I’m not one of those people to go “back in my day, music was better.” Firstly, it can be an unfair generalization to make since as a society we tend to remember the prolific successes over the one hit wonders. Each decade had its fair share of hits and misses, but we only remember the hits. And secondly, I’m only in my early/mid twenties. My generation is currently relevant in pop culture. The music we hear today is being made by millennials for millennials. This is still “my day”.
Still, I’ve always hated being born in the 90s. I feel like I missed such a prolific decade and it’s a shame that some of my favorite artists passed away before I was even in the womb. Luckily for me, the 90s led way to the rise of mainstream pop-punk, and in the 2000s as I went through adolescence, angsty music dominated the charts. My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Simple Plan, Blink 182, Paramore, Fall Out Boy – these are bands that shaped teenage culture in the 2000s. As I revisit some of these bands, I realize that pop punk is not one of my favorite genres. Once the music industry realized pop-punk was the latest fad, it stripped the edginess from its predecessors and mass produced it in a watered down version. It almost became a caricature of itself. To be fair, this happens to almost every genre. I mean, just take a look at how we got from Johnny Cash to self-proclaimed “bro country” acts like Florida Georgia Line.
Although, I give credit to pop-punk bands for having a lot of self awareness. Whether you love them or hate them, Fall Out Boy had a knack for making fun of themselves in a genuine, non-pretentious way. I think that was a huge part of the genre’s appeal. Just one decade before, 90’s music was incredibly heavy and dark, in a way that was unparalleled. By the time the 2000s arrived, bands took inspiration from the angst of the 90s with the fun of the 80s. The 2010s symbolized the rise of mainstream electronic dance music and I’ll admit, I’m a bit out of touch with this trend. I miss the days when I could turn on the Top 40 radio and hear artists actually playing instruments. Producing beats is incredibly challenging, almost mathematical in a way, but it just doesn’t feel the same. What do angsty teens listen to today?
I went down a YouTube rabbithole today where I revisited some of my favorite songs from middle school. Around this time, my parents gave me slightly more freedom, but listening to contemporary music was still frowned upon. When my parents weren’t home, I’d secretly watch MTV and VH1, which led me to my brief obsession with the All-American Rejects. As a 12 year old girl, I thought Tyson Ritter was the most attractive man on the planet. Their music was rock inspired enough to feel rebellious, but still wholesome enough to sing around the house without getting in trouble. They had an array of hits back in the day, from their power-ballad It Ends Tonight to one of their most famous singles Dirty Little Secret.
My favorite AAR song, however, was Gives You Hell. Although the lyrics are rather simple, it tells a clever story of finding joy in someone else’s misery, presumably after a nasty break-up. Songs approaching this subject can either go really well or come off extremely bitter and unlikeable. Take Cry Me a River, by Justin Timberlake for example. On the backdrop of his break-up with Britney Spears, Timberlake releases the music video for this song where he stalks a Britney look alike, films himself having sex with another girl, spies on the Britney look-alike taking a shower, and broadcasts his sex tape on not-Britney’s TV. Sure, relationships fail and no one likes being rejected, but the entire music video made Justin come off as an entitled asshole who can’t move on with his life. This is where I give credit to AAR’s songwriting for being equally clever as they are self-aware.
I wake up every evening
With a big smile on my face
And it never feels out of place
And you’re still probably working
At a nine to five pace
I wonder how bad that tastes
Although most people make the assumption that most pop songs are about romantic relationships, Gives You Hell could be about any type of relationship. The opening verse could be about an ex, or it could be about an old coworker, or even a horrible boss. The chorus is pretty straightforward and biting. “When you see my face hope it gives you hell/ When you walk my way hope it gives you hell”. The bitterness is simultaneously enhanced and offset by the music’s wacky and bombastic nature. The background vocals sound like a bunch of drunk people chanting in a bar and the guitars play strange surf-rock chords. It’s hard to take the song too seriously, therefore making it more relatable. After the second verse, the music softens as Tyson Ritter sings “truth be told I miss you”. At this point we think, he’s ready to let bygones be bygones and forgive the person who wronged him. Only for him to interject himself devilishly singing “truth be told I’m lying” where we are then propelled back into the vibrant chorus. One of my favorite lines that Ritter repeats is “When you find a man that’s worth a damn and treats you well/ Then he’s a fool, you’re just as well”. The very final time he sings it however, he changes it to “When you hear this song and you sing along but you never tell/ Then you’re the fool, I’m just as well”.
We get the sense that the person he’s singing about lacks self-awareness, that they’ll hear this song on the radio and not even know it’s about them. Like the antithesis of the subject of Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain. I think we all know someone out there like that, someone who’s so toxic, selfish, immature, what have you, and doesn’t even realize it. Someone who can point out flaws in others, but not see the same flaws in themselves. On the same hand, we see Ritter criticizing himself in the same line, by calling himself equally foolish. Nobody’s perfect and sometimes as humans we have a tendency to hold on to toxic people for too long. At some point, we have to look at ourselves and ask why we continue to put ourselves in shitty situations. It’s a pretty universal feeling to look back at things we’ve done and think about how stupid we were at one time. Even that subtle line makes this song less one sided. It’s not just a fuck you; it’s a self-reflection of someone who realized while they made bad decisions in the past, they deserve better.
Listen to Gives You Hell on: