Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Why The Millennium Tour Matters in 2019
No, your G-SHOCK isn't malfunctioning: We're smack dab in the middle of a turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia-fest.
You don't have to search high and low to find proof—just turn on your TV, where Chance the Rapper can be seen hamming it up with the Backstreet Boys while shilling for Doritos. Or look at the top of the pop charts, where the boy-now-man band recently resided with their ninth studio album, DNA, their first #1 on the Billboard 200 in nearly 20 years. Avril Lavigne's back too, with a new generation of indie scions claiming her as influence—and even pop artists who were barely in baby Jncos are toasting the time period. "1999," last year's retro-tastic single and video from Charli XCX (age: 26) and Troye Sivan (age: 22), was loaded with enough charmingly dated pop culture references to fill an entire bottle of Surge.
If there's one thing you can typically count on the music industry for, it's finding ways to monetize overarching societal trends relevant to popular culture. Beyond the third-gen legacy-relaunches of BSB and Lavigne's respective careers, the touring industry is starting to find a market in mining this nostalgic ore; music festivals have occasionally popped up to celebrate this era (as well as, somewhat alarmingly, more current eras), and even bands with just one or two hits in their entire careers are hitting the road with little else to promote. To wit: at the top of March, The Millennium Tour starts making its way through North America, a two-month jaunt toplined by R&B outfit B2K—marking their reunion after 15 years of inactivity—as well as support acts and '00s R&B and hip-hop fixtures ranging from Pretty Ricky and Chingy to Lloyd and Ying Yang Twins.
The title of the tour itself contains multitudes; for one, it gestures towards the meaning behind the headliners' names, "B2K" standing as shorthand for "Boys of the millennium"—itself referencing the simple fact that the band was formed and at the peak of activity during the turn of the new millennium itself. But the word "Millennium," which most targeted consumers readily associated with the mega-successful 1999 Backstreet Boys album of the same name—is also meant to trigger a response in our collective frontal lobe bolstered by the other '00s-centric names on the bill: remember when this was the music of our lives?
Of course, the question of what "legacy" constitutes in situations like these—tour packages and, more broadly, pop-cultural events intended to reconstitute and re-canonize entire career arcs—is ever present. The original lifespan of B2K—specifically, Omarion, Lil' Fizz, Raz-B, and J-Boog—was shorter than most trampled-upon insects, with two albums released in the same year that eventually went platinum and a one-week stay at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 with the Diddy-featuring "Bump, Bump, Bump." Since group Svengali and record producer Chris Stokes announced the group's split in 2004, he's addressed sexual molestation allegations from several of B2K's members; along with maintaining a solo career since the band breakup, Omarion appeared on several seasons of Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood in 2014, one of his plotlines centering around a potential B2K sorta-reunion with Boog that would've also welcomed Ray-J into the group's ranks.
As for the support acts: after spending most of the decade operating sporadically, St. Louis spitter Chingy recently re-signed under the Universal umbrella for the third time in his career, and Miami R&B group Pretty Ricky haven't released an album in 11 years. New Orleans crooner Lloyd returned last year with the Lil Wayne-featuring TRU LP, his first album in seven years; Jackson, Miss. singer/songwriter Bobby V (more widely known as Bobby Valentino) has kept a relatively low profile throughout the 2010s, and Atlanta rap duo Ying Yang Twins more or less dropped off the face of the earth save for the occasional mixtape appearance. In all of these acts' collective heyday, only B2K managed a chart-topping single. To the casual observer, the question might arise: Why is this tour even happening?
Again, nostalgia comes into play here. The Bush II era might've been bad, but many (rightly or not) consider the Trump era to be far worse, and it's impossibly easy to imagine potential ticket-buyers of a certain age immersing themselves in warm, fuzzy musical memories from either side of the 9/11 divide—regardless of how cherished those memories actually were in the moment—simply to forget about the present for a few hours. There are worse ways of doing so than spending a night out with your friends at a concert!
The Bush II era might've been bad, but many (rightly or not) consider the Trump era to be far worse, and it's impossibly easy to imagine potential ticket-buyers of a certain age immersing themselves in warm, fuzzy musical memories from either side of the 9/11 divide.
The presumed audience for events like these weren't old enough to drink during these acts' salad days, but they sure are now, which makes for another revenue stream appealing to the concert industry at large. Also, tours like these (along with era-spanning compilations that are less common in the streaming era) have happened for decades, excavating aging hair-rockers and '90s alt-rockers alike for the sake of an easy profit; enough time simply has passed that it's the late-'90s-to-mid-'00s' turn now. This is simply how things work, and how they'll continue to work as long as the music industry itself exists.
But there’s another, more genre-specific element of the nostalgia that surrounds the Millenium Tour, too. Of all the sounds and subgenres that make up mainstream pop as we know it, R&B and hip-hop are by far the most rapidly changing and trend-reliant. By the time you’ve heard the "new" sound, it’s likely already a little old, which means that the sounds of 10 or 20 years ago might as well been from the Stone Age. For some listeners, the chore of keeping up can be exhausting and create fonder memories towards the past by sheer virtue of familiarity. This is an undoubtable boon to the musicians from that past, especially if they’ve found themselves in a position unable to monetize the present. By the end of the night, everyone at least appears happy—just like the good old days.