Two decades later, 1995 looks like peak ’90s: the O.J. trial, Microsoft ’95, Alanis Morissette, Mr. Show, Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, and a distant world where the idea of Adam Sandler making a movie didn’t cause immediate dread. What were the pop-culture hallmarks of this time when the music industry was basically printing money and Sony had the balls to go up against Sega and Nintendo? We present them, in mostly chronological order, in a two-part Inventory. Look for the second part tomorrow.


1. “Scrunge” sounds the final death knell for alternative rock

According to many who lived through it, the dream of “alternative” rock died twice—once with Kurt Cobain’s suicide in April 1994, then again that December, with the release of Bush’s Sixteen Stone. It’s unfair to lay the blame solely on that one album, but its successful amalgam of Nirvana and Pearl Jam—all tied up in a glossy package—did signify the coming of grunge’s inevitable second cycle, a mainstream approximation that the wags at Spin and The Village Voice derisively termed “scrunge.” The year 1995 was scrunge’s apex (or nadir), with bands like Better Than Ezra, Collective Soul, Our Lady Peace, Seven Mary Three, Candlebox, and Sponge all hitting the charts and turning up in heavy MTV rotation with their watered-down takes on Nirvana’s quiet-loud-quiet dynamics and Eddie Vedder’s yarling earnestness. Granted, “grunge” was already pretty loosely defined, and “alternative to what?” was a common sarcastic refrain even when Cobain was alive. But at least those earlier groups had the wherewithal to name-check forebears like the Pixies, Hüsker Dü, and The Replacements. Listening to radio in 1995, the most obscure cultural touchstone seemed to be Stone Temple Pilots’ Core. Even more damning in retrospect, the proliferation and wet-fart fizzle of scrunge can be directly linked to the bands that finally killed “alternative” for good, like Matchbox Twenty and Nickelback—both of which formed that year, presumably after hearing “Cumbersome” and realizing, hey, anyone could get in on this. [Sean O’Neal]


2. The DVD era begins

The home video industry stumbled into the digital age with the LaserDisc, which never caught on in large part because of its unwieldy 12-inch size. Hollywood wised up in 1995 with the introduction of the Digital Versatile Disc. It was the same convenient size as the compact disc, and like the CD, cashed in on two basic principles: You could invent a format that was cheaper to manufacture and distribute, but charge a higher retail price, and people would buy something they already owned in a new format. Of course, DVDs did have natural advantages over VHS tapes, namely better picture quality, expanded storage space that allowed for commentaries and bonus features, and, most importantly, no rewinding. But the DVD’s biggest impact may have been on television—for the first time, fans could easily package an entire season of a TV show on a handful of discs. As such, fans coming late to a show could binge-watch early seasons, allowing shows to incorporate more serialization, knowing the audience could catch up if necessary. Within four years, The Sopranos would release its first season on DVD so viewers could catch up before the second season aired, and the Golden Age Of Television was underway. [Mike Vago]

3. Bridget Jones debuts in a newspaper column

In 1995, The Independent hired Helen Fielding to write a column about her life as a single London girl. Instead, Fielding describes, she created an “exaggerated, comic, fictional character. I assumed no one would read it, and it would be dropped after six weeks for being too silly.” But when Fielding’s column featuring the relatable and hilarious Bridget Jones debuted, it riveted young women in London, and eventually all over the globe, leading to three novels and two movies (so far). Bridget personified the battle against, as Fielding put it, “the gap between how we feel we are expected to be and how we actually are.” So Bridget Jones was clumsy yet bitingly witty, insecure but forthright and formidable. And her diary was a compelling read as she chronicled her attempts to give up alcohol, cigarettes, fattening food, and men: “Alcohol units: 5. Drowning sorrows. Cigarettes: 23. Fumigating sorrows. Calories: 3,856. Smothering sorrows in fat duvet.” While Bridget’s adventures were likely inspired by Fielding’s own dating life in the ’90s, the writer holds fast to her character’s fictional status: “It wasn’t me who drank all the alcohol units and shagged all the fuckwits. It was Bridget Jones. Obviously.” [Gwen Ihnat]


4. Real-time strategy, first-person shooters, and vehicular combat yield a trio of successful series

While 3-D graphics were still a year or two away from ubiquity, 1995 was still a solid year for the video game industry, seeing the debut of no fewer than three long-running series. The real-time strategy genre, introduced in 1992’s Dune II, found its breakout title in Westwood Studio’s Command And Conquer. Its many virtues—multiplayer support, streamlined functionality, and developed narrative arc—served as the building block for a series that would go on to sell 30 million units across 19 games and expansion packs. LucasArts brought Star Wars to the world of first-person shooter with Dark Forces, and also introduced a myriad of technical improvements with the Jedi game engine, adding jumping and crouching mechanics, atmospheric effects, and multiple floors for each level. And David Jaffe gave Sony an anti-Mario Kart with its own exclusive vehicular combat game, Twisted Metal, mixing demolition derby mayhem with black humor and a leering serial killer clown known as “Sweet Tooth.” While these series have cooled over time—2012’s Twisted Metal is the most recent installment of any of the three—each has released enough games and influenced enough titles to secure their place in the video gaming history pantheon. [Les Chappell]


5. Billy Madison launches the fearsome genre of “Adam Sandler movie”

After five years of strumming guitar and playing over-the-top caricatures like Opera Man and Cajun Man on Saturday Night Live, Adam Sandler brought his shtick to theaters by writing and headlining his first feature film, Billy Madison. Playing a rich slacker who needs to complete all 12 grades in order to take over his father’s company, Sandler set the template for the projects he’d go on to star in, write, and produce for the bulk of his career. A performance that mixes man-child simpering with outbursts of violence, an embrace of sophomoric humor that frequently reads as lazy, and a penchant for casting his friends (Chris Farley and Steve Buscemi both appear in uncredited roles): All of those elements would appear in films from Happy Gilmore to Little Nicky to That’s My Boy. Most importantly, it proved that Sandler was immune to toxic reviews: Despite being dubbed “one of the most execrable movies ever made” by Time’s Richard Schickel, Billy Madison debuted at No. 1 at the box office and made more $26 million worldwide. So powerful was the spell Sandler cast that it would take 20 years for the energy to fade and his contempt for his audience to become so apparent that he’d be driven from theaters, sent fleeing to the safe embrace of Netflix. [Les Chappell]


6. Ditto Bad Boys and the “Michael Bay movie”

At the time, Bad Boys was seen as the movie that aged Will Smith up from Fresh Prince action star. But it also marked the arrival of Michael Bay, who would help the changed the landscape of action movies from one where muscled men were the primary draw to one where skinnier male heroes crack wise and let the car chases, explosions, and car chase-explosion combos take on more of the heavy lifting. Bright colors, fast edits, and city-decimating explosions have characterized Bay, and his imitators, since. While Bad Boys II is a more realized version of the Bay we know today, Bad Boys shows a young filmmaker assured of the fact that he wanted to blow a lot of shit up. Bay has rarely strayed from his own formula—2013’s Pain And Gain was considered his small, intimate film. [Molly Eichel]

7. Hip-hop has a big year

If you want to see an aging hip-hop purist weep wistfully, then hyperventilate midway through a rant about the genre’s devolution, ask them to talk about 1995. It was a year replete with hip-hop landmarks, including such instant classics as 2Pac’s Me Against The World and Big L’s Lifestylez Ov Da Poor & Dangerous. 1995 was also a year of artistic growth and tremendous breadth in hip-hop, from The Roots pioneering all-live instrumentation on their major label debut, while Mobb Deep released The Infamous, which remains a master class in sample-based beat-making. Wu-Tang Clan tightened its vise grip on New York City hip-hop, as Raekwon, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and GZA dropped solo debuts largely produced by RZA at the peak of his game. Meanwhile in Atlanta, Goodie Mob made its debut with Soul Food, lending momentum to the Southern hip-hop scene following Outkast’s splashy appearance the year before. [Joshua Alston]


8. Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg present the Dogme 95 manifesto

March 13, 1995: At a conference in Paris celebrating the 100-year anniversary of cinema, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg present a manifesto designed to combat the increasingly artificial nature of movies, especially ones made in Hollywood. Dogme 95, as the Danish directors called it, was a movement designed to take the art form back to basics; participating filmmakers were to follow a strict “Vow Of Chastity,” adhering to 10 commandments—no props, no sets, only natural lighting, etc. Some 35 movies would eventually earn the official Dogme 95 seal, with everyone from Kristian Levring to Susanne Bier to Harmony Korine trying their hands at the no-frills approach. Yet the movement petered out fairly quickly, in part because its founders only seemed half-invested from the start: Vinterberg’s The Celebration and Von Trier’s The Idiots—the first two official Dogme movies—each broke a commandment or two, and both directors soon headed in the opposite direction, towards stylized artifice. Nonetheless, aftershocks of the manifesto can still be felt in contemporary world cinema, where plenty of unofficial Dogme films—give or take a few rules—are still being made. [A.A. Dowd]

9. NewsRadio debuts

The ’90s was a good decade for the traditional, multi-camera sitcom, but sitting near top of the pile is NewsRadio. Creator Paul Simms cut his teeth working on the absurdity that was Late Night With David Letterman, later jumping to the backstage antics of The Larry Sanders Show. NewsRadio borrows from both, focusing on a group of people who work at a New York public radio station. While the material the station reported on was staid, that did not stop the writers from treading into the ridiculous. The cast is universally great, including Dave Foley, Maura Tierney, Phil Hartman, Stephen Root, and Khandi Alexander. They were not just a talented cast individually, but an incredible ensemble that fed off of each other’s energy. 30 Rock never shied from poking fun at NBC, but 11 years before NewsRadio had consistently bitten the hand that fed it, like making fun of the network’s theme nights (“Rat Funeral”). NewsRadio is one of the greats, and where other sitcoms of its era have found renewed life on Netflix or Hulu, NewsRadio remains the secret of the devoted. [Molly Eichel]


10. Marvel briefly plummets the entire X-Men universe into apocalyptic darkness

Crossovers, the bane of every cash-strapped comic-collector’s life, were big business in the ’90s, when Marvel committed hard to coming up with annual reasons why the casual Wolverine fan had to buy issues of Excalibur and Cable. Perhaps the most ambitious of the era’s X-Men crossover events was “Age Of Apocalypse,” a multi-month story arc in which every existing X title was temporarily relaunched under a new name. (X-Factor became Factor X, X-Force became Gambit And The X-Ternals, etc.) The gist: Professor Xavier’s time-traveling son goes back in time to kill a young Magneto and make the world a better place, but he ends up killing his own father and creating an alternate reality where the god-like mutant Apocalypse has basically taken over the world and forced humans into death camps. Dark as it sounds—and this was, to be clear, a storyline featuring a villain called Holocaust—“Age Of Apocalypse” was also tons of fun, offering as it did a lot of drastic twists in canon, like making a married Magneto and Rogue leaders of the X-Men and recasting friendly, gentle Beast as a Dr. Mengele-type mad scientist. It may have been a shameless cash-grab, but Marvel got a lot of melodramatic juice out of this cracked-mirror reality, before pretty promptly returning everything to the status quo. [A.A. Dowd]

11. Radiohead makes successful bid for respectability with The Bends

Radiohead was on the verge of becoming a flash in the pan after its first album, Pablo Honey, only spawned one hit: the Beavis & Butt-head-approved, self-loathing “Creep.” In reaction, the Oxford, England, quintet abandoned the grungy shoegaze vibe of its debut and went for something more sophisticated. Working with producer/British music titan John Leckie, Radiohead diversified its sound by introducing flamboyant, crunchy glam riffs (the preening title track, the London Suede-like “Bones”), shimmering keyboards (the arpeggiated “My Iron Lung”), and angsty drama (the falsetto-driven “High & Dry,” “Fake Plastic Trees”). Plus, with the video for “Just”—which features a suit leaving work and inexplicably lying down on the pavement, for no discernible reason—the band engendered an artistic, enigmatic vibe it would sharpen with OK Computer and all future releases. Although The Bends wasn’t too far removed from the Britpop of the day, it was mysterious (and catchy) enough to establish Radiohead as a band with substance. [Annie Zaleski]


12. Pavement builds the myth of indie-rock self-sabotage with Wowee Zowee

Pavement was one of several up-from-the-underground acts poised to become the next Nirvana in 1995. Billy Corgan wasn’t around to keep the band off of that year’s Lollapalooza bill, and a follow-up to 1994’s surprisingly successful Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was due in April. When Wowee Zowee arrived, however, it contained no direct descendants to “Cut Your Hair.” Instead, its 18 tracks were Pavement’s loosest to date, scattered across the stylistic map and arch to a fault. Since “Fight This Generation” prefaced a figurative fight for the attention of uninterested Lolla-goers, a “fear of success” narrative soon formed around Wowee Zowee. (The same thing happened to another of the festival’s main attractions, Beck, as he grappled publicly and snottily with his post-“Loser” ascent.) But the record’s spun-out slackness obscures plenty of greatest hits fodder—listeners just had to pick through studio goofs like “Serpentine Pad” and “Flux = Rad” to uncover “Rattled By The Rush,” “AT&T,” and “Grounded.” Besides, if Pavement wanted its third record to self-destruct, it would’ve released Wowee Zowee under the title suggested by auxiliary percussionist/band mascot Bob Nastanovich: Dick Sucking Fool At Pussy Licking School. [Erik Adams]


13. The golden era of TV animation peaks

Quality, diversity, and accessibility made 1995 part of TV animation’s golden age. Kids WB aired Tiny Toons Adventures, Animaniacs, and Pinky And The Brain, and Disney had shows like Ducktales, Darkwing Duck, and Rescue Rangers in its Disney Afternoon block. Saturday morning cartoons were still around, airing shows like Eek! The Cat and Dog City. Nickelodeon’s Nicktoons, like Rocko’s Modern Life, were expanding, while Cartoon Network debuted What A Cartoon, which led to their own original programs like Dexter’s Laboratory a year later. Action junkies got their fill with the Batman or Spider-Man animated series; the desperate could catch Birdman or Space Ghost—the latter of which was given its own talk show (the early inspiration for CN’s Adult Swim). “Adults” could watch The Simpsons and The Critic on Fox, classic cartoon fans could find old Disney, Hanna-Barbera, or Looney Toons shorts with ease, “extreme” viewers could watch Liquid Television, Beavis And Butt-head, or The Maxx on MTV, and indie fans could catch foreign animation (including anime) on IFC or SciFi. [Kevin Johnson]


14. George Lucas releases the the unaltered Star Wars trilogy for the final time

1995 marked the beginning of the end of an era, a more innocent time when there was no question that Han Solo shot first and no one had ever heard of “midichlorians” or “Jar Jar.” But amid the excitement of a deluxe repackaging of the Star Wars trilogy on VHS and LaserDisc, fans could sense a disturbance in the Force. While the re-release was a handsome set, remastered with THX sound and better picture quality, Lucas announced that it would be the last time the unaltered trilogy would be available, as he had already begun work on the “Special Edition” of the trilogy, which would be released two years later. In fact, the ’95 release’s bonus feature inclued an extended Leonard Maltin interview with Lucas, in which he discusses both the genesis of the series and his plans to begin what would become a long process of tinkering with his creation. [Mike Vago]

15. E3 gives video games their own convention

Nothing short of a dedicated video game trade show could possibly have hosted 1995’s industry drama. At no point in history had the console market been more crowded, with several new machines looming while the elderly Sega Genesis and Super NES still lorded over a sea of withering challengers. So game makers broke free from the Consumer Electronics Show and put on a show of their own: the Electronic Entertainment Expo. The inaugural E3 and its price war between Sega and Sony would establish the show’s tenor and decadent traditions enacted to this day. Despite showing up with little more than the Virtual Boy, Nintendo hired Seal to perform after its keynote address, thus giving birth to the practice of irrelevant E3 concerts. But the clash between the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation provided the real show. Sega swung first, announcing, alongside history’s weirdest sizzle reel, that its new console would cost $400 and was already on store shelves. Sony returned fire with one of E3’s most legendary moments. After 24 minutes of corporate blathering, Sony exec Steve Race was invited on stage for a “brief presentation.” He uttered one word and walked off: “299.” And with that bit of passive-aggressive corporate one-upmanship, E3 was truly born. [Matt Gerardi]


16. Pearl Jam gives up its fight against Ticketmaster

Nirvana tends to get the most attention for its disdain of commercial machinations. However, fellow group Pearl Jam embarked on a principled mission of its own against Ticketmaster in 1994, by filing Department Of Justice memo drawing attention to the unfair, anti-competitive environment caused by the company’s exorbitant ticketing fees and exclusive venue contracts. The band was so committed to this cause that it actually refused to tour in summer 1994, despite being one of the biggest groups in the world at the time, and testified in front of Congress about Ticketmaster’s monopolistic practices. In the end, although Pearl Jam received lots of positive press (and support from peers such as R.E.M. and U2), the Justice Department’s investigation was closed on July 5 with little fanfare, effectively ending the fight. To add insult to injury, when the band did head back on the road in 1995 to support Vitalogy, it had to use Ticketmaster venues for some dates in addition to using independent spaces—and then ended up canceling and rescheduling concert dates anyway due to various ailments and weather-related issues. [Annie Zaleski]

17. Alanis Morissette demolishes the boys’ club of alternative rock

The bestselling rock album of the 1990s doesn’t belong to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, Metallica, Green Day, or even Darius Rucker and his inexplicably popular Blowfish. It belongs to a one-time Canadian dance-pop singer who got rich and famous bellowing about going down on Uncle Joey (or someone else) in a theater. Propelled by the strength of its standout track, future drunken karaoke standard “You Oughta Know,” Jagged Little Pill sold 16 million copies, spawned a whopping six hit singles, and earned its 21-year-old creator the title of youngest person ever to win Album Of The Year at the Grammys. (Morissette held the record for 14 years, until a not-even-drinking-age Taylor Swift swooped in to claim it from her.) Morissette would never come close to recapturing the commercial, critical, or pop-cultural success of her third album. But Pill holds up, shaky understanding of the word “ironic” aside. After countless FM airings, most of these songs retain their appeal—a hookiness, coupled with Morissette’s eccentric vocal delivery and idiosyncratic lyrics, mostly lacking from the Nickelbackian crud that’s dominated rock radio since. [A.A. Dowd]


18. The X Games debut on ESPN

According to James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ book Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN, the X Games were the brainchild of programming guru Ron Semiao, who was asked to draw a younger demographic to ESPN2. Noting the popularity of skateboarding, BMX racing, and various kinds of daredevil jumping—both on the network and in the larger youth culture—Semiao decided to package them all together into a weeklong, Olympics-like event. Originally called “The Extreme Games,” this wholly manufactured athletic extravaganza brought greater exposure to fringe sports, and gave a name to what a lot of scattered people were doing around the world, in smaller competitions and in their backyards. The arrangement paid off. ESPN invented a new brand (later expanded to other countries, and to the winter), the stamp of network legitimacy helped some off-the-radar athletes make big money, and led to some extreme sports crossing over to the actual Olympics. In the early ’90s, a lot of big media companies tried to cash in on the music, fashions, and attitudes of “Generation X,” but ESPN was one of the few to come up with something that’s outlived its more cynical, mercenary origins. [Noel Murray]

19. Pocahontas begins Disney animation’s decline

The Disney formula, applied to any fairy tale (or the occasional talking animal concept), could produce a moderate-to-successful commercial and critical hit. Applying it to an actual historical event? Not so much. To be clear, Pocahontas earned nearly $350 million globally, but critics were quick to point out its historical inaccuracies and fabricated love story between Pocahontas and John Smith. It’s a film that’s not well remembered, except maybe for its music (which won Oscars for Original Song and Original Score), but no one is exactly blasting its soundtrack. There’s no talk of giving it the stage-musical treatment, like The Lion King or Aladdin, nor the live-action treatment, like pretty much everything else. Pocahontas is strikingly beautiful but suffers from clunky storytelling, forced comic relief, and bland characters. Worse, it represented a chink in Disney’s near-impenetrable armor of animated hits, beginning its small but noticeable downward slide in quality. Follow-ups Hercules and Mulan were hits as well, but they seemed to be missing what made Disney films special. And with Pixar bringing CGI films into the forefront, the world of blockbuster hand-drawn cinema was coming to an end. [Kevin Johnson]


20. The Jay Leno era takes root

Riding high from the much-chronicled “late shift” that led to his moving to CBS after NBC gave The Tonight Show to Jay Leno, David Letterman’s Late Show enjoyed higher ratings for the first two years or so of competition against Leno. But all that changed in 1995 when Hugh Grant’s promotional rounds for Nine Months coincided with his arrest for public sex with a prostitute. Grant kept his previously made promo date with The Tonight Show, allowing Leno to win America’s hearts in a way even the Dancing Itos could not: by asking Grant what the hell he was thinking. This event cemented Leno’s rep as a jocular just-plain-folks host and America settled into the groove of allowing him a frankly ridiculous run of overall ratings victories over Letterman and everyone else. Essentially, Grant faux-charmingly bumbled his way into securing Leno the late-night crown for over a decade and, indirectly, changed the eventual career course for then-nascent talk show host Conan O’Brien. [Jesse Hassenger]