It's truly a sight to behold when the mainstream kids manage to wrangle something cool and underground from those pesky elitist hipsters. Those young people associated with esoteric trends and super-secret clandestine interests are always up there on their high horses, explaining that yes, they knew about it before it was cool. Those of us in general mainstream society don't have to apologize when we succeed in wrestling something fun from the white-fingered death grip of our too-cool neighbors. If anything, we should classify it as a rousing victory.
Such was the case with the swing revival of the late 90s. Swing enthusiasts abounded in hipster culture long before it made its way into the conventional current and they'll never let us forget it. We all know it's the job of the dominant popular culture to take whatever is up and coming on the cool front, toss it around a room of middle-aged white guys in suits for a few hours, and present us a repackaged profit-driven consumer-hungry version of it. For the non-hipsters among us, we were more than happy to jump on the bandwagon. If we could manage to Lindy Hop on, well, then all the better.
There were many forces at play pushing the swing revival to the forefront of pop culture, but luckily for you I'm neither motivated nor educated enough to care to describe them in accurate detail. Instead, please enjoy this watered-down version of the events complete with video accompaniment.
The mainstream revitalization of swing tied in with period movies showcasing upbeat and fast-paced swing numbers. I guess plain ol' non-hipster America wasn't quite ready for an onslaught of modernized swing-dancing lifestyle cues, so we settled for seeing some peppy song-and-dance numbers in films set in the past where swing belonged. In A League of their Own, the girls go out for a night on the town and show off their incredibly well-choreographed and dubiously spontaneous moves.
A League of their Own (1992)
A year later, Swing Kids unleashed the goods on the underground swing music and dance way of life. Okay, so the film was set in World War II-era Germany, but we still were able to translate their off-the-beaten path experience to our own lives. At the very least it's nearly impossible to watch this movie without having some flicker of desire to learn the Lindy Hop. It's pretty much inevitable.
Swing Kids (1993)
Swing in mainstream media quickly progressed from showcasing the dance moves of the past to incorporating them into movies set in the present day. Admittedly some of these movies featured Jim Carrey with a pliable green face and a yellow zoot suit and were thus perhaps not particularly grounded in reality, but they did feature some fun swing scenes.
Royal Crown Revue in The Mask (1994)
Subtlety waning, Miramax released the aptly titled Swingers in 1996. I haven't seen Couples Retreat but based on hearsay I'm going to go out on a limb and say Vince Vaughn and John Favreau have downslid pretty damn far since their Swingers days. In Vaughn's case, it appears he may have slid directly into a vat of cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Regardless, my love for these too was generally unshakable since Vince Vaughn coined "Vegas, Baby!" In a particularly memorable scene, Favreau and Heather Graham swing dance their way through a hole-in-the-wall club. Maxim named this one of the ten most uncomfortable movie dance scenes ever, but I beg to differ.
The Cherry-Poppin' Daddies in Swingers (1996):
Many of these musicians' records hit the top of the charts by the late 90s, with audiences feeling the revival of the big band vibe. The Brian Setzer Orchestra enjoyed a heyday of popularity at this time with their cover of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail", giving us a music video that made us all want to sign up for swing dance classes. The combination of the retro feel and more modern arrangement lent a unique sense of timelessness to the track. It really is an incredibly catchy tune.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra
Brian Setzer Orchestra
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It didn't hurt that the then-current Gap khaki campaign chose "Jump, Jive, and Wail" to feature in their "Khaki Swings" ad. If we didn't think something was mainstream already, we had the Gap to come and shove it in our faces. Watching these attractive multicultural young people was among the straws that broke the proverbial camel's back in the transformation of swing from an underground movement to widely accessible phenomenon. If you could swing in khakis, it's safe to say it wasn't really all that hipster anymore.
Gap Commercial "Jump, Jive, and Wail"
For the full post on 90s Gap commercials, click here
In 1999, swing made yet another appearance in the movies in Blast from the Past. Fraser's character had grown up virtually suspended in time in a fallout shelter, so obviously he's incredibly adept at swing dancing. That's what we do in fallout shelters, people. Study the art of dance. Everyone knows that.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in Blast from the Past (1999):
Shall We Dance? - Funny home videos are a click away
Though the trend sustained itself a couple of years into the new millennium, it then faded away just as quickly as it had arrived. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that means we've got to move onto the next hipster genre to steal. What do you think? Should we go with ironic mustaches or inserting the word "postmodern" casually into everyday conversation? It's your call.