-By Benjamin H. Smith
“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this / Forgive me if it goes astray / When I woke up this morning’ / Coulda sworn it was judgment day.” Though written 17 years before the year of its name, Prince’s ultimate party-like-the-world-is-about-to-end dance anthem perfectly summed up the pre-millenial tension infecting the world leading up to Y2K. And make no mistake, the world on the cusp of the year 2000 was fraught with strife and upheaval, from Presidents being impeached to new stars being born and natural disasters with huge death tolls.
Fortunately, The Purple One taught us that the best way to face adversity is by listening to your body and partying your ass off—because no matter how good the party, parties weren’t meant to last. Let’s look back at some of the most f-ed up things than went down in 1999 and thank the stars we had Prince there to show us the road map to the other side of the millennium.
January 1: The Euro Is Established (A.K.A., harbinger of the New World Order which will enslave mankind)
Despite resistance in the European Union, most notably in the pound sterling-loving UK, the official currency of the Eurozone launched at midnight on the first day of 1999. Some conspiracy theorists see the institution of a eventual global currency as the first step of indoctrination of the New World Order, which will eventually enslave mankind, while others believe a future President of The European Union to be The Antichrist who will bring about the Judgment Day and the ensuing apocalypse.
January 10: The Sopranos Debuts On HBO
Television would never be the same after the debut of this cable TV series, which chronicled the home life of fictitious New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano. The family drama is regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time, featuring exemplary acting and writing, and won countless awards over its six seasons. It’s basic premise, showing that people whose lives are out of the ordinary still live ordinary lives, became the template for countless television series to follow and the show marked the advent of cable TV as the home of cutting edge long-form series.
February 12: U.S. President Bill Clinton Is Acquitted In Impeachment Proceedings
Like a scenario in a Prince song, The POTUS had a kinky affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. His denial of it during Paula Jones’ sexual discrimination lawsuit laid the foundation for impeachment proceedings brought forth by the Republican controlled House of Representatives on two counts; perjury and obstruction of justice. After a lengthy and embarrassing trial, the vote followed party lines, with a majority of Democrats finding Clinton “not guilty,” and the whole episode was seen as evidence of the partisan rancor that continues to stymie American governance to this day.
March 16: The RIAA Introduces Diamond Certification
In 1999 the music industry was flying high. By consolidating behind the expensive CD format, profits were through the roof and sales records were being broken at a steady rate, so much so that the RIAA had to introduce a new sales certification, “Diamond,” for albums or singles that sold ten million units. Unfortunately it was the boom before the bust, as the rise of free music downloading was months away and would forever send profits falling.
March 26: The Melissa Worm Attacks The Internet
As the use of personal computers increased throughout the ‘90s, a new threat emerged: computer viruses. One of the worst of these was the Melissa worm, a macro virus that was released into the internet on March 26th and is believed to have infected 20% of computers world wide. The virus was eventually traced back to New Jersey hacker David L. Smith, who was ultimately sentenced to 10 years, for which he served 20 months, and fined $5,000.
April 20: The Columbine High School Massacre
The modern era of school shootings began at 11:19 on the morning of April 20th, 1999 when Columbine High School seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a violent rampage at their school in this Denver, Colorado suburb. They would ultimately kill 12 fellow students and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves. The horrific incident resulted in an increased awareness of the damaging effects of school bullying, and calls for increased school security and gun control, debates which carry on to this very day.
May 1: SpongeBob SquarePants Debuts On Nickelodeon
It must not have sounded immediately like a hit; an animated TV series set underwater starring none other than a lovable sea sponge, shaped like, well, shaped like a kitchen sponge. Despite its odd premise, the show, which was conceived by marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg, went on to become the cable channel Nickelodeon’s longest running and most successful series. And like any pop cultural phenomena worth its (sea) salt, the show has been criticized for everything from promoting homosexuality (huh?) to damaging children’s mental function and attention span.
June 1: Napster Launches
Founded by computer nerd-bro Shawn Fanning, the innovative online service brought MP3 peer to peer file sharing mainstream and forever changed the music industry’s business model. At its peak, Napster had over 80 million registered users, and became a major source of album leaks, with and without the approval of artists, and illegal free downloads of pre-existent sound recordings. Though the company was briefly shutdown after lawsuits from Metallica and A&M Records among others, Fanning was able to sell the brand several times over. With or without Napster, MP3 file sharing is here to stay, and its negative effect on music sales can not be overstated.
June 8: Colombia Announces It Will Include Drug Crops In GDP
After years of struggling with the country’s drug traffickers, which include such high profile figures as Pablo Escobar and The Cali Cartel, the country decided to make the country’s infamous cocaine business work for them. By including the half a billion dollar industry in their assessments the country more than doubled their Gross Domestic Product. Their GDP has steadily increased since then, and while not all of that can be attributable to the illegal economy, in a not small way the lesson is crime does pay.
July 23 – 25: Woodstock ’99 Music Festival Devolves Into Riots
1969’s Woodstock festival had been billed as “3 Days of Peace & Music.” 1999 was a very different year. Driven into a frenzy over three days of mosh-pit friendly rap-metal du jour, concert goers finally revolted against the festival’s brutal heat and exploitative concession prices by running amok and setting fires, ironically during The Red Hot Chili Peppers rendition of the Jimi Hendrix song “Fire” with candles intended for a peace vigil. In it’s aftermath, the police investigated 4 alleged rapes, 1 person died from injuries suffered at the event, and enough damage was done to the Woodstock brand that the festival name has been retired ever since.
August 17: Turkey’s İzmit Earthquake Kills Over 17,000
Occurring along the North Anatolian Fault Zone in northwestern Turkey, this 7.6 magnitude earthquake lasted a mere 37 seconds but that was enough time to cause widespread havoc and staggering fatalities. It’s location, in the country’s densely populated industrial hub, resulted in vast property damages as well as a fire at a petroleum refinery that lasted 5 days. In the end the earthquake left over 17,000 people died and nearly a half a million homeless.
December 31: Sisqó Releases “Thong Song”
Released on December 31st, 1999, this ode to every man’s favorite female fashion accessory was the last hit of the year and the first hit of the next century. Taking Prince’s proclivity for overly sexualized lyrics to new depths, the former Dru Hill singer had the whole world singing “Thong-th-thong-thong-thong.” The song’s vapid one note sexual innuendos marked a new low in pop songwriting, one that would only continue to sink lower up to the present day, and is clearly a sign of mankind’s fall from grace, and a crime for which Judgement Day will be well deserved punishment.
Remember the musical legend by diving into the vault for his VERY FIRST televised interview in 1985.