absurdly hard (when they needed to force a physical challenge).
Just in the past couple of weeks, MTV (a sister network to Nickelodeon) has launched its own classic channel called MTV Hits. It promises to feature programming from the 80’s and 90’s, though the promos they ran seemed to emphasize the 90’s more than anything. It’s been kind of hit and miss for me since it launched. While it’s neat to see Unplugged again featuring the classic performances of Nirvana and Alice and Chains, why the network chooses to only feature Beavis & Butt-Head episodes from the 2011 revival makes little sense. I can only assume it’s a licensing issue (perhaps regarding the videos featured in the old episodes) that keep the classics off-air, or maybe they’re saving them for a future marathon or some other feature. The package shows of music videos have also been really spotty. I watched an episode of Rock Hits and found most of the videos to be post 2000, and who gets a nostalgia boner for Creed?
Perhaps more surprising is the rise in 90’s soft drinks of late. Food and beverages isn’t the first category I think about when I ponder nostalgia, but it does make sense as a lot of people will associate certain consumable items (like candy, soda, or even beer) from a particular era. It was still kind of surprising though when Coca-Cola partnered with Amazon a couple of years ago to resurrect Surge. Surge is perhaps the most identifiable 90’s beverage thanks in part to a silly marketing campaign as the extreme soda (though anyone alive at the time knows Jolt is the real extreme soda) and its recognizable can. It’s apparently been successful enough for it to hang around on Amazon, though apparently not successful enough for a full re-release to stores. I’ve had the re-launched Surge, as I did like it as a teen, and found it tasted more or less how I remembered. It seemed to be just a bit sweeter than I remembered with less bite to it, but that’s probably more to do with me drinking far less soda today than I did back then.
Coca-Cola didn’t stop with Surge though, as this summer they re-introduced Ecto-Cooler, their green, orange flavored drink that was a tie-in with The Real Ghostbusters. For whatever reason, the flavor stayed on store shelves well past the expiration date on that cartoon and you could even find it in the 2000’s. With a new Ghostbusters film hitting theaters this summer, Coke felt it was an appropriate time to resurrect the brand. I have not had the new Ecto-Cooler, because I didn’t care for the original. Hi-C is basically soda without carbonation. It’s gross, but if it’s your thing be my guest. I hear it basically tastes the same.
While Surge may be the most 90’s of beverages, the undisputed king of 90’s soda that isn’t around today has got to be Crystal Pepsi. Launched with a massive marketing campaign in 1992, Crystal Pepsi only lasted a year, but it made an impression. Marketed as a cleaner alternative to regular Pepsi, Crystal Pepsi was essentially caffeine free Pepsi without any coloring. It was sort of an odd experience when consuming it out of a glass or bottle where you could see the liquid, but it tasted almost exactly like traditional Pepsi. I think it was that sort of weird factor, and the fact that Crystal Pepsi had virtually no health benefits over regular Pepsi, that doomed it. It also had to likely make up a huge deficit to start off with thanks to that ad campaign which featured “Van Hagar’s” “Right Now” heavily.
After an online campaign that attracted some mainstream attention, Pepsi brought back Crystal Pepsi as a reward for a promotional tie-in with their cell phone app last December. Just this past week, Pepsi brought the beverage back to retail in 20oz form only. Time will tell how successful this is, but for now, Pepsi is saying it’s only here for six weeks or so. I’ve been surprised at how quiet the company has been about it as I’ve see no advertisements for it whatsoever, just a clever website mocked-up to look like an early 90’s website (it also features a playable 90’s themed version of Oregon Trail). When I’ve mentioned the subject to friends and co-workers, the reaction has been the same “They brought it back?”
As for the product itself, it tastes pretty much how I remember. Of course, we’re talking almost 25 years here so my memory cannot be relied upon, but Crystal Pepsi still tastes like regular Pepsi with maybe a slight difference that’s too small to even really describe. I’m pretty excited to have it back, as the point of my life that I’m easily the most nostalgic for is probably that period from 1992-1994. It was just a good time to be alive and be a kid and I loved Crystal Pepsi when it first came out so it’s pretty cool to have it back. I just wish the label was a little more interesting and incorporated that light shade of blue the original had. I hope it does well enough to score a 12-pack release in cans. If Pepsi wants to make it a seasonal, summer beverage I’ll even accept that. I just hope it’s not gone for good come October.
So what’s next for the 1990’s? I didn’t even touch on the movies, like the revival of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the upcoming Power Rangers film. There appears to be no end in sight. Hopefully these nostalgia-themed television channels up their game and companies continue to resurrect the great brands of yesterday. I’m looking at you Nestle, as I want my Alpine White back, damnit!