Were the ’90s the best decade ever? Current cultural trends seem to suggest universal nostalgia for those halcyon, pre-Y2K days of yore; a time when there was a slap bracelet on every wrist and a Nintendo 64 in every garage. Memories of the ’90s are everywhere, from Winona Ryder’s Stranger Things comeback to MTV Classic’s Daria and Beavis & Butthead-heavy lineup. Then there are the widespread fashion crazes, like goth-lite makeup and normcore—who knew that male models in 2016 would dress like your dad in 1994?
According to the metric of how many girls in East Williamsburg look like extras from The Craft, it seems that ’90s mania is here to stay. But there’s significant evidence that the dream of the ’90s is just a collective hallucination. First of all, there’s the inescapable truth that no amount of nostalgic consumption or content creation can bring back our shared innocence or economic prosperity. Wearing mom jeans isn’t going to make the shittiness of 2016 disappear, and watching Clueless on a loop won’t erase the fact that Stacey Dash is a transphobic Fox News contributor. Harry Potter is over, the Spice Girls are never really getting back together, and Sarah Jessica Parker doesn’t even call herself a feminist.
But no current pop cultural catastrophe signals the ’90s death knell quite like the semi-recent coupling of Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton. After meeting on set, The Voice coaches announced suspiciously simultaneous divorces from their high-profile spouses. Having split from Gavin Rossdale and Miranda Lambert, respectively, the ’90s alt-punk icon and country crooner started indulging in some serious PDA. Before you could say “who cares?” the NBC-approved duo was publicly going steady. Almost nine months later, the couple has given birth to their first marriage rumors, with Us Weekly reporting that wedding planner Jerri Woolworth has been hired for the impending nuptials.
We miss the old Gwen Stefani. The world’s last ska princess burst onto the pop-punk scene in the ’90s as the lead singer of No Doubt, a rare female-fronted band. As one of the only girls invited to the sausage party, Stefani earned an army of fans for her femme fearlessness. She rocked red lipstick and platinum blonde tresses while rocking out, refusing to sacrifice personal style or self-expression to fit in. Situated between the palatable girl power of the Spice Girls and the hardcore offerings of the Riot Grrrl movement, No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” remains a feminist anthem to this day, and an asset to pregame and workout playlists everywhere.
Stefani was one of the original multi-hyphenates, balancing No Doubt, a solo career, and her fashion label, L.A.M.B. Even when she was a little off, she was still a trendsetter. She pioneered brightly colored hair, crop tops, and tartan, and was rocking drop-crotch pants and white dreads long before they became college freshman staples. Today, hiring a crew of Harajuku girls to follow your whiteness around all day probably wouldn’t fly. But damned if Stefani’s problematic phase didn’t give us “Rich Girl,” “Wind It Up,” and “Hollaback Girl,” the lyrics of which I could not forget even if I tried. And while we really wish Gwen Stefani hadn’t worn so many bindis, at least she doesn’t belong to the current generation of cultural appropriators who really should know better.
Gwen Stefani was never perfect, but she spoke to the raw potential of the 1990s, a decade when celebrities were genuinely original and any girl could grow up to be a rock star. That’s why, for any true No Doubt diehard or Harajuku lover, the current state of Stefani is so disheartening. Twenty years ago, Stefani was crooning “Don’t Speak,” a ballad about her breakup with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal, alongside her former beau and bandmate. That’s badass. These days, she can be heard singing her Blake Shelton country collab, “Go Ahead and Break My Heart.” The couple even performed their track on The Voice, grinning and staring at each other, their faces basking in the glow of seamless cross-promotion. That’s right: Gwen Stefani has gone country.
But Blake Shelton isn’t just any country idol. The famously candid star recently came under fire for basically endorsing Donald Trump, telling Billboard, “A lot of people are pulling for him, no matter how much Hollywood fights it. I see people who don’t like him go and beat up people that do like him. You tell me, who’s crazy here?... I probably wish there was another option, but there’s not.” When Shelton received the appropriate amount of backlash for supporting a trigger-happy Cheeto, he immediately pivoted. In a still unsatisfactory follow-up tweet, Shelton wrote, “Hey before this gets going like it always does... I haven’t enforced ANYBODY for president. And I not going to. I don’t do that shit.”
Yes, the ’90s queen who taught the world to spell bananas is dating a man who doesn’t know the difference between endorse and enforce. It’s like Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life, except it’s 2016, and illiteracy isn’t cute anymore. Neither is voting for Donald Trump. To his credit, Shelton understands that this romantic pairing is “an odd idea”—but fails to offer a compelling explanation for why Stefani is still slumming it. Let’s remember: This is a woman who wore a dip-dyed pink gown to her first wedding. Whatever happened to that badass icon, and why is she letting a poorly spoken Trump stan dim her shine? Even if the wedding rumors are unsubstantiated, this relationship is already the final nail in the ’90s coffin. Don’t listen to the Pokémon Go think pieces—the ’90s are dead, and they’re never coming back.