The vomit-inducing fashions and cringe-worthy romance movies of the ‘80s may be dead, but that decade’s preferred medium of music listening is seeing a resurgence in popularity. According to The Boston Globe, Boston area record stores are seeing an increase in cassette tape sales. Though the profits aren’t exactly enough to make a fortune, the bottom line is that people are actually buying cassettes. And that’s weird.
Cassettes tapes’ popularity has risen so much that record labels have even taken notice. In 2013, a group of opportunistic record labels established Cassette Store Day to rival the increasingly popular Record Store Day.
Acts like Arcade Fire, Marina and the Diamonds, Ryan Adams and Joanna Newsom have taken advantage of the recent cassette interest and have made their albums available in the medium just in the past year. And the most famous fictional cassette tape in recent years, “Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1,” saw a physical cassette release for Record Store Day in 2015.
The growing popularity of cassette tapes is puzzling to some, including me. It’s extremely difficult to compare this phenomenon to the vinyl revival since cassette tapes have almost nothing in common with vinyl records. Sure, cassette tapes, along with CDs and vinyl, are a physical alternative to listening to music digitally, but they don’t sound any better than their more widely loved alternatives.
Hipsters and music snobs often brag of vinyl’s warmer, superior sound to MP3s. Comparatively, cassette tapes can provide a nice hissing sound when played. This is convenient when you want to feel like a snake and jam out to your favorite tune at the same time. But if you’re not into snake sounds or the sound of air leaving a tire, then cassettes are probably not your favorite music format.
I remember the good old days when I used to listen to cassettes. I personally preferred to listen to audiobooks of great literary works on cassette like “Winnie the Pooh” and “The Three Little Pigs.” But back in the day, I remember the frustrating struggle of finishing a cassette tape and then having to rewind it to listen to it again. Even my feeble five-year-old mind knew that cassettes totally weren’t worth it. I’m lucky I just caught the tail end of the initial cassette craze.
The rising popularity of cassettes can most likely be attributed to people’s tendency to romanticize the past. The same can be said for the vinyl revival. It’s like when people say they want to live in the ’50s without thinking of all of the sexism, racism and xenophobia. Sure, listening to vinyl and cassettes is a nice way to revel in the past, but the drawbacks of cassettes outweigh their benefits. Unlike playing MP3s or streaming music, listening to a cassette tape too often can ruin it. Rewinding tapes is a pain. And most cars don’t come with cassette players anymore, so blasting a mix tape on your way to classes is no longer a possibility.
There’s nothing wrong with those of us who enjoy listening to cassettes though. Cassettes are still the original mix tapes. Playlists pale in comparison to cassette tapes when it comes to intimate song sharing capabilities. Even though technology now allows us to listen to music easier, there’s nothing wrong with popping in a tape and feeling some serious ‘80s vibes — until it tangles.