Jameel Baksh/MiC.

The year is 2008. The day is Friday. The location is your elementary school. It’s your classmate’s birthday, so your times table lesson ends an hour early for cupcakes and celebration. Your teacher plays “The Magic School Bus” on the TV stand that’s wheeled into your classroom. Your best friend is coming over after school. Before your mom arrives to pick you up, you barter for a rare Pokémon card. On the drive home, the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” comes on, followed by Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida.” You spend the afternoon running outside and watching Nickelodeon. You might even be allowed a Cosmic Brownie for a snack!

I’ve just described to you the feeling of pure bliss. For many my age, nothing can beat the simple, good feelings of the 2000s, in part because we were children with few worries and in part because of the culture at the time. Now, as young adults, there’s a growing nostalgia for the era of our youth. Especially within social media spheres, there’s a major resurgence of ’00s pop culture. To the dismay of some, trends like trucker hats, low-rise jeans and even wired headphones are making a comeback.

As trend cycles are known to repeat every 20-ish years, the ’00s revival is right on time. A distinctly 2000s influence is creeping its way into all facets of popular culture. Take music, for example: pop-punk is dominating the pop music scene, and rap albums are taking on the style of ’00s mixtapes. Public figures from the era are reemerging, too: the Jonas Brothers have reassembled, Nas is winning Grammys and Paris Hilton, as I’ve recently learned, is now a chef

In line with the 20-year rule, much of early 2000s pop culture itself is borrowed from the 1970s. Bell bottoms morphed into bootcuts. Disco & funk turned into electronic & hip-hop. “That 70’s Show”, an homage to the titular decade, ran from 1998 to 2006. The cyclical nature of trends is undeniable. Now, we see a unique 2020s-does-2000s-does-’70s style of clothes and music: take “Levitating,” a disco-inspired rap-infused chart-topper, or Silk Sonic, a duo that looks and sounds straight out of Soul Train. Given our current socio-political climate, it’s unsurprising, and I’d even say necessary, for us to relive the 2000s.  

The recurrences in these eras’ pop culture isn’t without reason. The sociopolitical context of these times (from an American point of view) are intriguingly similar. In the 2020s, we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic and have seen humanitarian crises unfold in Ukraine, Palestine and at our own southern border (to name a few). In the 2000s, the country faced the aftermath of 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” The 1970s were no less turbulent, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War. All three eras are also characterized by a technology boom with the spread of computers in the ’70s, the internet and mobile phones in the ’00s and the ever-increasing reliance on our devices in the 2020s. Finally, and perhaps most uncannily, we were emerging from notorious presidential regimes in each era: Trump (2017-2021), Clinton (1993-2001) and Nixon (1969-1974). To boot, all three presidents were impeached, or resigned before he could be, in the case of the latter.

As a distraction from the social, political and economic turmoil, people sought refuge in popular culture. In the ’70s, “after Watergate, many people withdrew from politics altogether. They turned instead to pop culture–easy to do in such a trend-laden, fad-happy decade.” In the 2000s, the obsession with celebrity culture — think Britney Spears — served as a form of escapism. In the 2020s, TikTok’s whipped coffee and upbeat dances gave users joy, hope and distraction during quarantine. I think many of us, myself included, can be quick to brush off pop culture as superficial or consumerist or melodramatic. It’s evident, though, that it has a powerful ability to balance the sometimes unbearable weight of politics and pandemics and problems in our lives. 

As 2000s babies reach adulthood, the generation turns from trend followers to setters. Our upbringing informs our preferences; things that feel familiar — the fads of our youth — are coming back into style. In an era where much of our coming-of-age has been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a collective yearning for a simpler, stabler time. Thanks to the unprecedented nature of the last few years, an overwhelming nostalgia has hit Gen Z, and it’s coming to fruition in the sounds of the music, the look of the clothes, the feelings of our youth.

The recent re-release of a ’00s video game embodies why the era’s revival is timely and needed. Animal Crossing was a pandemic phenomenon, as detailed by the Guardian’s article “It’s uniting people: why 11 million are playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons…Nintendo’s record-breaking new game has been embraced by a world in isolation.” There’s a pure-hearted feeling about Animal Crossing that brought people together during the pandemic. It’s the same pure-heartedness Gen Zers feel characterized our childhoods. 

The tackiness and goofiness of ’00s-inspired fads is exactly what we need right now; a reminder that lightheartedness exists, in spite of the darkness that often surrounds us. Now, I’m not calling for us to be excessively hedonistic or forget about the injustice and adversities around us. I am saying, however, that if you need to wear a denim on denim on denim outfit to feel some joy, so be it.

MiC Columnist Jameel Baksh can be reached at jbaksh@umich.edu.