The Perfect Nostalgia Machine That Is Charli XCX And Troye Sivan’s “1999” Music Video
Earlier this month Charli XCX released “1999,” but she unexpectedly came armed with Troye Sivan as well. This turned her single that has been long rumored on “stan twitter,” into the cute little duet bop it is today. The song immediately demonstrated to be one of her more successful singles of recent date as it quickly jumped to number twenty on the iTunes Charts. Then, on October 11th she released the music video for this song. Therefore, let’s talk about art, or the only thing Charli XCX knows how to make – pure, unadulterated art.
Sure, you can probably tell I’m a big Charli XCX fan at this point, but that doesn’t change the fact that she likely has back problems from carrying the future of pop music on her back. In a world dominated by mumble rappers who don’t get held accountable for their misdeeds, we have a completely unproblematic Charli XCX releasing respected, well-written, fun, and intelligent pop music.
“1999” is no different. With sing-a-long inviting lyrics that cater to the nostalgia search of recent years, the resurgence of 90s trends returning to be en Vogue, and a beat that plays perfectly to clubs and house parties: “1999” is pop perfection. Creating a duet with someone like Troye Sivan (he also picks up co-writing credits alongside Charli), who not only is slightly more mainstream but also challenges the mainstream sound and standard by way of unique music and normalizing gay sensuality in empowering lyrics was a lovely touch.
I’m also a very big Troye Sivan fan. His music is intelligent, progressive, and fun without losing meaning, so I could not have been more elated over these two positively portrayed gay icons’ collaboration. Their voices blend effortlessly, despite the stark differences in Charli’s signature auto-tune and Troye’s smooth vocals, to create THE party song for millennials. Not to mention, Charli’s ad-lib of “hee-hee” after Troye sings about Michael Jackson is undoubtedly the greatest moment in music history.
The song is brilliant but it’s the video where Charli’s brilliance shines. “1999” comes as the most recent of the three music videos under her direction after her music video for “Boys” in 2017.
This time she’s joined by co-director Ryan Staake, who edited and directed Young Thug’s music video for “Wyclef Jean,” which won the 2017 MTV VMA for Best Editing. But this music video comes as more of a nostalgia maker than a twist on social norms, with just a hint of social commentary. Let’s unpack that.
Opening with a dubby beat (far from the clean pop sound of “1999”), we see Charli XCX in 2018 calling for a ride service. As soon as she gets in the car she puts on her headphones, ignores the driver, and begins texting Troye Sivan claiming she wants to “go back.” Within the first 30 seconds, there is product placement of Lyft, Mercedes, iPhone, and Beats headphones. Charli XCX is no stranger to social commentary in her music, social media posts, and visuals as seen with the self-directed “Boys” music video where she turned the male gaze on its head. Here she seems to be poking fun at the obsession with social connectedness on media (but our failing with the real-life connections), the prevalence of advertisement in everyday life, and the hypocrisy of the people who claim to long for the better days of the past. However, at the same time, she points out things were not much different in the past, as the following sequences are laden with advertisement callbacks, product placement, and an obsession with technology just the same. It could be all of this, or Charli could have just created a fun, nostalgic music video that I just read into way too much. Either way, it’s brilliant.
Going from the iPhone X’s iMessage app to the Apple iMax G3 IM messaging is a unique call back to place the viewer in the right time and place. And right from the start, Charli is dressed as a young Steve Jobs in his signature jeans and black turtleneck. The music video continues to call back many 90s artifacts, including TLC’s music video for “Waterfalls,” the movie Titanic (where Troye plays Jack and Charli plays Rose), an all Charli ensemble of the Spice Girls, and an advertisement for Sketchers shoes. Next, we see Troye playing as each of the Backstreet Boys in the “I Want It That Way” music video (overexposure, patchy beards, and all) and Eminem, before presenting us with a Nokia phone. Charli returns recalling American Beauty before Marilyn Manson and Rose McGowan’s infamous red-carpet outfits are referenced as well. In rapid-fire succession, we see visuals that call back The Sims (house fire included), an ad for a waterproof Casio watch, and the viral dancing baby animation, until that is, TLC Charli fires a bullet right into the Matrix (and the song’s bridge). As Troye and Charli finish slow-mo dodging bullets, Troye is seen as Justin Timberlake from his N’Sync days. After the bridge and in a brief, but possibly the best moment in the video, Charli plays out the final scene of The Blair Witch Project, tearfully quipping “I wanna go back” as the final chorus begins. Mixed in with previous visuals are a couple new visuals referencing a Hanes ad featuring a gorgeous Charli and friends, Surge Soda, and a final adorable wink from a JT costumed Troye. Finally, we see various familiar logos (eBay, Nickelodeon, Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape, TY Beanie Babies, and Netscape Navigator) remade to spell out “take me back to ninety-nine,” before the screen goes black and the familiar AIM soundbite saying “goodbye” marks the end of the video.
Despite the fact I was born in 1998, almost all of the references in both the song and the music video of Charli XCX and Troye Sivan’s “1999” were strikingly familiar to me. Either I am exceptionally cultured regarding the 90s or Charli intentionally placed such well-known visuals to create the perfect nostalgia machine to entice even those who were too young to want to return and watch this music video repeatedly. Regardless, it marks yet another high-quality release from two of my personal favorite artists. With open arms, we must humbly welcome the saviors of pop music: Charli XCX and Troye Sivan.