• Daria pushed the limits of what was played on 1990s TV.
How the show helped boost the profile of many bands in the late '90s.
By
Nathan Jolly

10 Aug 2016 - 10:57 AM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2016 - 10:57 AM

Watching Daria in 2016, it is striking how relevant the show still seems. All the high-school personality tropes are still - sadly - in play, while the biting, sardonic humour and whip-smart social commentary hasn't dated one bit.

What has, though, is the soundtrack.

Frozen in amber and representing a specific time, the Daria soundtrack was one of the most important showcases for many young bands which otherwise wouldn't have received MTV exposure, not to mention a welcome boost of "cool" for acts who wouldn't know a wallet-chain from a pair of Doc Martins. (Also, Boost of Cool totally sounds like the name of a band which would feature on the show.)

Daria was spun off from Beavis and Butt-head - itself an excellent showcase for alternative music acts (they memorably yelled at slacker punks Pavement to "try harder".

But where B&B promoted these artists through the sarcastic filter of two crudely animated burnouts, the music in Daria was woven into the fabric of the show, an essential element in nailing the shifting tone. One need only watch the DVD releases, where the original songs have been replaced by muzak, to spot the gaping hole their absence leaves.

Running from 1997-2001, the series now seems like a perfect time-capsule of this liminal time in music, with the last vestiges of grunge and what MTV wanted us to call "alternative" rubbing up against skater punk, increasingly commercialised hip-hop and British invasion bands such as Gomez, Oasis and Supergrass.

In almost every case, Daria acts as a springboard for these groups, featuring a slew of music which hadn't yet crossed over into the mainstream. A lot of it never did, and a lot of it seems out of place when looked at through a 2016 lens.

Coldplay, Radiohead and Foo Fighters are arguably the biggest bands in the world now, so it's hard to tie them to a specific era, but when featured on Daria, Coldplay's first album was less than a year old, Radiohead were trying to shake the dreaded one-hit-wonder tag and Dave Grohl was an ex-drummer struggling to escape his former band's shadow.

Some of the musical choices seem odd - Vitamin C and Crazy Town feature on the same episode as Sade, Wyclef Jean and Queens of the Stone Age but like the jittery jumble of MTV - and indeed the era itself - that reflects the disparate mood of the characters in the show.

Trent, the reluctant heart-throb, cranks "Clown" by Korn in his car during the second episode; the following scene features Daria's ditzy sister Quinn and her equally vapid friends at a high-school party soundtracked by Shaggy, Cake and George Michael.

Like anything from our not-so-recent past, music from the likes of 311 or The Presidents of the USA - songs you (hopefully) haven't thought about for years - cut through and make perfect sense among the fray. They tie you to a time. Watch any episode and you'll find yourself yelling: "I remember that band!"

Ironically, for a show that revolved around bitchy cliques, the soundtrack's biggest strength was that it didn't discriminate.

Although Daria would have raised her eyebrows (did she have eyebrows?) on anything not sold on 7-inch at an underground punk show, the program gave equal weight to early music from then-fledgling acts such as Eels, Space, Mazzy Star, Garbage and Kula Shaker, as it did to cheesy oldies from the likes of Journey and Van Halen that bled through FM radio at the time, throwaway RnB like Genuwine's "Pony" and million-selling sludge by Alice in Chains.

That worked for everybody; unsigned acts were treated as importantly as MTV mainstays like The Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth, while pop songs were never discounted as fluff.

Daria treated all music as worthy, regardless of where it fit into the popular lexicon. It is, in a twisted way, the perfect democracy. After all, nobody can deny that "Getting Jiggy Wit It" is a pretty great song.

 

Daria airs on Monday - Thursday at 5:35pm on SBS 2. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.

Missed the last episode? Watch it right here:

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