The androgynous pop star had a really good run, 45 years or so. It began the day Little Richard decided to wear a turban and cape on stage. Once he made it cool to flirt with sexuality, Mick Jagger discovered mascara, and Bowie went from hippie to Ziggy almost overnight.
Androgynous pop stars eventually found their footing with musicians like Klaus Nomi, Prince, the New York Dolls, Grace Jones, Lou Reed, and the New Romantics. By the time Boy George reached America in ‘83, no one looked twice. Cross-dressing and pancake makeup was old hat.
In 40 years, the androgynous pop star went from Little Richard hopping on his piano in a lamé jumpsuit to Axl Rose grinding up against his mic stand in a leather thong and chaps. By the time the ‘90s rolled around, the Seattle scene and the Riot Grrrl movement elevated androgyny into a political statement; its peak years.
But when Kurt Cobain died in 1994, androgyny within the world of rock and roll took its first blow. Marilyn Manson and Perry Farrell certainly understood how to manipulate sexuality, but by the late ‘90s, androgyny in music was no longer an attribute, it was a sign of weakness. Limp Bizkit remarketing George Michael’s “Faith” in 1997 made it very clear that mascara and lipstick were no longer welcomed to the party.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage captures the other day the music died. Michael Lang, the wide-eyed hopeful behind Woodstock ‘69 and ‘94 created Woodstock ‘99 as his gift to American youth. In the documentary, Lang announces Woodstock will now be a regularly-scheduled cultural touchstone for America’s next generation -- a Woodstock every five years.
If Woodstock ‘94 was catered to Gen X slackers, Woodstock ‘99 was tailor-made for budding, angry millennials with nothing to be mad about. An error Lang admits and wiggles out of in the documentary’s closing seconds before credit roll:
“Had we programmed [Woodstock ‘99] more along the lines of ‘94 or ‘69, it would have been a different event, and attracted a different audience. But the intention here was to do something very contemporary, and that’s what contemporary was.”
Of course, contemporary bands in 1999 attracted a certain type of fan and they all were created in the likeness of their god; Fred Durst: backwards baseball cap, weak jawline, and all. According to Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage, by the time Limp Bizkit took the stage on Saturday, just as the sun was setting, the hungry, wasted kids had been baking for three days on a 110-degree fahrenheit military army base tarmac.
Limp Bizkit’s powder-keg set gave Woodstock ‘99’s 400,000-plus millennials the fortitude to stand up to Lang’s mismanagement of the event, and MTV for exploiting it. From that point on, Woodstock ‘99 was open season for the hot, hungry, horny, entitled, inebriated men who scavenged for shade by day and hunted and gathered by night in a 3,552-acre cage. The settings for ‘69 and ‘99 couldn’t have been more opposite, yet fitting for their respective generations.
In a lot of ways, Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage also draws a lot of parallels to Woodstock ‘99 with the Fyre Festival scam. Both offered the promise of a life-changing cultural weekend at a premium, cynical commercialism with water bottles at the forefront of both events.
The kids who got scammed at the Fyre Festival brought Billy McFarland and Ja Rule down with Instagram posts. The kids who got scammed at Woodstock ‘99 just burned everything to the ground.
Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage is now on HBO and HBO Max