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A collage of '90s popular cultureBBC Three / Getty Images / iStock

90 things we love about the '90s

Could Friends have BEEN any better at spawning catchphrases (and haircuts)?

Helen Whitaker
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From shows about being single (see: This Life, Seinfield, Sex And The City) to TV presenter Gail Porter’s bum being beamed on to the Houses of Parliament, the '90s were a pop culture treasure trove, culminating in the rise of Britpop and ‘Cool Britannia’ as the decade wore on.

Our highlights may have been stripy and our backpacks tiny, but we were always ready to rhumble (yes, in the PJ and Duncan, aka Ant and Dec, sense of the phrase). 

Here are 90 more things we couldn’t get enough of:

1. Debating whether there would have been room for Jack on that raft after seeing Titanic for the second (OK, fifth) time...

2. … as well as whether Celine Dion succeeded in making pan pipes a must-have component of a number one single. (Yes, yes she did.) 

3. Alternating between a Manc accent and a mockney one, depending on whether we were more into Blur or Oasis that day...

Photos of the Blur and Oasis frontmenGetty Images / BBC Three

4. … and being genuinely invested in their ‘fight to number one’ rivalry.

5. Shouting ‘lager, lager, lager’.

6. Singing ‘football’s coming home’ (for the first time in 1996).

7. Witnessing Mariah Carey and East 17 become part of the essential Christmas listening canon.

8. Westlife teaching us that the correct time to get up from a stool is during the key change in a ballad.

9. Wondering if we were more Baby, Scary, Posh, Ginger or Sporty…

10. … when we weren’t wondering if we were more Carrie, Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte (always Miranda)...

A photo of the 4 main actresses from the TV show Sex in the CityGetty Images

11. … or if we preferred East or West Coast rap. 

12. If you couldn’t dance, it didn’t matter. All the best chart hits – Saturday Night, The Macarena, Cotton Eye Joe, Tragedy – came complete with their own routine.

13. My So-Called Life’s Jordan Catalano. Later known as Jared Leto.

14. Following the antics of the Primrose Hill set (Kate Moss, Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Pearl Lowe et al) and wishing we could be a fly on the wall at one of their parties.

15. Whether you were an England fan or not, weeping cathartically along with Gazza when England were knocked out during World Cup Italia ‘90...

A photo of Paul Gascoigne weeping after England are knocked out of Italia '90.Getty Images

16. … and briefly becoming experts in the triple jump when Team GB-er Jonathan Edwards broke the world record with a jump (that still stands) of 18.29m at the World Championships in 1995. 

17. Understanding that, thanks to Geri Halliwell, an upcycled Union Jack-emblazoned tea towel is a feasible fashion choice for the Brit Awards.

A photo of Geri Halliwell performing with the Spice Girls at the Brit AwardsGetty Images

18. Ditto backwards clothes, a la Kriss Kross.

19. Wearing a choker in broad daylight for the first time and feeling good about it.

20. The satisfaction of being able to rap the title sequence of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

21. Elizabeth Hurley in that posh safety pin dress. (Side note: how does Elizabeth Hurley not actually look any different now?)

22. Witnessing ‘dishy’ (as your mum referred to him) Professor Brian Cox’s first fame incarnation as a member of D:Ream, the band behind New Labour’s 1997 election anthem Things Can Only Get Better...

23. ... and that yes, the general election had an anthem – and it was completely unironic. After Labour won with a landslide victory, there was no getting away from it.

A photo of Tony Blair in front of a crowd after Labour's election win.Getty Images

24. Singing "Freee Nelson Mandela" and dancing around the living room as the anti-apartheid leader walked to freedom on 11 February 1990 after 27 years in prison.

25. Long before Theresa May became a dancing meme, Russia's first democratically elected president (elected 1991), Boris Yeltsin, boogied on stage at a rock concert in 1996.

26. Being around when the internet officially came into existence. Even if we spent a lot of time saying things like ‘world wide web’ and ‘information superhighway', we didn't have to contemplate things like ‘shareable content’.

27. Having a mobile phone – any mobile phone – made you the coolest. Extra props if you had a Nokia 6110 with Snake on it.

28. Girls smelling of Impulse or The Body Shop’s White Musk.

29. Guys smelling like Old Spice or Joop. 

30. That the opening bars of Ocean Colour Scene’s The Riverboat Song meant one thing: Chris Evans's TV chat show TFI Friday - aka the official beginning of the weekend... 

31. … and we had The Big Breakfast to get us through weekday mornings.

32. Catching Harry Potter fever for the first time. Yep, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997.

33. Getting into golf when (a pre-controversy) Tiger Woods became a sporting hero as the youngest player to win the Masters in 1997.

34. Despite us now realising Friends wasn't all it was cracked up to be - could it have BEEN any better at spawning catchphrases? 

35. … or let’s face it, haircuts. Remember ‘The Rachel’?

36. … although Jim ‘Ace Ventura’ Carrey came a pretty close second. 

37. Not needing to choose between skirts and trousers – because wearing both at once was ‘fashion’.

38. Plus, comfort was the height of cool. Dickie’s combats, plaid shirts, Caterpillar boots and trackie tops. Thank you grunge and All Saints (the band, not the brand).

39. That all you needed to be a bit of a character was a hat (see: Blossom, Bez).

40. Rave culture being born in Britain - OK, we were too young to *actually* be raving in a field, but we were there in spirit.

41. Prince changing his name – to an unpronounceable symbol – way before other pop stars started renaming themselves. (Diddy, we’re looking at you.)

42. Belting out Whitney Houston hits, badly, at karaoke parties. The soul star was number one for basically the whole decade. (OK, I Will Always Love You was actually number one for 10 weeks in 1992/1993). But big ballads were in the charts for ever: In 1991 it was Bryan Adams with Everything I Do, I Do It For You (16 weeks) and in 1995, Wet Wet Wet were on top for 15 weeks with Four Weddings and a Funeral anthem, Love Is All Around.

43. Making like we were in Clueless with the ‘whatever’ hand symbol.

44. Being obsessed with a game show about going to do your food shop. (Bonus points if you can complete Dale Winton’s catchphrase, “When you’re next at the checkout and hear the beep…”*)

45. Shouting "Gladiators, ready!" at the TV with Scottish referee and voiceover man, John Anderson. 

46. Identifying hard with Bridget Jones’ Diary (number of booze units and calories consumed? V. bad).

47. Being around for the birth of Brand Beckham in 1997, when David and Victoria dressed alike and got married on actual purple thrones in 1999.

48. Ab Fab.

49. Julia Roberts ruling the box office...

50. … along with Tom Hanks, who won two consecutive Best Actor Oscars...

51. …and spawned a thousand catchphrases with his portrayal of Forrest Gump. And that’s all we have to say about that.

52. Winona *sigh*.

53. Believing we might get to live on Mars after Nasa’s Pathfinder landed a robotic rover on the red planet in 1997...

54. … and that we’d very soon have our own clones after the birth of Dolly the Sheep. 

55. Fist-pumping at Thelma and Louise.

56. Chatting on AOL Instant Messenger.

57. Watching Ibiza Uncovered and feeling better about your own drunken antics on holiday.

58. Having our hair in twists (thank you Bjork and Gwen Stefani)...

59. … if they weren’t in curtains (thank you Robbie Williams and Edward Furlong). 

60. Cuba Gooding Jr in Jerry Maguire. 

61. Celebrating a small step for equality, when women were allowed to become Anglican priests for the first time in 1997.

62. Genuinely thinking that pagers were going to become a thing…

63. … and that Sun-In (a pre-applied sunbathing product for your hair to make it look, erm, sun-kissed) wasn’t terrible. 

64. Discovering Destiny’s Child, and by extension, our future Queen Bey. 

65. Playing Super Mario Kart on the SNES.

66. Being all about Keanu Reeves...

67. … including pretending to understand the intricacies of The Matrix (thankfully Speed and Point Break were much more straightforward).

68. Feeling relieved when grunge came along and gave us all licence to slob about in flannel shirts, ripped jeans and lots of eyeliner.

69. Knowing that playing Nirvana's Nevermind at full volume would really piss off our parents...

70. ...but doing it anyway.

71. Thinking we were the height of cool with our shiny, new rollerblades - sorry, inline skates.

72. Kate Moss and Johnny Depp being #couplegoals...

A photo of Kate Moss and Jonny Depp from 1994Getty Images

73. (… when fancying Johnny Depp didn’t feel problematic).

74. Wearing out our VHS tape at the bit where Colin Firth comes out of the lake in Pride and Prejudice.

75. Not being able to stop humming the theme tune to Jurassic Park (which also took more money at the box office in its first weekend than any film before it).

76. Knowing all about ‘anti-sleaze’ from war reporter Martin Bell, who beat Neil Hamilton to win a seat in the Tatton constituency in 1997. All while single-handedly making the crumpled white suit iconic.

77. Pop Tarts.

78. MTV’s The Real World, which started in 1992, kickstarting our obsession with reality TV.

79. Andi Peters in the CBBC broom cupboard.

80. Mr Blobby topping the Christmas charts in 1993 with his self-titled Christmas, erm, classic. All together now "Blobby, Blobby, Blobbbyyy".

81. Deciding (briefly) that comedians were just as cool as rock stars (see: Vic and Bob, Newman and Baddiel, Steve Coogan).

82. Playing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on repeat.

83. The fact we could get to France in a train under the sea! The Channel Tunnel (referred to for a while as the 'chunnel') opened in 1994.

84. Uma Thurman’s bob in Pulp Fiction...

85. … and Samuel L Jackson’s attitude. Altogether now: “Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and goodwill…”

86. Bonkers adverts that got us saying things like “You’ve been Tango-ed” to anyone wearing orange.

87. Insisting we could walk in Buffalo boots (but settling for some flatforms).

88. Discovering Mel and Sue on Light Lunch and randomly shouting ‘Schwing’.

89. Obsessively reading Douglas Coupland’s Generation X...

90. … and trying to ignore the doom-mongering about the Y2K bug (a computer flaw that apparently could have wreaked havoc when dealing with dates beyond 31 December 1999) which thankfully didn’t strike. Phew.

*think of the fun you could be having on Supermarket Sweep.

This article was originally published on 18 October 2018.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by y bhekhirst

    24 Oct 2018 19:00
    Ah, Oasis. The band who single-handedly killed the counter culture. Remember how good Creation Records was until those dullards appeared.
  • Comment number 2. Posted by Hands up who likes me

    24 Oct 2018 16:19
    Forget all the dross listed above. Only one person in the '90s mattered:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Morris_(satirist)

    "I just feel tired now if people are shocked.
    If it's not for you, just don't bloody watch it"
  • Comment number 1. Posted by SunGuy

    24 Oct 2018 16:07
    Hmmm - several (loads) of very English anecdotes - I guess you arent being more British than English - what about Scotland winning the 5 nations in 1990?