If COVID had an official soundtrack, it’d be the nostalgic playlists that have mysteriously appeared. With good reason, mind.
If you have seen Marvel/Disney’s 2019 actioner Captain Marvel, you may have noticed a rather excellent mid-90s alt-rock playlist on the soundtrack; the likes of Hole, No Doubt, Nirvana, Elastica, TLC and Garbage feature prominently on the soundtrack. The film also references Nine Inch Nails, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rock the Vote and Blockbuster Video. Quality stuff from a simpler time. Also, a lizard-skinned alien who sounds like a hungover Ben Mendelsohn. Choice.
It’s only when you realise they’re weaponising nostalgia for some viewers, while making this 1995-set superhero film a period piece for crying out loud, that things start to get tricky, and more than a little offensive thank you very much but how DARE you make a nostalgia piece about the mid-90s; that was only recently…oh dear.
Vice has recently published a piece explaining the neurological reason behind why some songs automatically transport you back in time upon hearing them. Neuroimaging has shown how songs stimulate many different areas of the brain, delivering not only that sweet-ass riff, but a handful of dopamine while they’re at it.
Per the Vice scribes, “listening to music lights up the brain’s visual cortex. Which means that as you hear a song, you’ll start associating it with memories or other images almost immediately.”
A 1999 study showed that music has enormous power to evoke memories in the listener. In it, older and younger adults listened to 20-second excerpts of popular songs drawn from across the 20th century. The subjects gave emotionality and preference ratings and tried to name the title, artist, and year of popularity for each excerpt.
(The study was not, as previously believed, held at a Tuesday night pub quiz)
They also performed a cued memory test for the lyrics. The older adults’ emotionality ratings were highest for songs from their youth; they remembered more about these songs, as well.
The study’s results have implications for research on long-term memory, as well as on the relationship between emotion and memory. The perpetual conclusion seems to be that the music we listened to as teenagers will continue to be incredibly influential on us for the rest of our lives.
Brain imaging studies show that our favourite songs stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit, which releases the aforementioned shit tonne of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good.
This is excellent news for people who were teenagers in 1971, 1979, 1982, or 1991, and particularly bad news for people who were teenagers in literally any other year since then.
For it has been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN* that music was waaaaaaay better back in my day. Don’t @ me, young people.