ead Letter Office is a column of letters written by Todd Hutlock to a friend named Jimmy, who may or may not exist. The column details real-life experiences regarding work, life, and how Hutlock's obsession with music runs them both.
So, have you ever heard of the Seven-Year Theory?
Now, I’ve heard different variations on it over the years, but essentially it boils down to this: from the beginning of the rock and roll era (roughly 1956) to present, music has moved on a seven-year cycle, meaning all of the significant, defining movements in popular music happen every seventh year. Some people count the years differently, and some use six years or eight years or whatever, and some label the events themselves differently. But it is a pretty well-known topic of conversation among those with such worries on their mind (like you and me).
Looking at things from 1956 on then, I’ve come up with this:
1956 – Elvis hits it big
1963 – Beatles break through (though they didn’t hit the U.S. until early 1964, they were pretty fucking huge in the rest of the world by late 1963 for sure)
1970 – Beatles break up and the nihilistic 1970s are born, killing the hippie dream once and for all
1977 – Punk Rock (again, really 1976, but 1977 was the year that the mainstream really couldn’t ignore it any more)
1984 – Rap and hip-hop start to crossover with rock and into the mainstream (see Run-DMC’s “Rock Box”); also, CDs first start to eclipse vinyl.
1991 – Grunge, Nirvana, etc.
And that leads me to my problem… what the fuck happened in 1998?
I’ve been keeping track of this trend in my head for a number of years (and well before 1998), and it’s not like I rushed it either – I’m fully aware that sometimes you have to wait until the year after or sometimes longer to truly look back and see what had changed. But now we’re entering year six and I still haven’t really come up with anything, though, as with everything, I have some ideas.
I think the problem is that in my mind, initially at least, two things really happened in 1998, maybe even three depending on how you stand on the whole mainstream hip-hop issue. But the two things I kept coming back to were “Rap Metal” as championed by such crap as Korn and Limp Bizkit and those knuckleheads, and the whole “Teen” thing, with the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync and all of that. In either case, not a very appetizing proposition, given the magnitude of the previous items on the list. I mean, does “Oops, I Did It Again” really compare favorably to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Not in my mind it doesn’t. (And yes, I know Britney didn’t really hit until 1999, but the whole “teen movement” was well underway the year before, OK?)
A few years ago, anyway, this was actually something of an issue, but not anymore. Clearly, the good looking, popular kids have beaten the ugly stoners and rockers once again here. Their trend has stayed around while rap-metal is just a punch line now. Ugh. A definite low-light in the seven-year chart, but at least it is clearly defined now.
Which leads me to my question for you: what comes next? 2005 is just 12 months away, and I for one have absolutely no clue as to what might be the next big trend. I’m sure I could hazard some guesses—hell, there are consultants at record labels who are well paid to do that very thing, day in and day out. And looking at past history as a guide (as I am wont to do in most cases), what’s the one unifying theme I see to all of the landmarks denoted above?
Nobody saw them coming.
Your man in the Midwest,