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13 Pop Culture References That Will Confuse Anyone Born After 1990

Nothing makes you feel old quite like explaining pop culture references.

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question mark on abstract background
Getty Images, rd.com

Picture it: You’re engaged in conversation with someone younger than you—a colleague, perhaps—when you drop a pop culture reference that’s met with a blank stare. Now, not only do you feel terribly old, but you’re stuck explaining something you assumed everyone knew. Here’s proof that you’re not alone. Also, here are some sounds you’ve never heard if you were born after 2000.

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Billy Idol "Above Ground" Benefit Concert, Los Angeles, USA - 16 Apr 2018
Amy Harris/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

1980s musicians

Popular 1980s rock stars like Billy Idol and Def Lepard may still tour and pull major crowds of nostalgic music lovers, but sadly, their pop culture contributions seem to be lost on many ’90s kids and especially those born in the early aughts. Just try crooning “Pour Some Sugar on Me” or “Eyes Without a Face” and see what happens. For a laugh, check out how terrible these song lyrics are after we corrected their grammar.

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Macgyver, Richard Dean Anderson Film and Television


Today’s generation might call it “life-hacking,” but we know what one really calls using the limited resources we have on hand: MacGyvering. The 1980s TV show starring Richard Dean Anderson as the world’s most notorious troubleshooter, Angus “Mac” MacGyver, was so successful that it left behind a verb using the titular character’s name. Unfortunately, younger generations don’t quite get it.

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William Bendix Actor At The Dorchester.

The Life of Riley 

This one might even be a stretch for 1980s kids, though their parents likely used the phrase, “You’ve got the life of Riley.” This refers to Jackie Gleason’s 1950s sitcom, The Life of Riley, about a fellow who simply can’t leave well enough alone, creating chaos wherever he goes and leaving others to clean it up. Sadly, you probably won’t be able to find The Life of Riley on a streaming service.

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Ferris Bueller's Day Off - 1986

“Bueller? Bueller?”

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off made an even bigger star out of a young Matthew Broderick, who played the incorrigible and overly-confident teen determined to make the most of a “sick day” from school. Monotonously saying “Bueller? Bueller?” (just as a less-than-enthusiastic teacher did while taking attendance in the movie) is still a fun way to respond when no one can answer your questions—at least for people who’ve seen the movie. And if you’re in the company of people who have no idea what you’re talking about, it’s all the more appropriate (and hilarious) to say. Here are more of the most memorable movie quotes of all time.

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Alice - 1976-1985

“Kiss my grits”

Alice’s sassy Southern waitress Flo wasn’t afraid to say, “Kiss my grits,” when someone fell out of line, and the catchphrase stuck during the first four years of the series from 1976 to 1980. So much so that actress Polly Holliday even scored her very own show for Flo from 1980 to 1981. Sadly, you’re unlikely to find anyone born after 1990 that will get the reference (although you may make them hungry for grits).

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Dallas - 1978-1991

Who shot J.R.?

In the year 1980, there was no bigger mystery on television than who shot J.R. Ewing at the end of a Dallas season finale. Not only was it a peak TV cliffhanger, but the question drew out for eight long months while execs negotiated a higher salary for series star Larry Hagman. These days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a ’90s kid who even knows who J.R. Ewing is, let alone who shot him. If you want to relive the 1980s, here are the best flicks to watch from the era.

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“Where’s the beef?”

In 1984, the fast food chain Wendy’s introduced us to the sassy senior citizens who simply wanted to know, “Where’s the beef?” in relation to the flimsy hamburgers offered by competing chains. The commercials were a hit, cementing the catchphrase’s place in pop culture history…to a point. Gen Z will never use these everyday products in their lifetime.

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KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - FEBRUARY 26TH, 2017. Coca-Cola and Pepsi drinks on ice.

The Pepsi Challenge

Among soda aficionados, there are still two types of people: Coca-Cola drinkers and Pepsi drinkers. But today’s generation is unlikely to understand the marketing prowess of The Pepsi Challenge. The “Challenge” began in 1975, with Pepsi conducting a blind taste test using regular folks to taste one cup of Coke and one cup of Pepsi. Coincidentally, each commercial resulted in more than half of participants choosing Pepsi over its number one ranked competitor. Find out which soda brand took top spot in our own taste test.

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Male hand holding quarter dollar
Audrius Merfeldas/Shutterstock

Quarter for the pay phone

Once upon a time, a great insult was, “Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares.” Today, you’d probably receive funny looks. What would you need a quarter for? Your cell phone is right there. Not to mention that even if you could find a pay phone, it’ll cost you more than 25 cents.

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People play Pong the Atari game


This no-frills Atari video game released in 1972 was legendary for its time, featuring a basic table tennis-like theme. Today’s gamers would easily say it pales in comparison to the cutting edge graphics and storylines we see in the category today. Still, wouldn’t a true aficionado want to go back to the genre’s roots? We’d like to think so.

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Good Times - 1974-1979
Bud Yorkin/Norman Lear/Tandem/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock


Saying this may just make people think you’re really charismatic about the word dynamite (or a tad theatrical), but if you were born after 1990, J.J.’s signature catchphrase from Good Times is probably lost on you. The television series ran from 1974 to 1979, and while it did enjoy plenty of time in syndication, we have yet to find it on a streaming service like Netflix for modern-day bingeing. However, here are some classic TV shows you probably didn’t know you can find on Netflix.

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Knight Rider - 1982-1986
Universal TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Knight Rider’s KITT

Now that we have Alexa and Siri to help organize our lives, Michael Knight’s KITT, a 1982 Firebird that helped the TV character fight crime, may not seem like a big deal, but it sure was back when Knight Rider premiered on September 26, 1982. But, hey, at least if it comes up in conversation, the younger party can simply ask, “Siri, who is KITT?” See if you can guess what these antique objects were used for.

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Hulkamania Running Wild Wrestling, Los Angeles, USA
Chris Carlson/AP/REX/Shutterstock


Before The Rock, Triple H, or Make-A-Wish record holder John Cena, there was Hulk Hogan and his phenomenon Hulkamania that rose to popularity between 1983 and 1984. Hogan may even be responsible for one of the largest ’80s fandoms: “Hulkamaniacs.” These days, he doesn’t spend much time in the ring, and Hulkamania has long since died down. But, yes, there was a time when a legion of kids and even adults tried to follow the Hulkster’s “demandments.” Now, see how well you know these 15 pop culture trivia questions people always get wrong.