1992 – Civil Unrest and The Chronic

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*A fire rages during the 1992 L.A. Riots (LA Weekly, Ted Soqui)

You have to understand that, as a middle schooler growing up in L.A., 1992 was one of the most significant years for me. The four cops that beat Rodney King on camera were acquitted in a Simi Valley courtroom that ignited the L.A. Riots. Late in the year, however, one of the most influential albums in hip hop and music history, The Chronic, was released by Dr. Dre. N.W.A. had already put Los Angeles on the map in hip hop. Dr. Dre’s album made sure the city stayed there permanently. More on that later.

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Whereas some years of the 90s were more powerful in the film genre, 1992 was a juggernaut for music and far more significant of year than it was for film or TV. To start, Nirvana’s Nevermind album hits #1 on the Billboard charts early in the year, signaling the huge effect that grunge rock had on American audiences. It also had two enormous hits with Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Both singles would spend more than twelve consecutive weeks on the Billboard charts.


*Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” began its 14-week run atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart on November 28, 1992.

The biggest albums of 1992 were also some of the biggest of the decade. While Nirvana could be responsible for putting grunge music on the map of American popularity, Pearl Jam’s album, Ten, outsold Nirvana’s Nevermind. Despite that, nobody spent more weeks at the number one spot of Billboard’s 200 list than Billy Ray Cyrus. His album Some Gave All spent 17 consecutive weeks at number one.


*Before Miley Cyrus, her dad was selling records like hotcakes. 

Rap music also had quite a year even before Dr. Dre’s revolutionary album hit the markets. Only one hip hop single spent a week on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1990 and 1991 (PM Dawn’s “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss). In 1992, however, two rap singles spent more at least five weeks on the Hot 100: Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” had a five-week run at number one while the teenage duo, Kriss Kross spent eight consecutive weeks at that spot with their hit, “Jump.”


*Wearing clothes backwards was actually a trend among the young due to Kriss Kross’ popularity

Despite rap’s growing popularity, it was Dr. Dre’s album that hit the music world like a sledgehammer. After the breakup of N.W.A., Dre went solo with a belly full of animosity toward his former bandmate, Eazy E. Although he also had issues with Ice Cube, by the time The Chronic was released, they were on better terms. What the album had was a series of laid back, funk-inspired beats that were both mainstream and club-heavy. It didn’t only grab the attention of hip hop, it opened the eyes of the entire music industry. In addition, The Chronic introduced the masses to hip hop icon Snoop Doggy Dogg as well with the hit single, “Nuthin’ But a G Thang.”

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In the movie world, Disney’s Aladdin topped 1992 with more than $500 million worldwide. It was the first Disney film to feature a non-white princess although controversy followed due to Princess Jasmine being unveiled the entire time. Aladdin was also the first animated feature that advertised a big name star (Robin Williams as the Genie) as the voiceover for one of its characters (Dirks, Filmsite.org).

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*After Robin Williams voiced the Genie, Disney continued using big name actors to voice their characters.

If you remember the success of Home Alone in 1990, you’re aware of lead actor Macauley Caulken’s popularity in the early 90s. In 1992, he demanded more than $8 million to star in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It was the largest paycheck for a kid in Hollywood history at the time but the hefty payday paid off for the studio. Home Alone 2 went on to earn more than $350 million worldwide.


*Macauley Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern all returned for Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

Including Home Alone 2, three of the top 10 biggest films of 1992 were sequels. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover returned to the third installment of the Lethal Weapon franchise with Joe Pesci and Rene Russo in supporting roles. The film went on to gross more than $320 million worldwide. While it was not nearly as successful as the first Batman, Batman Returns did well enough to place sixth best at the box office in 1992.


*Batman Returns would be the final Batman film for Michael Keaton and director Tim Burton

Along with a dynamic and hugely popular soundtrack composed by Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard also starred the singer alongside Kevin Costner. Audiences were interested enough in the duo to earn the film more than $400 million worldwide. The most controversial film of the year, Basic Instinct, also earned the fourth most with more than $350 million worldwide. Star Sharon Stone uncrossed her legs (with no panties on), a scene that seemed to be talked about more than the movie itself. It was hammered by women’s rights groups for being misogynistic while gay rights groups deemed the film homophobic.


*Sharon Stone during the interrogation scene, the most controversial scene of 1992

In all, 22 films in 1992 crossed the $100 million mark at the worldwide box office, including Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, which went on to the win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The movie that turned Mike Myers into a household name, Wayne’s World, came out in 1992 as well as Tupac Shakur’s feature film debut, Juice. Tom Cruise also maintains his box office power with two big hits in Far and Away and A Few Good Men. A Few Good Men also is responsible for one of the most iconic movie quotes of the 90s when Jack Nicholson exclaims, “You can’t handle the truth!”

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*Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Demi Moore star in the hit military courtroom drama, A Few Good Men.

In television, 1992 saw the end of two classics, one a television show and the other an iconic host. With his final episode as the host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson’s last show wound up being the sixth most watched series finale ever. He would be replaced by Jeno Leno. At the seventh spot is the series finale for The Cosby Show, a two-part finale. Oddly, the second part of the finale wound up airing on the second day of the 1992 L.A. Riots. Bill Cosby appeared on NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate to advise people to stop the violence and instead watch the final episode of the show.


*The Huxtables gather around Claire Huxtable, played by Phylicia Rashad.

While The Tonight Show and The Cosby Show had historically high series finales, other popular shows would end in 1992 such as Growing Pains, Who’s the Boss?, MacGyver, Night Court, and Hee Haw. Television audiences also said goodbye to the popular Golden Girls, which ended after one of its stars, Bea Arthur, did not want to return for another season.

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*The Golden Girls cast from left to right: Estelle Getty, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White

Cable television saw the debut of two new stations that remain popular today: The Sci-Fi Channel and Cartoon Network. For its debut, the first thing the Sci-Fi Channel showed was the original Star Wars. For Cartoon Network, it launched the channel by having classic MGM cartoon character Droopy host a special event called Droopy’s Guide to the Cartoon Network. Initially, the network broadcast classic animated shows such as Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, and Hannah Barbera cartoons before getting into original content in later years.

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*The original Cartoon Network logo

A number of shows made their debut in 1992 including Dateline NBC, Martin, Barney and Friends, Mad About You, Batman: The Animated Series, Melrose Place, and HBO’s critically acclaimed The Larry Sanders Show. Of note is the debut of MTV’s The Real World, a show in which seven to eight young adults were living in a New York City residence and being filmed non-stop. One could argue it is what started the reality show phenomenon that continues to be popular today.

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*Part of the original The Real World cast set in SoHo, lower Manhattan in New York City.

For me, 1992 was a somber yet unique year. The L.A. Riots will never leave my mind. The image of walking past a Foot Locker whose windows were shattered and piles of empty shoe boxes will stick with me forever. The memories of fellow middle schoolers rapping the lyrics to “Nuthin’ but a G Thang” in between classes feels like yesterday. I will leave you with another resounding moment of ’92: Presidential candidate Bill Clinton performing a sax solo on The Arsenio Hall Show. It was one of those moments in which a presidential candidate lured in nearly every young voter just by showing them he was still cool.











Published by aaronpkahle

I like a lot of things but 90s American pop culture is my jam.

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