Sinead Dunphy examines the role played by nostalgia in the current music industry
The TV and film industry is currently awash with revivals and reboots, and the same can be said for music. Comebacks and nostalgia are proving very popular this year with artists releasing new material after years away from the spotlight, launching comeback or anniversary tours and paying tribute to their former status through social media posts, talk show appearances and even movies. Many consider this wave of nostalgia to be a cheap cash grab or even a desperate attempt to relive their glory days, but if you choose to look at the trend through a less cynical lens, it can be seen as harmless fun and even in some cases as an opportunity to witness real growth in the journey of these artists.
Blasts from the past this year include Jonas Brothers, Aly & AJ, Hootie & the Blowfish, Barenaked Ladies, TOOL, The Raconteurs and many more. The Jonas Brothers have been leading the way with their nostalgia campaign by even going as far as dressing up like their teen selves to perform a parody of their 2006 hit, ‘Year 3000’ on James Corden’s Late Late show in March. The tactic worked perfectly as their comeback single ‘Sucker’ reached number 1 on the Billboard charts in America and venues around the world have been selling out in anticipation of the pop trio’s comeback tour. Further capitalising on their current spotlight, the Jonas Brothers released a memoir and a documentary on Amazon Prime Video tracking their rise to fame and their journey to making a comeback. For anyone else hoping to cash in on the nostalgia game, Jonas Brothers have been giving a masterclass in how it’s done this year.
Fellow Disney alumni, Aly & AJ have also been re-tackling the music industry with considerably less commercial success than the Jonas Brothers but nevertheless, they have been releasing new music and touring it since last year and show no signs of stopping. Refreshingly, while fans may come to listen to the music out of a longing to relive their teeny bopper days, that is not at all what’s on offer with the sister/singer duo’s most recent releases. They have really matured and it shows in their new sound, which has evolved from generic pop rock into cool, synth pop which has been surprising and delighting new and old fans alike. Another band who have gotten back on the saddle after several years away, are prog-rock band and cult favourites TOOL who recently released their fifth studio album after over a decade of making their dedicated fan base wait. Similarly, Jack White’s blues rock outfit, The Raconteurs just released their first album since 2008. Even Irish boyband Westlife have been getting in on the action after disbanding in 2012. This year the group released the Ed Sheeran penned single ‘Hello My Love’ and they are set to release their eleventh studio album this November following a summer of touring. Country rockers Hootie & the Blowfish have also been on tour to crowds of old school fans with support from fellow 90s favourite Barenaked Ladies.
Hair metal legends Motley Crue released a biopic this year based on their infamous tell all book The Dirt, and released an accompanying soundtrack with a selection of greatest hits and four new recordings. The film, like the book, received a lot of criticism but simultaneously drummed up a lot of publicity for the band resulting in their first album in the top ten of the Billboard charts in over a decade and the book re-entered the New York Times Best Sellers list in the top ten. Even Miley Cyrus got her Hannah Montana blonde fringe back and bombarded social media with throwback posts to her Disney days before the release of her She Is Coming EP, which worked a treat to garner more attention for the project. Meanwhile Blink 182 have been playing their album Enema of the State in its entirety on tour in celebration of its 20th anniversary. It seems everywhere you look this year there are throwbacks and comebacks from every facet of the music industry.
In some cases, these comebacks do seem more about monetary gain than anything else but more often than not, commercial success seems like an added bonus to what artists really want which is exactly what the audience wants: a little sentimentality about golden days long gone. It’s only human to look back and reminisce fondly about your former life and it’s no different for musicians. There’s plenty of room in the industry for new and old artists and it’s fun to see how our favourite teen stars have developed or how the content of an old favourite band’s material has changed after a decade more life experience. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not there’s virtue in these comebacks because clearly, they’re not stopping any time soon.