Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Serious Contenders: New Radicals, "You Get What You Give"

Part of the reason for the recent absence of the "Serious Contenders" series was that all the songs I wanted to post were from the 90's and I wanted to make sure there was a good mix of eras. My colleague James Leask is fond of saying the 90's were "objectively" the best decade. Musically, it's hard to argue against that. There was an explosion in creativity, even in the radio pop we took for granted. It's funny how life works, a song that annoys you at 12 becomes one of your favourite songs ever in your 20's.

Gregg Alexander's legacy to the world, before retiring as a performer (and working mainly as a songwriter and producer) was this oddly philosophical pop gem. It's picture perfect radio pop, with a great hook and singalong lyrics, with a simple message: "Don't let go / You've got the music in you / One dance left / This world is gonna pull through / Don't give up / You've got a reason to live / Can't forget we only get what we give." That lyric, found in an ostensibly harmless pop song, has actually helped me through some bad moods and troubled times. It speaks to the ability of music to always be there for us, something that works and remains constant. "You've got the music in you" is such a fucking brilliant sliver of a lyric. It's very encouraging.

In the late 90's, when the song came out, I feel like there was already a sense of impending doom. Things had been pretty good for a while, on a geo-political scale and I think artists were uncomfortable with it. In a lot of songs from that era, from the likes of New Radicals, Third Eye Blind and Smashmouth, you have outwardly sunny music with a dark tinge around the edges. People didn't know what they had to be worried about.

Obviously, this changed a few years later. Music in the 2000's was defined by an almost-exact knowledge of what there was to be worried about, and continues to be. I look back to those times as being almost quaint. I'm not saying that ruins the song's meaning. If anything it strengthens it for me. It's just that a song like this probably wouldn't get written nowadays. Music gives you that consistency, that window back to old feelings, that basis to look at the world.

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