2 Feb 2019

So Pop festival: 90s nostalgia at its silliest

From RNZ Music, 8:00 am on 2 February 2019

Auckland's So Pop festival promises to be "the ultimate throwback pop experience", with acts including Aqua, Vengaboys, and Lou Bega. Jack Barlow looks forward to one of the biggest and silliest expressions of musical nostalgia NZ has seen.

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Photo: Supplied

Oh, nostalgia, what have ye wrought? In this case –  if you’re a late 90s pop music fan – something quite wonderful.

We’re just around the corner from one of the biggest and silliest expressions of musical nostalgia the country has witnessed: So Pop festival.

Ever dreamed of jumping up and down – in concert! – to the Vengaboys? Or pulling turn-of-the century, angular dance moves to Eiffel 65? Or mambo-ing along with Lou Bega? Probably not, but here’s your chance anyway.

With nine nostalgic acts and special guest emcee Suzanne Paul (yes, the one and only!), So Pop is set to hit Spark Arena on 5 February. It's the latest in a series of visits from 90s hit makers.

We’ve had more than our fair share of them turn up over the past few years: Boyzone and Backstreet Boys have not only been but are on their way back; acts including Atomic Kitten, S Club (once 7, now 3) and Liberty X have made fleeting visits; and there have been a number of 90s package deals, such as last year's I Love The 90s show , featuring Naughty By Nature, C + C Music Factory and more.

Boyzone’s Ronan Keating, who is constantly popping up in TV ads for radio station The Breeze, has almost become part of the country’s cultural and musical furniture.

Silly though it surely is, it’s not hard to understand their continued popularity. Most New Zealanders in their late 20s/early 30s will have many a fond memory with a soundtrack made up of the period’s goofy pop hits.

Think back to that most Kiwi of pre-teen memories, the classic Friday night Blue Light Disco: Twizzlers, Sparkles and potato chips; furtive glimpses at unrequited crushes; tired teachers who’d really rather be knocking back a glass of red at home, all playing out to the ridiculous techno beat of, say, Eiffel 65’s ‘Blue’.

I distinctly recall dancing on a table to Aqua’s ‘Doctor Jones’, hopped up on far too much Coke, during one such night at Windy Ridge Primary in 1998. For me, like many of us, it was a harbinger of things to come.

Though there was a lot of great music during that period, most of it wasn’t pop. Late 90s pop was generally lightweight, with sloppy hooks, sappy ballads and weird techno beats. At the forefront were manufactured boy and girl groups, with plenty of Eurotrash thrown in for good measure.

One of the questions that’s always bugged me isn’t why kids loved the music so much – since, in hindsight, most of it looks purpose-built for those under 13, but how adults took it seriously.

Did 20-somethings really rock up to bars, knock back a few shots and work their charms to the sounds of Aqua and The Spice Girls? If you’re in your forties and have fuzzy memories of cracking nights along those lines, maybe email us and let us know.

Granted, there was the odd quality pop hit, but you won’t find many of them at So Pop. It’s more of a B-lineup, quirky acts with brief moments in the sun and one-hit wonders.

English boy band Blue had a bit more longevity than most, a solid three years making hits including 'All Rise', 'Too Close' and 'Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word'. Their decline started when one of their members made ill-advised comments about the September 11 attacks in The Sun.

Danish heroes Aqua were pretty prominent, with 'Turn Back Time', the aforementioned 'Doctor Jones' and their smash 'Barbie Girl'; Vengaboys, those weird Europeans with strip-tease uniforms, had a bunch of delightfully trashy dance floor ravers; Irish girl group B*Witched hit it big in New Zealand with the admittedly catchy 'C’est La Vie'; and while Lou Bega had one hit and vanished, who out there doesn’t have a soft spot for 'Mambo No. 5'?

Eiffel 65’s 'Blue' still makes the odd appearance on the d-floor, although who are The Outhere Brothers, 2Unlimited and Mr. President? 

Whether you remember the acts or not it’s a fun lineup. The show isn’t about serious musical expression – pop music usually isn’t, anyway – it’s pure nostalgia, shamelessly tugging at memories of simpler times.

So why not swap the Coke for a beer and party like it’s 1997-2002? To misquote Aqua: listening to plastic, it’s fantastic.

So Pop takes place at Auckland's Spark Arena on Tuesday, February 5th.

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