Nostalgia is about more than pop culture. Often, it’s about technology. The way old machines feel, and sound, and look, and the sense of both simplicity and inaccessibility that comes with them. They’re not as fancy as what we have now, but they’re also a little arcane. Like old magic.
All of that is to say that cassette tapes, an audio format we all thought died an ignominious death in the ’90s, are back, baby. According to Nielsen Music’s sales numbers, the format is having a quiet revolution. Just in 2017, sales for cassette tapes were up by 35 per cent over 2016, with 174,000 new cassettes sold. Which isn’t, like, huge, but for a retro format that’s not vinyl, that’s pretty incredible.
And leading that revolution is the superheroic maestro of ’80s nostalgia, Guardians of the Galaxy. The top three selling tapes are all Guardians joints: the first and second volumes of the Awesome Mix and the first volume of the Cosmic Mix. If you’re looking for proof that Marvel and Disney are reshaping pop culture in their image, look no further. Star Lord is so powerful he can revive dead media formats.
Right behind Guardians is that other major vanguard of ’80s nostalgia: Stranger Things. The first volume of its soundtrack sold a modest but notable 3,000 copies last year. Combined, these two franchises account for almost half of all cassette tape sales in 2017.
Impressive. I need to dig out an old Walkman, huh?