Nostalgia for the '90s is at an all-time high. Revivals of popular '90s shows are popping up all the time (Twin Peaks, anyone?), The Splat brought classic Nickelodeon cartoons back to your TV, and classic '90s fashion items like chokers are back in style. But, not everything about the '90s was great compared to now. Some things should be left in the past, and I'm not just talking about the mullets. Singer Jennifer Paige, known for her 1998 hit "Crush," recently released a new album, Starflower, and she tells Bustle that she doesn't miss recording in the '90s.
"We have a lot more freedom now, because the big studios back then were so expensive that you would have to really prepare in advance," Paige says. "You would have to have all your of songs ready, you would have to make sure that your voice was totally in tip-top shape, because maybe you had the week booked in the studio, and that was it."
Now, things are very different. People can produce a song at home, put it on YouTube, and gain a massive following without even stepping into a professional studio or landing a major label. "I found working in the major label system that things would just take forever. That was one the biggest drawbacks being on a major label — just having to wait for all of the approval and having to go through the system and all that stuff," she says. "Now I have so much more freedom because I can just call up a friend who has a studio at their house ... and just literally go over and write a song in a day and record it that night, if you want to. It's just so cool what you can accomplish even in a day at a home studio."
Aside from the length of time it used to take to complete a project, Paige points out that '90s artists had a very slim chance of being heard if they weren't on a major label that could get them on the mainstream airways. "Back in the day, you had to have a deal or there was no getting through. You're not going to be able to compete without the money and the system and the marketing and all that stuff," she says. "But nowadays, people really are able to get a buzz going, and then if somebody with more money wants to step in and help support to get it to a broader audience, then that's always possible. But you can definitely be heard, and that's a really cool thing,."
Paige has struggled to be heard over the years. Although "Crush" propelled her to pop star fame, it also pigeonholed her, and she's fought to find similar success in the decades since. Still, she's never been too worried about being known the "Crush" singer, even now, as she attempts to grow her sound. "I believe whatever is meant to be mine, will be mine. So I try not to overthink things," she says. "Through the years, I've obviously been [pigeonholed] to a degree, but I just try to let it fall off my back because it's really something that I can't really control or do anything about it."
"I realized on this record: Once a pop girl, always a pop girl."
But, she also tries not to let any negativity bother her because she's not ashamed of the song that made her career, even if it's what most people know her for. "At the time when I did 'Crush,' it was very much the truth," Paige says of her career in her early 20s. "It was like my life in California, with my convertible, and flirting like mad with boys and all that stuff. So, I think that the reason it connected with people is because it was really my life at the time. So it felt so true. It's what songs do, they make you say like, 'Oh, totally, me too,' you know?"
She recognizes that the song seem superficial lyrically, but its honesty resonated and keeps the song popular today. "Obviously 'Crush' is not a deep song, but when you're just discovering life for the first time on your own, there's a freedom to that," Paige acknowledges. "I think other people related to that feeling ... I think that people can put their own stories to your music, and when they do, that's when it really connects."
It's a connection that Paige has tried to recreate over the years, and she thinks that her newest album will resonate because her writing experience has evolved a lot in the decades since "Crush." "It's a departure from what I've done in the past. It's still very much pop music, but it's a little bit more sexy. I feel like the lyrics kind of go a little bit deeper than they've gone in the past, and they're pretty personal lyrics," Paige says of Starflower, which is named for her daughter, Stella Rose. "Not personal meaning literally my life, but they kind of just cover different themes than just like, 'Let's go out and have fun and party.' I'm really excited about the sound, it's very different."
"I just think it's matured lyrically. Although, I love a good, fun song, so I'm not saying all work, no play here," she continues. "But I just think life brings you more material to write about, and so I just think I've become a better writer. I'm a little more able to be more authentic in my writing, and I think that comes across in the music."
Still, she couldn't bear to let go of all her old pop tricks. "I tried to start this album as a simple album. I wanted it to be kind of almost acoustic, that's what I thought I was going to make. I really wanted the vocals to connect with the listener and I wanted there to be a story to the album," she says. "So I told the producer, 'OK, I really want this to be simple' ... As we started getting into it, I just was craving the layers. I craved the background voices; I craved the ear candy." She continues: "So I realized on this record: Once a pop girl, always a pop girl, you know?"
But, that pop girl is leaving the rest of '90s in the past. She may have hit it big back then, but she's happy that times have changed and that her music has grown up for a new decade — one that's much easier to produce music in.
Since most '90s kids have grown up right alongside her, it wouldn't surprise me if they, too, were ready for a more grown-up Paige. "Crush" will always be a karaoke go-to, but there's room for a new sound in this new century, too.