By Anne T. Donahue
According to every newsfeed in the history of time and space, *NSYNC reunited at the VMAs on Tuesday, and word on the street is that they’re reuniting and planning something secret and huge.
And to that I say: okay! Sure! Personally, I consider Justin Timberlake a personal enemy (he will never be forgiven for the way he treated Janet), and in the great Boy Band Wars of the late nineties/early 2000s, I was most partial to Nick Carter for a month in 1998 before graduating to JC Chasez’s angelic voice in “Bye, Bye, Bye.” What I’m saying is that I have absolutely no real loyalty to any group outside of One Direction, and I understand that we, as aging millennials, are entering our “bands of our youth are reuniting as middle-aged men, and we will likely be able to see them at a casino in a matter of years.” Our glory days are behind us, and Chris Kirkpatrick’s goatee is a testament to such (bless his heart).
Plus, I am an old woman actively listening to Olivia Rodrigo.
For the record, my 38-year-old self is not the one relating to her music. As a geriatric, I understand that it is not for me to listen to Guts and think, “This is so me.” Why? Because I was a teenager when Sex and the City premiered, and my life has evolved into a montage of boring behaviours that I revel in often as long as they take place before my 10-10 30 p.m. bedtime. But my inner teen? The sweet baby angel who was lacking relatable artists circa Y2K? Who liked Britney and Christina just fine, but was largely without female pop artists whose music provided various avenues of scream-singing? (Like, “Fighter” is a jam, but it was a different time.) Yes, there was Avril, but as a wannabe punk who prized the approval of actual skater boys I was in love with, I couldn’t submerge myself totally in “Complicated” without risking their incessant mockery. (Spoiler: they were teenage boys in 2001 – I was never going to escape their scrutiny.)
Pop music in 2023 – and our relationship to it – has come so far. Gen Z in particular demand more than I know me and my friends ever did: they dive into lyrical content, examine hooks, and draw parallels between an artist and their subject matter. They don’t shy away from vulnerability and they wear their musical alliances on their sleeves. Earnestness matters. Expectations are rightfully high. As a teen-into-20-something at the turn of the century (LOL), pop was an entirely different beast: it was fun, it served some bops, but it wasn’t until I found indie music in the 2000s that I felt any emotional connection with what I was listening to. (Outside of crying to “I Want It That Way” because I danced to it with my crush at eighth grade graduation and by high school our dynamic had totally changed.)
Enter: Guts, an album tailor-made for my former-teen soul; an album I know I would’ve screamed-sang to unapologetically, comforted by the fact that a songwriter like Rodrigo also felt the same way I did about boys and growing up and realizing that at no point do any of us have it figured out. There is a meme circulating in which Meryl Streep, screaming in Big Little Lies, is likened to a millennial listening to Olivia Rodrigo, and reader, it is correct: I love her sophomore because it’s good (duh), but also because my inner teen is being validated. Getting older sucks, and interpersonal relationships are the worst. This is a reality that I have accepted and have adapted to accordingly, but once upon a time this information was new, and I would’ve loved to process it alongside a singer-songwriter who was going through it, too. Do I understand that “The Grudge” does not apply to my life in any way now? Absolutely; but 16-year-old me is so grateful to have a pop song that embodies the betrayal of a pal you once looked up to.
This week, I was talking to a pal who told me they were also listening to Rodrigo on full-blast, bopping around their place of work as if the record was just for them. I felt the same on campus this week, stomping to class to “all-american bitch” and thinking, “Yeah, that’s right!” as if I hadn’t just apologized to someone for not walking fast enough up the staircase (they didn’t notice, and they didn’t care). But that’s simply a testament to the spoils on which we’re dining on: while I’m too tired to figure out how to get tickets to her concert (and the Eras saga has broken my spirit), I’m thrilled to be still so intertwined with my younger self that an album like Guts still resonates. I think we’re all lucky to be privy to a pop culture landscape that doesn’t shy away from big hits and bigger sentiments. Justin Timberlake wishes.
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