The Breakfast Club: The most referred movie to describe the teenage experience in its entirety, The Breakfast Club created the template of every millennial archetype. We’re familiar with the nerd, the weirdo, the jock, the prom queen, and the burnout. In such divisive times, watching five people, with different opinions and belief systems, tolerate each other on the day of unsupervised detention, seems like an alternate universe to something that would never happen in real life. But as they embarked on the journey of unlearning their parent’s influence and expectations, they made us feel like we could do anything.
Do The Right Thing: The term “woke” has never had such significance. Set in Brooklyn on a sweltering summer day in 1989, the racial and emotional tension echoes the boiling catastrophe of our current political state. It was the death of tolerance meeting confrontation, as the themes of gentrification and police brutality are still current with millennials today. Its theme song, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, was a call to arms, literally and intellectually. In its ultimate creative expression, Do the Right Thing showed us that there no reason to keep it cool anymore. Spike Lee “lit it up” and we couldn’t look away.
Dead Poets Society: “O Captain My Captain” is always the proper way to address Robin Williams as the Walt Whitman-loving English teacher, John Keating. The ultimate mentor, who introduced Carpe Diem, to the passionate poet in every young person, we all envied his impressionable prep school students who were members of “The Dead Poets Society.” An after-school poetry club never seemed so cool. Seizing one’s life’s purpose is high stakes in the film’s suffocating wealth driven prep school environment and loving the arts was the ultimate rebellion. The heart-wrenching performance of the cast is enough to make anyone stand on their desk and recite the best poetry of their lives.
Prince: Millennial romance is complicated and turbulent, but you’ve never known love unless you’ve heard a Prince song. In the 80’s Prince provided songs that described love in all its colors and hues that hit emotions you had yet to discover. Songs such as “The Beautiful Ones,” was heartache that you felt in your bones, “Little Red Corvette” made us all want to chase something dangerous, “Adore” expresses utter adoration from gaze to surrender, and “Kiss” took seduction to a level that made us shudder. When it all fails, “Let’s Go Crazy” leads you back to what’s most important in youth, indulgence, possibility, and self-possession.
Talking Heads: The band’s skinny, wiry, and adorable frontman, David Byrne represented all of the weird ones, who had the funkiest, new waviest sound that awakened the chicest of geeks in all of us. Hits such as “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House,” took us into the mind of the unhinged. One to avoid love songs, David Byrne wrote the heart torn, “This Must Be The Place,” with “emotional resonance, but no narrative qualities.” As we bob our heads and shake our hips, the funk takes over, because Talking Heads found a way to get to us and we can’t explain why.
The Go Go’s: They made history with their album Beauty and the Beat, as the first female group that wrote its own songs and played its own instruments to top the Billboard charts for six weeks. Originally a punk band, they were conflicting image issues as their fame grew and to not be pigeon-holed a bubble gum mall group. But, as more and more girls became fans, their wholesome pop sound secured a sound that would define the decade. There weren’t many all-female rock bands to influence the masses. “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” are anthems that are unapologetically girly you can’t help but wish the Go Go’s were your real life best friends.
Fight Club: “You met me at a very strange time in my life,” says Ed Norton as the narrator, who showed us that the rat race of adulthood just wants to make a person punch another in the face. 1999 was the eve of the new millennium and Fight Club hit us in the core of what fear about adulthood, which would be that it’s an existence with no meaning. It’s all just stuff. The things that we own will eventually going to own us. To counter this, the film introduced the radical ideology of complete mayhem, anarchy, and denouncement of consumerism, showing us that we still have to feel alive for the time that we remain alive.
Trainspotting: Drugs and electronic music catapulted Danny Boyle’s 1996 narrative about a group of young heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland. In what would be Ewan Mcgregor’s breakout role, Trainspotting gave us an insight to the forgotten misfits forgone in neo-liberalist Europe. “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television …” is the opening monologue of a young life defeated. The film’s harrowing visuals of a young person’s rock bottom is a tragic obstacle for these self-proclaimed scum and “shite of the earth.” These characters were the hooligans in all of us trying to find their way to self-worth.
Bridget Jones’s Diary: “It all began in a year’s day on my 32nd year of being single,” was the opening line about a labeled spinster heading to a midlife crisis. A reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones was the modern heroine trying to figure out the matters of love and career in your thirties. The ever insensitive question about why women in their 30’s are still single, was met with a smart quip, “It could be because beneath our clothes, our bodies are completely covered with scales?” It showed beauty in imperfection and that you can fall in love with the jerk, but fall in love with the right jerk… Mr. Darcy.
A Tribe Called Quest: In the 90s, A Tribe Called Quest was the leader an awakening transition in hip-hop. They were the ultimate New York artists, as they brought a mix of intelligence, inspiration, and innovation to a developing music culture. Their Afrocentric perspective mixed with the New York’s jazz and beatnik poetry influence has made their albums some of the best hip-hop of the 90’s and arguably the best of all of time. They talked about love and sex, while also tackling race and social justice. For any young person, A Tribe Called Quest made listening to hip-hop, not just an enjoyable experience, but a spiritual and intellectual journey as well.
Nirvana: You can’t talk about this decade without talking about the godfathers of grunge. Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain was a reluctant hunk, mixed with punk and metal angst, yet subdued by disenfranchisement and apathy. Like all great rock music, Nirvana provided songs that we could yell at the top of our lungs and give us a reason to feel. Their music was thoughtful and poetic lyrics about feelings, mixed with intrinsic rage and electricity. Nirvana provided the right fuel could mosh till your nose bled, while also bringing introspection about yourself in developing and thoughtless society.
Bjork: She gave agency to the weird, curious girl. Her album, Debut brought experimental pop to the 90’s. With a powerhouse voice that rings right into your soul, her musical arrangements mixed of synthesizers and a string orchestra, she introduced a sound that was radically modern. Her innovative surrealistic science music videos, with Michel Gondry, were some of the best of the decade, as her haunting vocals provided a beautiful soundscape to her futuristically seductive world. She’s a pop icon that’s equally a visual and musical genius. A risk taker that’s not afraid of her own ideas.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: An unforgettable film about forgetting. In Jim Carrey’s most impressive dramatic role as the heartsick Joel, who goes to have a procedure to erase the memory of his impulsive and dramatic ex-girlfriend, Clementine. Michel Gondry’s visual genius takes us through the chaotic maze of Joel’s mind, as he makes a last-ditch effort to hang onto the memories of Clementine as they’re being erased. This movie took us inward, as many of us would love to forget a love that’s hurt us. We would love to live in blissful ignorance, but if it was a great love it will always remain in your mind.
Children of Men: A film about a futuristic England dealing with a refugee crisis, this dystopian thriller is the most relevant movie our present and uncertain time. Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 masterpiece was a tell-tale promise to the events of 2016. In a world where women can no longer reproduce, chaos and political disorder ensue and ill-informed pundits and extreme political views rule the fate of humanity. As millennials take hold of a questionable political future, Cuarón’s perspective of what is to come can help intervene on the worst possible scenario.
Lost in Translation: There’s a beauty in misunderstanding if you stay through the whole ride. Lost in Translation is the film that has defined millennials. An aging actor and a young listless college, find one another during a period of morose circumstances. Despite a huge age difference, the two click with a romantic tension that would usually be unsettling, but their mutual alienation leads to adventure, as this odd pair find thrills in city’s vibrant surroundings. It’s inspired many lost souls to visit Japan and find themselves. Perhaps, that’s why it’s remained the ultimate millennial film.
Kanye West: Kanye changed the fashion and soundscape of hip-hop and no one can argue against that. Every young person that’s walking around today has had some influence from the madman genius because you cannot escape his vision. It’s just too strong. The early 2000’s was the era of the corny sex driven club hits. Kanye’s debut album, The College Dropout gave listeners a reason to feel again. His thoughtful lyrics tapped into big dreams and life’s defeats, with songs like “Spaceship” and “Never Let Me Down.” His talent for innovative production and arrangements captivated the world, along with his intense vulnerability and honesty.
Arcade Fire: It was a new type of rock for the youth generation in 2004. During that year, there was a moral divide and political unrest as George W. Bush became the re-elected president. The youth needed to feel again. Funeral’s most massive hit “Wake Up” was enough to fulfill its title. Their string instrument orchestra type setup, mixed with gut-wrenching vocals, created a rock opera post-apocalyptic feeling. Their sound was frenzied but visceral with unabashed emotion. They created a sound that made you fall in love, settle in your woes, and seize the day. They gave life back for the frail at heart with songs that were equally beautiful and harrowing.
Amy Winehouse: An ultimate force trapped in a broken heart. Her Motown like retro sound mixed with her jazz/ska vocals didn’t camouflage her edge and authenticity. She was rock and roll in every sense of the world, from her beehive hair and winged eyeliner to her much documented alcohol and drug use. Her American debut single, “You know I’m no good” brought a dark depth to a love song that spoke to the worst part of ourselves. She was both a captivating and agonizing figure to watch. Since her death in 2011, she’s been regarded as one of the greatest voices in recorded music.
Whiplash: When intense obsession meets an abusive mentor. A teenager’s vulnerability faces the ultimate test in a prestigious music program, where the fate of being mediocre or magnificent is in the hands of an egomaniacal instructor. The film’s protagonist, Andrew (Miles Teller), proves himself to be an excellent drummer. With or without his instructor’s approval, he achieves the ultimate performance in an act of defiance. It was also a moment for Andrew to seize a moment for himself, without needing the approval of someone else, and showing how it would be for a young person to overcome the fear and anguish of perfection.
Her: Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in the not-too-distant future who falls in love with his computer operating system. Falling in love with technology has whole other meaning, as we peer into the world where computers supersede the power of the human mind. The love between the protagonist and his OS system is charming and convincing, and we feel his pain as he struggles to keep up with a woman whose updates allow her to be in contact with 10,000 people at a time. Jonze brings a more endearing and less ominous perspective on technology, by showing a romance that develops through mental connection and discovery.
The Social Network: Social media is what has ultimately defined the millennial experience in its present time. Aaron Sorkin’s written masterpiece about Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg being sued by his co-founders, is ironically a film about friendship. Or rather, the dissolvent of one of the most significant friendship Zuckerberg has ever had on the path of his massive success. The lack of connection is the plot through line in this thrilling and complicated story about the largest phenomenon of our time. It’s been critiqued as a highly fictional account of the actual founder, but nonetheless showed the perils of an ambitious loner who created a site that connected the world.
Miley Cyrus: There was nothing else to talk about in 2013. It was the death of the Disney princess and the emergence of a new hypersexualized persona that was part rave queen and hip-hop aficionado. The image shift was so drastic there was nothing to hold onto as we all fell to the floor. Showing the world there’s always an opportunity for reinvention, she also came with an edgier sound that was orchestrated by famed hip-hop producer Mike Will Made It. “We Can’t Stop” was an unapologetic party anthem fitting for the decade, while “Wrecking Ball” was a heartfelt declaration to her broken engagement. Those two singles were two drastically different sentiments about her transformation, and the world still can’t keep their eyes off of her since then.
Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city was the best album of 2012. Compton, Los Angeles has produced some of hip-hop’s greats, but Kendrick Lamar was a shock to the system in his debut work. His descriptions of Compton are familiar and detailed, as he assassinates every single lyric with precision and seduction. In the same turn, he’s a master at providing heartfelt introspection in a world defined by 90’s west coast gangster rap. At the time of its release, Lamar was only 24 years old as showed himself to be masterful in both skill and perception. He’s one of those artists that changed how we are listening to hip-hop in the new millennium.
The Weeknd: When he released House of Balloons in 2001, no one knew who The Weeknd was as he hid from public view. Enigmatic for most of his career, this emo and hedonistic crooner has redefined R&B. What hooks you in is his voice, which brings a certain innocence that communicates an underlying sadness with each tale. This anti-social shy guy found a way to influence our emotions with each sensual and seductive note. In a time where casual sex and disconnected romance is more popular than not, The Weeknd finds a way to take away its cheapness with depth and sincerity, becoming one of the most influential artists of the decade.