I haven't gotten to do one of these for about a month. But I have a good half-dozen built up now! Here's the first.
“You Only Get What You Give” – New Radicals (1998)
90’s Band Name: The name “New Radicals” makes it seem like there actually is a band here, but the title is just a cover for the band’s only member, Gregg Alexander. This is a classic late-90’s trope: the one-man band. Examples include Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim, Pedro The Lion, and maybe The Magnetic Fields, depending how much you believe there’s really anyone in that band besides Stephin Merritt. This should be a slam dunk for tons of 90’s points, except that the pattern continued into the early 2000’s: Five for Fighting, Iron and Wine, LCD Soundsystem. You can argue that this a clear case of a 90’s trend continuing on past the decade that started it (the late-90’s boy band phenomenon is another good example of this), but that doesn’t change the fact that a one-person band doesn’t scream “90’s” at you. (4/10)
90’s Musical Stylings: The guitar lick, the production, the vocal howl on the ends of the verses, the hurry-up quasi-rap on the bridge; there’s a lot here the hints at 90’s, even if it’s not explicitly from the decade. Fortunately, the lyrics more than make up for this in their complete 90’s-ness (90-ocity?). Allow me to present the lyrics of the bridge, unedited except to distribute points:
Health insurance rip off lying
FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining (+1)
Cloning (+2) while they're multiplying
Fashion mag shoots Beck (+1) and Hanson (+1),
Courtney Love (+1) and Marilyn Manson (+1)
You're all fakes, run to your mansions
Come around, we'll kick your ass in!
Alexander said he wrote the verse as a test; to see whether the media would focus on the important political issues of the first few lines, or the petty celebrity-dissing (+1). Man, that guy was really sticking it to the man. As a bonus, at one point, he also uses the word “frenemies.” Frenemies! (+2) (10/10)
90’s Cred: I assumed that this category would get a low score, but I hadn’t realized these two very important points:
- When asked what song he was most jealous of by Time, The Edge named this song. (+2)
- When asked what he'd heard in the last few years that really grabbed him, Ice-T listed this song and this song only. (+3)
What am I missing about this song? It’s the Newcastle United (unofficial) anthem (+1). It made Blender’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born (+1). In the liner notes of one of her albums, Joni Mitchell praised this song for "rising from the swamp of 'McMusic' like a flower of hope." (+2). Steven Strasburg said the song inspired him to become the pitcher he is today. "The simplicity of the thought, you get what you give, is easy to grasp and use in your day to day life." (-1). (8/10)
Pop Culture: It came to late to be featured on the soundtracks of any 90’s movies, though it was used on the trailers of a few 90’s films (Big Daddy, Bubble Boy). And it was in 2000’s The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas, which we should really consider a 90’s movie. Or pretend it never happened. Yeah, let’s pretend it never happened. (3/10)
Music Video: Oh, holy hell.
We start on Alexander, wearing the stupidest hat (+1) seen on MTV until Jason Mraz showed up.
Well, this is his first music video, after all. You can’t hold sartorial choices against a scrappy young fellow like this, freshly arrived to the music scene. Maybe later, after he’s made some cash off this single and can afford a proper milliner, we’ll see him properly be-hatted. Let’s take a look at his next video, “Someday We’ll Know.”
Fun fact: in this video, Alexander never takes off his hat, nor allows the director to get a single close-up of him. I’m not totally convinced that is Alexander there.
Back to the video. Alexander is in a large, austere shopping mall (+1) – chosen, it turns out, because “he sees the shopping mall as a metaphor for society—a fake, controlled environment engineered to encourage spending.” (+2) At a nod from Alexander, teenagers all over the mall riot, grabbing passing shoppers and shoving them into dog cages, catching them with nets. (+2)
Let’s talk about this. There comes a point in everyone’s life where he stops identifying with the “troubled upstarts” and “misunderstood teens” and starts to identify with the stuck-in-the-mud adults they encounter. Perhaps I’ve passed this point, and that’s why I’m so horrified by this whole video. But I don’t think that’s it.
In one scene, teenagers grab a passing businesswoman, redress her into a fast food uniform, and force her to make fries and take orders while the teenagers press in on all sides, yelling and throw things at her. See how you like it! seems to be the message. Now, I don’t miss my days as a fry cook, but I don’t look back on the stretch I worked 15 hours a week as the time when I had it really rough.
Thank God the adults are out of the way! Now we’re free to do this!
And let’s go ahead and mention that Gregg Alexander looks like someone raised at a Aryan Youth convention. No one has ever looked happier to be a part of an angry mob.
I cannot overstate how creepy Alexander is in this video. He looks like that white power activist who shoots at President Bartlet’s black aide in “The West Wing.” (wastes 15 minutes unsuccessfully looking for a picture of that character) Okay, well, he does.
Alexander might actually be creepier. He does this eyebrow twitch when everyone’s getting really violent that says, “isn’t this great?” By the end, he’s singing seductively into the sneeze guard.
And then the hat’s back (+1).
I hate everything about this video. But it is super-90’s. And, as the video’s top YouTube comment notes, “The 90's were great. Awesome bands, songs, clothes, movies, no 9/11... It was great!” I guess I can’t argue with that. (7/10)
Final Score: Somehow, reviewing this song made me both respect it more and like it less. It ends up with a very respectable (32/50).