When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released in 2002, its depiction of 1986 Miami - 16 years in the past - felt like a bygone era, a world away. Yet if you applied the same numbers to 2018, you’d be left with...the year 2002.
I had this horrifying thought while explaining the concept of “music that existed before you were born” to my kids the other day. I’d remembered some of my favourite “old” music is from Vice City’s Emotion soundtrack, then went pale as I did the maths.
Here's the thing about a video game soundtrack. It has to be more than just a collection of good music.
Horror soon gave way to daydreaming, though, as I wondered what a “retro” GTA set in the year 2002 might actually look (and more importantly sound) like. I know GTA 3 was released only a year earlier in 2001, but it’s hardly a time capsule of the turn of millennium; it’s off-brand soundtrack and character design wasn’t as interested in representing the times as they were looking like a Michael Mann movie.
Looking back, it’s a surprisingly perfect time to try and nail in a game like Grand Theft Auto. Rockstar have always focused on cultural and historical keystones in their games, from the LA Riots in San Andreas to the Great Recession in GTA V, and I think 2002 is just as suitable.
You’ve got a nation still raw and wounded from the events of 9/11, with all the horrors that day would set in motion only just starting to gather steam, yet there was still also a touch of the last days of summer about it, as the West drained its last reserves of turn-of-the-millennium optimism before settling into the dark timeline we’re currently living through.
Revisiting those days, reflected in GTA’s trademark TV and radio ads, billboards and mission themes, would be fascinating, especially since it’s a time period so ripe for parody. Imagine all the frosted tips! Brick phones! Shiny jeans! Boot cuts! Nu metal!
It was such an earnest time. There was terror but there was also still hope. We all thought the environment could be saved, that Nazis had been defeated in 1945, that the worst that could happen in an election were some hanging chads, that the internet was a force for good.
Of course Vice City’s historic appeal shouldn’t be taken for granted. San Andreas also tried its hand at history, but its sprawling version of 1991 just didn’t resonate in the same way as Vice City did, I think because its soundtrack for the time just wasn’t as strong as that which had so defined Rockstar’s previous effort.
In order for a game set in the year 2002 to be the next generation’s Vice City, then, those soundtrack choices need to be perfect. So allow me to get this wordy excuse for an intro out of the way to get to the real reason I’m writing this: to make some GTA 2002 soundtrack suggestions, enough to get started on a whole range of stations.