TikTok asks: Is Nirvana considered an 'oldie'? Experts say it's all about the radio.


Category:  Entertainment

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  4 months ago  •  13 comments

By:   Kalhan Rosenblatt

TikTok asks: Is Nirvana considered an 'oldie'? Experts say it's all about the radio.
A debate about whether or not Nirvana is considered an "oldie" has TikTok tearing itself apart after a user classified the 1991 song "Something in the Way" as old.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Some millennials and members of Generation X on TikTok are feeling angst after a debate about whether Nirvana is classified as an "oldie" broke out on the app.

That question has launched TikTok into a tizzy over how the genre of oldies is defined by Generation Z.

The debate began after user Ari Elkins, 21, posted a TikTok on April 4 as part of a series he titled "Oldies You Should Know." In the first installment, which has been viewed more than 2.8 million times, Elkins chose the song "Something in the Way," off the band's landmark 1991 album, "Nevermind."

"I totally understand why a Gen Z TikToker would classify Nirvana as an oldie because that person doesn't have a real sense of what that term used to mean," said Jack Hamilton, associate professor of media studies and American studies at the University of Virginia.

Although experts understood why Elkins might think of Nirvana as an oldie, the commenters went ballistic.

"bro, this ain't an oldie bro," one person wrote.

"Oldies?????" another posted.

"oldies bro. really. it came out in 1991," someone else commented.

Many noted that the song has had a resurgence in popularity because of its use in the movie "The Batman" and claimed Elkins only knew the song because of the film.

"I personally have no negative connotation to when a track came out — a good song is a good song — period," Elkins said in an Instagram message to NBC News. "I'm 21 and think others my age should know more Nirvana songs other than just 'Smells Like Teen Spirit.'"

The debate over what is and isn't an oldie can be attributed to one major factor, experts said: the radio.

"The word 'oldies' is part of a radio format that emerged out of the classic rock format," said Drew Nobile, associate professor of music theory at the University of Oregon. "In the 1990s, oldies radio started as kind of an answer to classic rock radio."

Hamilton's and Nobile's examples of which artists appeared on oldies radio included Chuck Berry, The Shirelles and The Ronettes. The radio term "oldies" refers to this time in music history and isn't a sliding term to be applied to a certain era gone by, Nobile explained.

"It's not like in the 1960s, music from the 1930s was considered classic and music from the 1910s was considered oldies," Nobile said.

How to define an oldie

Although bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam — two of the most famous bands from the grunge era in the 1990s — have made their way to classic rock radio stations, experts argued that an oldie is typically defined by the time period of the late 1950s through the 1960s.

"A lot of us older people grew up with a very clear definition of oldie ... because it was a clearly defined era that was covered by those stations," Hamilton said.

A group like Nirvana, though it may be considered "old" to Zoomers, "doesn't jibe with people's memories of that specific radio format," he added.

Streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music also play a role in how some young people define what is and isn't an oldie.

"Younger people don't listen to the radio as much anymore. There's less of a sort of feeling of importance of how radio is organized," Hamilton said. "In the age of Spotify and streaming, a lot of these genre distinctions have become kind of muddied."

Hamilton said when young people listen to music on streaming services, they don't have the context of what radio stations often classified as oldies and, therefore, have begun to create their own definition of the term. Nobile said while that may be true, young people at this point in history have access to nearly every catalogue of music and still listen to music from the genres well before their time; they just don't distinguish them the same way their predecessors did.

"They're probably going to use 'oldies' in a much more loose way because they don't listen to oldies radio," Nobile said, adding that they "know their history in a way that teenagers in the 1970s didn't."

Gen Z continues to antagonize millennials

This is far from the first time a debate between millennials and Gen Z has broken out over music. Millennials frequently rail against any insinuation that pop culture from their youth is considered "old," and Gen Zers have been known to capitalize on this sensitivity.

Some Zoomers on TikTok have posted content in which they intentionally act obtuse, saying they don't know songs from the late 1990s and early 2000s in order to "rage bait" older users into engaging with their content.

This style of posting has helped some garner millions of views and thousands of clicks, propelling an account's popularity even if the engagement with the account mostly skews negative.

However, Elkins said he was simply trying to spread love and good music — not rage bait for millennials.

"People thinking that something being called an 'oldie' is a bad thing is probably the bigger issue, but I digress," Elkins said.

Nobile argued that the debate over Nirvana's status as an oldie isn't just about millennials fearing the reaper as they grow older; it's also about the place the band has assumed in music history.

"I think it's this idea that there is an erasure of history if you call Nirvana an 'oldie,' because there's nothing older than an oldie," Nobile said. "So we're like, 'No, there's actually this whole 30-plus years of history before that. If you think about the whole history of rock, Nirvana's not that old.'"

Still, Hamilton warned that if millennials want to seem hip, they should avoid chastising the younger generation over the way they classify music.

"It's kind of funny because scolding a young person for not being appropriately reverent of the past is like the quintessential old person activity," he said.


jrDiscussion - desc
Professor Principal
1  sandy-2021492    4 months ago

Well, we who grew up in the 80s and 90s called music from the 60s and early 70s "oldies", so yeah, Gen Xers, we're getting old, and so is our music.  But Nirvana (and we) are aging well, for the most part.  I mean, we enjoyed the songs we called "oldies" - they were songs that stood the test of time.

Junior Silent
1.1  zuksam  replied to  sandy-2021492 @1    4 months ago

I'll always classify them the way the radio stations did while I was growing up. Oldies was the 50's rock into the 60's doo wop, early folk and surf. Classic Rock - British invasion, later folk and surf and all rock 60's and 70's. Funk, Disco, Soul, some songs play on classic rock but mostly stands as it's own classification. The 80's is the 80's and it just classified as 80's pop, rock, and metal and it's the same with the 90's. Metal is classified mostly in the decade it was produced except 60-70's metal of which only Black Sabbath and Deep Purple are Classic Rock everything else tends to get thrown into the 80's because the 80's was the high point for most of those Metal Bands.

Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    4 months ago
"The word 'oldies' is part of a radio format that emerged out of the classic rock format," said Drew Nobile, associate professor of music theory at the University of Oregon. "In the 1990s, oldies radio started as kind of an answer to classic rock radio."

Not true. The "oldies" format started way before the 1990's and was not an answer to classic rock. 

The oldies format began to appear in the early 1970s. KOOL-FM in Phoenix became one of the first radio stations to play oldies music, at that time focusing on the 1950s and early 1960s.

In the 1960s, very few top 40 radio stations played anything more than a few years old. In the late 1960s, a few FM stations adopted top 40 formats that leaned towards adults who did not want to hear the same 30 songs repetitively but also did not want to hear easy listening music featured on Middle of the road radio stations. They mixed in oldies with their current product and only played new music a few times an hour. These radio stations were often referred to as "gold" stations. Some AM radio stations also began to employ this format. There were also syndicated music format packages such as Drake-Chenault 's "Solid Gold" format, frequently used on FM stations that needed separate programming from their AM sisters (due to then-new FCC rules on simulcasting ), that functioned as a hybrid of oldies and the adult-oriented softer rock hits of the day. The popularity of the movie American Graffiti is often credited with helping to spur the 1950s nostalgia movement of the early 1970s.

Oldies - Wikipedia

Is Nirvana an "oldie"? Put it like this, there are radio stations and streaming channels today that call themselves "oldies" formats.  You won't hear  Nirvana on any of them. 

Junior Silent
2.1  zuksam  replied to  JohnRussell @2    4 months ago
Is Nirvana an "oldie"?

Never ! Even in a hundred years they will still be 90's rock, they don't even get to be classic unless it's classic 90's.

PhD Guide
3  evilgenius    4 months ago

Ahhhhh...yes... how to label things and put people in boxes. Shouldn't we just call it music? Or maybe in this particular case music from the '90s? When grunge came out I wasn't it's first fan, but it's grown on me in the years since. 

FYI - The Batman is now available on HBOMax and in theaters. I watched it on Monday and liked it. Though it was long (3 hours) it kept me interested the whole time.

Hal A. Lujah
Professor Expert
4  Hal A. Lujah    4 months ago

Great songs get overplayed so much that they lose their appeal.  I can barely listen to nevermind anymore, as great as this album is.  It’s unfortunate.

Greg Jones
Professor Guide
5  Greg Jones    4 months ago

The best music happened in the 70's.

Professor Principal
5.1  JohnRussell  replied to  Greg Jones @5    4 months ago

I tend to agree with you

Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
6  Drinker of the Wry    4 months ago

1967-77 was a helluva decade for music.  I got my first stereo in early 1968 and bought three albums the same day, Cream 's Disraeli Gears, Hendrix Are You Experience and The Doors Light My Fire.  I then added Marvin Gaye's In The Groove, Aretha's I Never Loved a Man and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I still have my and play my vinyl although some are my replacements.  For this Christmas, I got my daughter a turntable, I had fun researching and settled on the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon EVO as the best belt-driven turntable I could find under $1,000 including cartridge.  It also came in Gloss Red which I knew she would love.

Professor Principal
7  JohnRussell    4 months ago

I have playlists on Spotify that span the decades from the 1940's to the 2010's. Music is timeless and trying to pigeonhole music is just marketing. 

Drinker of the Wry
Freshman Principal
7.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  JohnRussell @7    4 months ago

I love my father's Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Armstrong, Philadelphia Orchestra, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Les Paul, Art Blakey, and so many more.  One day I'll inherit his vinyl and reel tape.

Junior Silent
7.2  zuksam  replied to  JohnRussell @7    4 months ago
trying to pigeonhole music is just marketing

I think it's done to suit our moods, when I'm in the mood for Doo Wop I really don't want Motley Crue in the mix.

Professor Principal
8  Ender    4 months ago
Some Zoomers on TikTok have posted content in which they intentionally act obtuse, saying they don't know songs from the late 1990s and early 2000s in order to "rage bait" older users into engaging with their content.

I swear, people want to fight about every thing.


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