I’m a 90s girl

The way my mind works, one thought will quickly lead to another and another until I get to a point that is almost unrelated to the original thought. That’s what happened last weekend when the mere mention of C&C Music Factory led to reminiscing about Snap!, Crystal Waters, and Ce Ce Peniston, which set me off thinking about the 90s, the great dance music we jammed to, and the images of sexy, in-charge women.

I was young then – just a 4th grader in 1990 – so when I think of that era, not only do I picture myself and my friends sitting on the school steps, singing the R&B jams of the day, I picture the people who were grown-ups. The young men and women of the 90s set the fashion, lingo and style for me and my peers. I remember having a dance group made up of a few neighboring girls. We’d watch In Living Color, study the Fly Girlz’ moves, and meet the next day doing our best job to mimic the dances while throwing our own spin into the mix. We all watched Martin and laughed about it at school the next day. Thanks to Martin’s You So Crazy and many nights watching Def Comedy Jam, I can finish up the punchline to jokes that the majority of Black kids my age all know. Of course, I don’t think these references are exclusive to the Black community but I don’t really remember what white folks were doing in the 90s. Until I rewatch Reality Bites or Friends and spin those Spice Girls records again, I’ll continue writing this post in my Black Bart Simpson “It’s a Black Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand” t-shirt. I guess what I’m trying to say is that what was happening in Black popular culture in the 90s, was a big influence on my formative years, especially the image of the “90s Girl.”

Anyone remember a group called Blackgirl? As one would expect, the group was made up of three, uh, Black girls, who had a hit with the song “90s Girl” produced by hit-maker Teddy Riley. It’s not the most groundbreaking piece of music but when it came out I would be hanging out with my friends singing lyrics like:

I’m a 90′s girl
In an ice cold world
Won’t be used for sex (a 90s girl)

I’m a 90′s girl
In an ice cold world
Show me some respect (a 90s girl)

I’m a 90′s girl
In an ice cold world
Independent and strong
I can make it on my own (a 90s girl)

The song is about being independent, strong and ambitious while being sexy, fun and flirty. Considering some of what we’re listening to now, I think that’s not too bad for tweens to hear.

Girl groups were in full effect during the 90s. I loved En Vogue, watched TLC videos, copied Jade, harmonized in stairwells to SWV, and knew all the words to songs by Kut Klose, Brownstone, Xscape, and Changing Faces. This is when chicks were rocking all kinds of styles from the goddess braids, twists, long silky hair and cropped do’s. The 80s had its own look, that’s for sure, but I was all about the hip-hop influenced tomboy sexy that often showed up in 90s era TV and videos where spandex met huge denim vests and boots. Bright bodysuits with stripes from Cross Colours. Baggy jeans and big belts. Floppy hats with braids peeking out. Black college sweatshirts, hoodies, stretch pants, oversized overalls (one strap down, please), and a license to accessorize with knee pads.

Television had me ready to move into a brownstone with three close girlfriends a la Living Single. Khadijah was a journalist (I wanted to be a writer!). Maxine was a lawyer (I wanted to be a lawyer!). Regine was … well she was Tootie grown up, so there was hope for all of us. Synclaire was silly but she had Overton who was her silly soulmate. It was a “90s kind of world” and you needed to have your girls, right? Back then, me and my crew talked about getting one big house together – I wonder where we got that idea from.

Remember how on Martin Gina was a professional career woman? She kicked it with her homegirl and coworker Pam, was “down” for her man, and knew when to keep it classy or go at it with Sheneneh. Looking back at Martin now, the fashions were bright and outrageous but totally in touch with the times. I could see myself being Gina Waters – a woman who was about her business in the board room but still connected with her friends in a Detroit high-rise. You even had A Different World continuing on into the early 90s and we all know how influential that show was, with many crediting their interest in HBCUs to the series.

With very serious issues facing the Black community in the late 80s – 90s(Crack, HIV/AIDS, joblessness, single-parent homes, etc), some of this could sound a bit silly in retrospect. However, at the time it looked to me as though all of these women were having so much fun being grown up, independent, sexy, and in control. Sure, things could get a bit revealing here and there and not everyone was positive, but 90s girls were hot without taking it overboard. The image that came across was sassy and savvy, characteristics girls in the hood needed to make it. The attitude or swagger that came from the 90s girls we heard on the radio, saw on TV, and knew from around the way was a natural progression of advances made by career women in the 80s, the emergence of hip-hop a decade or so earlier, and a revamped Black pride aesthetic.

Of course growing up, a lot of things have been put into perspective. Those shows still make me laugh and I sing aloud to the songs but I’m not trying to be a 90s girl anymore. I wonder, though, what images are influencing the tweens today? Which grownups are they modeling themselves after and what values do those images reflect? Thanks for riding with me down memory lane for a bit. What are your fave 90s moments, images, shows or songs that influenced your youth?

  • http://twitter.com/ihsanamin ihsanamin

    LOL Awesome.

  • Anonymous

    I was totally influenced by En Vogue and TLC. En Vogue had the perfect visual: Classic, elegant and still very sexy. TLC had the personality: sassy, empowered, a little crazy and very cool. To me, they represented the kind of woman I wanted to when I grew up. A sophisticated exterior and a strong, down to earth personality.