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The Five Nineties Pop Songs That Saved My Life

Tuesday, 25 June 2024
5 min read
Shannon Connor 2024 0933 1

Written by Shannon Molloy, author of Fourteen.

You just had to be there, man. What a time!

A time when music was different - when it was real and cut deep to the bone with its powerful meaning and its intoxicating soul.

An era when you could be sure just about every song on the radio was a certified banger, set to take its place among other lofty tracks from history considered timeless.

I am, of course, referring to the late 1990s.

For the unfamiliar - dare I say, the uncultured - the final few years of the 20th Century were a hotbed of musical genius that’s without compare.

Yes, the production might’ve been predictable, and sure, some of the vocals lacked…vocal ability, but for a beautiful and brief moment in time, pop music was seriously fun.

It was overwhelmingly positive and filled with uplifting messages of hope, which is exactly what I needed as a terrified and confused fourteen-year-old growing up gay in regional Queensland.

— Shannon Molloy

Music offered me an escape from the daily torment and frequent violence. When I felt let down by indifferent teachers, music offered me a source of support. When my little heart broke, music reassured me it would heal.

And when I was trapped alone with my self-loathing thoughts, music picked me up and told me that I was perfectly fine the way I was.

In Fourteen, the smash hit stage adaptation of my memoir, which chronicles a harrowing but hopeful year of my adolescence at an all-boys, NRL-mad Catholic school in a town you probably haven’t heard of, music is an unofficial cast member.

It steps in during heavy scenes with a tune that takes all those watching to a place of pain, then again in a light scene with something undeniably camp that you can’t resist wriggling along to.

It’s there for the good times, like a teenage house party when the goon bag is pegged to a clothesline, and for the bad times, when friends have to say goodbye.

A catalogue of upbeat - some may say cheesy - songs feature heavily in Fourteen, not just for dramatic impact, but for a very important reason; those songs changed my life.

Here are some of my favourites.

1. S Club 7 - 'Bring It All Back'

How could you not love the breakout single from a band of seven 20-something Brits who originally started out as a children’s TV act?

The only thing more bubblegum than the bright video clip, shot on Miami Beach, are the lyrics. But don’t pretend they aren’t uplifting.

My mum, my best friend and lifelong cheerleader, put this song on one day during my fourteenth year and told me that it was my anthem.

Don’t stop. Never give up. Hold your head high and reach the top. Let the world see what you have got. Bring it all back to you.

John Lennon could never.

2. Roxette - 'It Must Have Been Love'

This absolute gem of a song was released well before my teenage years kicked off, but I was blessed to have an older sister who heavily influenced my musical tastes.

Roxette remains one of my absolute all-time favourite bands.

I was lucky enough to see them perform in Sydney five years before Marie Frederiksson died and it was one of the best nights of my life.

Their entire discography is epic, but this song hits different.

Seven seconds - some simple drum beats and three guitar strums - is all it takes for 'It Must Have Been Love' to punch you square in the throat.

Suddenly, thoughts of your greatest romances that never were flood your mind and you’re in a derelict warehouse in the ass end of Stockholm.

And for some reason, there’s a sheer white bedsheet floating in the air. Why? Why not.

3. The Vengaboys - 'We Like To Party'

If I’d been magically given a dollar for every time I danced maniacally around my bedroom to this song, I would’ve been able to buy my hometown and flatten it to the ground.

As well as having some truly upbeat lyrics - happiness truly is just around the corner - the use of an old bus horn as a musical instrument verges on brilliant.

The members of the Vengaboys are unashamedly camp. They own their flamboyance and outrageous style with pride.

I was so envious of how few f***s they gave and found that energy utterly intoxicating.

I still love this song, but in a sign of how old I’ve gotten, my main thought when watching this ridiculous video clip is that the Vengabus is definitely not roadworthy.

4. Jennifer Lopez - 'Waiting For Tonight'

If you come along to see Fourteen, this absolutely iconic track is the very first song you’ll hear.

There’s something about J.Lo’s sultry delivery of each verse that gets my blood pumping and my goosebumps popping.

The fact that it’s a tune about romantic longing was also perfect for fourteen-year-old me, who was madly in love with the absolute worst boy and couldn’t get over it.

Of course, I taught myself the dance. Of course, I once pulled it off when feeling uncharacteristically confident and carefree at a school disco. Of course, I got bashed for it.

And the video clip of a bunch of beautiful young people dancing at a rave in the middle of what looks like the Amazon jungle, as the clock approaches midnight on December 31, 1999, is electrifying.

But why is J-Lo spending so much time in the bathroom at such an epic party? Get out on the dirt dance floor, you beautiful fool!

This song was constantly on repeat. It was my go-to song to amp myself up when I needed a jolt, usually before a party at some random’s house.

5. Steps - '5, 6, 7, 8'

Was there some kind of national contest to form the most peachy keen and wholesome pop group in Britain in the late 90s?

Steps and S Club 7 are just as similar as they are different. If S Club is cheesy, Steps is the most pungent and heavily aged bitto storico in existence.

The pop-country fusion was a thing long before Taylor Swift thanks to Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill.

Steps borrowed just a touch of that vibe with '5, 6, 7, 8' - an anthem for the world’s gayest saloon bar.

Of course, I taught myself the dance. Of course, I pulled it out when feeling uncharacteristically confident and carefree at a school disco. Of course, I got bashed for it.

But even so, this absurdly fun song holds a special place in my heart and I can’t help but boot-scoot whenever I hear it.

See Fourteen this September

Don't miss Fourteen, based on the best-selling memoir by award-winning journalist Shannon Molloy.

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