Just the other day, New Radicals’ 1998 one-hit wonder “You Get What You Give” came up in conversation, and it occurred to us that, over a decade into the new millennium, the music of the ’90s is starting to sound as dated as disco did when we were kids. From cultural references to Tonya Harding, Hanson, and white kids who desperately wanted to be gangstas to zeitgeist-y topics like Gen-X disaffection and sex education, there are just some songs that unmistakably evoke the decade. We’ve rounded up what we think of as the most ’90s songs of the ’90s after the jump; keep in mind that this isn’t a list of the best tracks of the era, just the ones that are clearly the products of its preoccupations. Let us know what you’d add in the comments.
“You Get What You Give” by New Radicals
Key lyrics: “Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson / Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson / You’re all fakes, run to your mansions / Come around, we’ll kick your ass in”
Ah, the ’90s: a time when you could proudly proclaim yourself an anti-capitalist “radical” and somehow parlay that sentiment into a major-label record deal and eternal one-hit wonder name recognition. Chumbawamba did it with “Tubthumping,” although that song is literally about nothing more than drinking a lot of different kinds of beverages, getting knocked down, getting back up again, and “pissing the night away.” New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” more fully embodies the ’90s because the song is actually about how the kids have to stay positive in the face of rampant commercialism and celebrity culture — and also because it shouts out a handful of ’90s musicians who all turned out to have far more longevity than New Radicals. Even Hanson!