1997: 20 of the Best Pop Culture Moments from 20 Years Ago

1997: 20 of the Best Pop Culture Moments from 20 Years Ago

1997. It’s hard to believe that twenty years have passed since the late 90’s. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Missy Elliot, Men in Black, South Park, Batman & Robin and Titanic, just to name a few of the pop culture moments from 1997.  Don’t forget to check out The Pop Break’s 1992 retrospective here.  about things turning 25 this year and now let’s take a look at twenty things that are turning twenty years old in 2017…

1. We’ll Always Love B.I.G. Poppa

The Notorious BIG was murdered on March 9th 1997 and while that tragic event was in some ways the end of the east/west battle, it was the start of an unprecedented run of success for Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records.  Biggie’s “Life After Death” was released later in March to nearly universal critical acclaim and huge commercial success and started a run of dominance not seen before or since.  Albums by BIG, Puffy and Ma$e all produced multiple hit singles and sold millions of copies, Bad Boy’s “Shiny Suit” aesthetic became a cultural force and the label’s signature sound was a mainstay on the charts all year long.  All great record labels have big years but it would be hard to argue anybody dominated pop culture like Bad Boy in ’97.  Like Puff said “I thought I told you we won’t stop…”

2. Missy Elliot gets “Supa Dupa Fly”

The writing/producing team of Timbaland and Missy Elliot had seen success in the mid-90’s with hits by Ginuwine and Aliyah, but it was the debut of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot as a solo artist in the summer of ’97 that cemented the duo as one of the marquee acts of the 90’s.  Missy’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” was a revelation that sounded like nothing before it and the accompanying video was a wild trip through the duo’s version of space age dirty south Hip-Hop.  The song/video set up the release of Missy’s debut album to be a smash and allowed her to become one of the most successful female rap artists of all time and Timbaland to become one of the most dominant producers of the next two decades.

3. Believe The Hype

The late 90’s were the perfect storm for iconic music videos with even mid-level artists getting huge budgets to produce cinematic videos that would hopefully impact MTV’s audience when the network’s influence was at an all-time high and Hype Williams was THE director to make that impact. Hype’s over-the-top style made use of impactful imagery, movie influences and his trademark fisheye lens to make videos by Puff Daddy, Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes (among many others) some of the most memorable of the entire decade and raised the bar for all music videos to follow.

4. Will Smith Fights Aliens…Again.

By 1997 Will Smith had already proven himself as a musician and TV star, but the jury was still out on if he was leading man material. Sure, 1996’s Independence Day was a smash hit, but it featured somewhat of an ensemble cast and he may have been a cinematic one-hit-wonder. Men in Black hit theatres in the summer of ’97 and established Will Smith as a bankable movie star for next decade, established MIB as a property that would spawn two sequels and resuscitated Smith’s rap career with the title track from the film leading to the second phase of “The Fresh Prince” with hits like “Miami” “Gettin’ Jiggy With It” and “Just the Two of Us.”

5. Clooney and O’Donnell and Schwarzeneger and Thurman and Silverstein and…and… 

Although Batman & Robin is nearly universally accepted as the worst comic book movie of all time (for an alternate take check out The Pop Break’s article by Aaron Sarnecky) the over-the-top cartoonishness and the ensuing backlash, forced movie studios to take superheroes more seriously and lead to films like X-Men, Sin City and Batman Begins presenting adult versions of their characters that would appeal to both longtime fans and casual filmgoers. In retrospect, Batman & Robin is not great (it’s actually barely watchable), but it did cause a shift that lead to the current climate of great comic book movies, and for that alone it’s worth picking up a copy of the DVD on your “Bat Credit Card.”

6. “I’m the King of The World!!!”

1997’s Titanic is a once in a lifetime movie. Sure, it’s a decent movie that will stir your emotions if you don’t think about it too much, but its’ cultural impact is undeniable. It was a three hour epic (eventually released on two VHS tapes!) about an actual disaster that somehow appealed to everybody from pre-teens to senior citizens across all demographics.  The movie launched the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Celine Dion (“My Heart Will Go On”) into new stratospheres as they almost immediately became the biggest stars in the entertainment business and put James Cameron in a class by himself as THE director of big budget blockbusters. A lot of scenes from Titanic are ripe for parody twenty years later (the fogged up car, Leo on the mast of the boat, etc.), but at the time Titanic was nothing to laugh at.

7. Allen Iverson has “The Answer”

Allen Iverson hit the NBA with the impact of few before him.  His diminutive size made him a real life Rudy or Rocky figure, his lightning quick play made him a favorite of hardcore basketball fans and his style (cornrows, baggy clothes, tattoos, etc.) made him the poster-boy for the merging of athletics and Hip-Hop. “The Answer” stood (at under 6 feet tall) in complete opposition to the NBA’s squeaky clean image-he had his crew around him at all times, wore flashy jewelry, hung out with rappers and basically became the symbol of “bad boy” NBA players.  While he never won a championship and his career was cut somewhat short, it’s hard to argue Iverson’s impact on both the game and marketing of professional sports.

8. Kenny gets killed for the first time

South Park didn’t create the Adult Animation genre, but it absolutely took it to a new level when it debuted on Comedy Central in the fall of 1997.  The show viewed modern life through the eyes of four hilarious elementary school kids and over the next two decades would expertly lampoon everything from politics to pop culture and everything in between. The crude animation allowed entire episodes to be produced in under a week so Trey Parker, Matt Stone and the rest of South Park’s writers were able to be more topical and timely than any animated show in history and it has served as a running commentary for the state of the world ever since.

9. A Candle in the Wind  

In late summer ’97 Princess Dianna, the most pop culture savvy royal family member, was killed in a car accident while avoiding paparazzi.  The death of a beloved figure sent a good portion of the world into mourning and the circumstances of her death started the conversation of public figures’ privacy rights versus those of the media that we still debate today.

10. Four young women from Texas fulfill their destiny

Twenty years ago four young R&B singers from Texas debuted with the single “No, No, No” had a modest hit and should have been instantly relegated to the “Where Are They Now?” category, however things didn’t work out that way.  Once the initial version of the single cooled off, the group released a remix featuring a then-red-hot Wyclef Jean from the Fugees and the course of pop music was changed forever. The remixed version of the song took off and Destiny’s Child became one of the hottest young vocal groups in urban music.  Over the next two decades there were line-up changes, break-ups, make-ups, solo careers, millions of albums sold, reunions at the Super Bowl and the ascension of Beyonce as the dominant pop star of her generation. Destiny’s Child debut single was like the small pebble that hits a juge body of water and eventually creates giant waves.

11. Rage Against the Machine/Wu Tang Clan Tour

In the summer of ’97 two of music’s angriest acts joined forces on one of the most testosterone and adrenaline filled tours of all time.  Wu-Tang Clan had just released their sophomore album Wu-Tang Forever and solo albums from Method Man, ODB, Raekwon, GZA and Ghostface Killah were still hot on the streets and Rage and been touring their 1996 album Evil Empire extensively since its’ release.  When these two forces connected it was like an explosive chemical reaction.

Each show consisted of a long set from Wu-Tang including each member doing his solo hits and Rage performing both of their albums almost in their entirety, while this would have easily been worth the ticket price (yes, even with all the Ticketmaster fees), the real treat for fans was at the end of the show when the bands would jam together.  Try to imagine Ray & Ghost rhyming over a Tom Morello guitar solo or Zach De La Rocha rapping to a RZA beat, and then take it from somebody that was there…it was even better!

12. Mike Meyers Gets Shagadellic

After a legendary stint on Saturday Night Live and a classic movie (1992’s Wayne’s World) Mike Meyer’s created one more classic character before the 90’s ended with 1997’s “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”  The movie was somewhat of a gamble in that in mocked the British spy movies of the 60’s that were largely unfamiliar to American audiences in the 90’s. The gamble paid off as Austin Powers became one of the most successful comedies of the era and spawned two sequels, Halloween costumes and several catch phrases that still get quoted twenty years later.

13. The Jerky Boys take their game to a new level

By 1997 The Jerky Boys had released three studio albums, a feature film, MTV promos and had appeared on talk shows and in magazines ranging from Howard Stern to The Source.  They could have sat back on their crank calling laurels and took a break, but instead they released arguably the greatest album of their career.  The Jerky Boys 4 is an incredibly consistent collection of calls that focuses primarily on the core Jerky Boys characters with some new additions like extensive sound effects (a tuba?), funny ways to bleep names and a techno song full of Jerky Boys adlibs.  To put the Jerky Boys ’97 hot streak in perspective they appeared in the extended cut of Mariah Carey’s “Honey” video and somehow stole the spotlight from the barely clothed singer.

14. Nintendo gives people more reasons to buy N64

Nintendo 64 was released in the fall of 1996, but with the exception of the groundbreaking Super Mario 64 offered very little in terms of must-play software.  That changed drastically in ’97 when seminal classics like Mario Cart 64, Goldeneye, Starfox 64, Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter and Diddy Kong Racing made the system a true competitor to Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s Saturn. Twenty years later Mario Kart games maintain their popularity and the first person shooters inspired by Goldeneye and Turok are some of the most popular games on the market.

15. Video Games Get Musical

The early years of Sony’s original Playstation console were filled with next generation versions of sports, platforming and shooting games made to compete with genres already popular in the United States, but as the PS1’s lifecycle continued the company started releasing US versions of games popular in the Japanese market. One of the first of these was Parappa The Rappa that put the player in control of a rapping dog and tasked him/her with completing the dog’s rhymes while staying on beat. The game was initially viewed as a curious oddity, but started the ball rolling for the popularity of rhythm based games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band that would be some of the biggest hits of the next decade.

16. Welcome to Hogwarts

In 1997 an unknown author released an almost unthinkably long children’s book about an English wizard and the world was never the same.  The first book was a hit, but each successive book (seven in all) was exponentially more popular than the one before it and the franchise eventually came to include movies, theme parks and pretty much any kind of merchandise you can imagine. Twenty years later it’s almost impossible to imagine a world without Harry and his friends.

17. Sarah McLachlan and her friends go on tour

In the 90’s festival style tours were pretty testosterone filled affairs (see the Rage/Wu entry above), but in ’97 Sarah McLachlan changed that with the inaugural Lilith Fair.  The show featured some of the best female singer/songwriters of the time including Paula Cole, Sheryl Crow, Lisa Loeb, Fiona Apple and The Indigo Girls among many others.  The first run was a huge success and the tour became a mainstay of late-90’s summers.

18. VH1’s Behind The Music

In 1997 VH1 debuted an hour long documentary series that would take fans Behind The Music.  The series was an immediate hit and over the next several years it covered a wide range of artists coving virtually all genres and eras from the 70’s to the early 2000’s.  The show’s format of Rise-Fall-Rise Again eventually became a cliché mocked by late night hosts and sketch comedy shows, but the informative and entertaining documentary style that featured interviews with the artists themselves remains a great way to get the “Clif Notes” version of a musician’s career and the show served as a precursor to today’s popular Netflix and online documentaries.

19. Will Hunting and Chuckie Sullivan

Prior to 1997’s Good Will Hunting Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were working actors with a few notable roles in hit movies, after the movie’s release both actors shot to Hollywood’s A-List and became sought after actors, directors, writers and producers that would be responsible for some of the biggest hits of the next two decades. Good Will Hunting was a critical and commercial hit upon release, but it would be hard for anyone to predict the long lasting effects this movie would have on the entertainment industry.

20. Tyson’s Teeth vs. Holyfield’s Ear

After being released from prison in 1995 Mike Tyson began his road back to boxing dominance by fighting such luminaries as “Hurricane” Peter McNeely, but by the summer of ’97 Tyson was ready to get back in the ring and face championship caliber competition.  The fight against Evander Holyfield has gone down in history as one of the strangest affairs in the history of organized sports. The fighters appeared to be evenly matched, until Tyson thought Holyfield head-butted him and proceeded to retaliate by biting his ear.  After receiving a warning from referee Mills Lane (who became a celebrity himself after this incident), Tyson proceeded to bite his ear several more times until the fight was stopped early with Holyfield’s blood on Tyson’s face and pieces of his ear on the canvas.

Angelo Gingerelli has been contributing to The Pop Break since 2015 and writing about pop culture since 2009. A Jersey shore native, Gingerelli is a writer, stand-up comic, hip-hop head, sneaker enthusiast, comic book fan, husband, father and supporter of the local arts scene. He likes debating the best rappers of all time, hates discussing why things were better in the “Good Ol’ Days” and loves beating The Pop Break staff at fantasy football. You can catch up with Angelo on Twitter/IG at @Mr5thRound, at his website www.FifthRoundMovement.com or interviewing rising stars in NJ’s Hip-Hop scene on “The A&R Podcast” (iTunes/SoundCloud).