Year in Review, 1999: Pop Culture Trends

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff
1999 Year in Review

1999 was the year of Pokémon, Latin pop, Harry Potter, and Dot-coms.

by John Gettings


Who knew that impending doom was going to be so popular? No other issue in the history of the world has brought together hermits, religious zealots, survivalists, thrill-seekers, techno-wizards and clueless politicians like the Y2K bug. Everyone has opinions, but nobody has answers. Maybe if we all just listened to Prince's song "1999" we'd find what we're looking for. "If you didn't come to party, don't bother knockin' on my door/I got a lion in my pocket, and baby he's ready to roar/Yeah, everybody's got a bomb, we could all die any day/But before I'll let that happen, I'll dance my life away." Then again, maybe not.


This year, earth became a Pokémon world and we just lived in it. First there was the video game, followed by the television show, the cards, the toys, the t-shirts, the toothbrushes and then the movie, which went straight to number one. Now there are Pokémon-driven crimes, counterfeiting rings, Internet support groups for parents and legions of kids addicted to all that is Pokémon. It will all be hard to believe late next year when these cute animated creatures are looking for a place to sit in the rec room at the Old Toy Fad Community Center somewhere between the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Power Rangers.

Latin Pop

The list may start with Ricky Martin, but it sure doesn't end there. Established Latin stars, Martin, Marc Anthony and Enrique Iglesias all released their first English-language records in 1999, launching a takeover of the pop charts in what some have called the "Latin Invasion." Stereos across the country were beating out the Afro-Latin rhythms of the year's other big winners like Jennifer Lopez and Lou Bega. Even the legendary group Santana, fronted by Mexican-born guitarist Carlos Santana, got swept up in the wave. His album Supernatural spun out the nation's top single for nine weeks and counting through mid-December.

Millionaire Game Shows

If England had sent over the prototype for the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" game show 250 years ago there might not have been a revolution. America and the rest of the world have fallen madly in love with this British-based television game show. And, as expected, television executives have grabbed this phenomenon around the neck and are squeezing the life out of it. Soon we won't be able to tell the cloned offspring shows like "Greed" and "Winning Lines" from the original.

Blair Witch Project

The surprise hit of the year. With about as much money as most major studios set aside for feeding the cast and crew, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick made a horror film without glamorous celebrities or over-the-top special effects. It will be tough to keep this movie off future lists of the most influential movies of all time. After all, its use of the web for pre-emptive hyping single-handedly altered the direction of movie promotions. And watch how many movies, commercials and television shows next year work in hand-held cameras. Alfred Hitchcock is smiling somewhere.

Harry Potter Series

Parents worry that the books glorify witchcraft and evil. Kids think witches, wizards and boarding schools (like the one Harry goes to) are cool. Some parents and school administrators have started pulling the books off of shelves. But kids can't get enough of 14-year-old Harry, whose books were atop the New York Times bestseller list and have sold millions of copies in more than 100 countries. It's just another imaginative trip for parents who remember being Bewitched in the 60's and kids who've been vampire slaying with Buffy for years.

Dot-Com Advertising

Internet companies doubled their spending on advertising this year, unleashing more than $1 billion worth of clever site-pitching over print, radio and TV. Americans were officially under attack from online companies and all the "w's" and ".com's" started to blur together during the holiday shopping season. They've come so far, so fast that there were already two dot-com floats in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Online investment companies have spent the most, but it's the dry wit of and the cult-like following of a zany sock puppet from that are leading this creative revolution.

Star Wars

How soon we forget the hysteria that built up before the May 19 release of The Phantom Menace, a prequel to the Star Wars trilogy. Think back to the early spring when Wookiee Fever reached epidemic proportions. Lightsaber-wielding fans waited in line for hours, sometimes days, even weeks to get into the movie's first showing. Like the trilogy, The Phantom Menace was backed up by an army of action figures and games that took over toy-store shelves everywhere. Their success means the loudest "ringing in" of the New Year director George Lucas will hear will be from cash registers. The buzz will probably die down just in time for the second movie in the new series, opening in 2002.

Rap/Metal Pop

A brigade of bands toting hard, industrial rock riffs and rap-influenced lyrics landed with a thump on the pop music charts. Bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn and artists like Kid Rock and Eminem cranked out hit singles and were MTV Total Request Live regulars, representing a grinding contrast to the boy band ballads and Latin dance wonders that also ruled in 1999. The popular group of rockers are children of the 80's, inspired by Aerosmith's teaming with Run D.M.C. and the ground-splitting work of the Beastie Boys. But has it already run its course? How long before we're singing to ourselves "their name was...what?"

Online Auctions

Not even NASA can keep up with junk pumped out by online auction sites and flying through cyberspace right now. Online auctions are where the masses are going to buy and sell their most prized (and most bizarre) possessions. "I can't even begin to guess the motivation of people selling these items," was an eBay spokesman's response to the sale of Seattle riot "memorabilia" earlier this month on their site. It was a response officials at eBay and other online auction sites like and Yahoo! Auctions have been using all year. By the way, is anyone out there interested in an orange coffee table shaped like lobster trap? Just thought I'd ask.
[ 1999 Year in Review ]

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