Just this evening I was listening to my Spotify Daily Mix and I had to restrain myself from posting videos of myself lipsyncing every. damn. song. (Sup, Britney? Christina? Hilary?) So instead like all sane and restrained Millenials do, I flooded my friends with them and like true high school ride-or-dies, they entertained my voyage down memory lane.
I must say, after switching from a semi-private institution to a public, community high school I found a lot of things more age-appropriate and progressive. Teenagers at my public school weren’t into drugs and substances and more into middle-of-the-night, middle-of-the-winter tobogganing with makeshift winter outfits on makeshift sleds from politician’s publicity posters, playing soccer at lunch, and the early days of the reality TV takeover. Girls AND guys were into shows like Laguna Beach, The Hills, and today’s topic: Girlicious.
Started by the creator of the infamous early 2000s The Pussy Cat Dolls, Robin Antin created a reality realm of young adult women living in a house, all vying to be donned with that precious pink boa and told “You ARE Girlicious“. And as the speculation of who was a good enough singer, dancer, entertainer, to become part of the group was everyday talk, hot gossip, and fuelled debate in the hallways of my high school, when it was all said and done, after the group had been formed, and I had graduated from high school and even was done with college, I never knew what kind of impact they would have on me.
I remember loving their first single Like Me. I wasn’t even anything like the girls they were personifying. Just to give you an idea, this girl was “getting on all fours in the club and shaking her ass”. I was more of the type to pair cut off jean shorts with one of my boyfriend-of-the-time’s button down shirts and leather belts to the club specifically not to be like the gazelle-girls towering on heels and wearing thigh-high length dresses. But as much as I wasn’t anywhere near like them or their songs, I was their target demographic and they hit a few chords: Girly school uniforms with a rebellious edge? Yeah. Dancing around a bedroom with headphones on? Yes. Choreographed dances in the back of my school? Probably most days from 7th-9th grade, and also? Yaaas. And the lyrics were explicit and raunchy, but I didn’t really pay attention — anything with a catchy chorus and slightest repetitive and repeatable nature I was down for.
Girlicious stayed with me, even after I grew apart from those friends whom I adored obsessing over the show over. For a very feminist idea of a group named and celebrated explicitly for their gender, I remember emailing my sister one of their songs that I felt conflicted about and she commiserated in how I felt, “not to mention kicking the feminist movement back a few decades.” I remember hearing the song for the first time, through video and thinking “OH. MY. GOD. SOMEONE IS SINGING ABOUT THIS.”
As much as I didn’t want to adore it as much as I cared to admit I did, I identified with it and this has kept me empowered for years — maybe not so much with the “lock me up” part, but forsure the verses about love, panic, paranoia, being taken over by a Dr. Jekyll/Mrs. Hyde, the noise in my head, being on the edge, and particularly the phrase about schizophrenia. The girls singing it might have never even had a glimpse of these, for some people, very real symptoms. I don’t suspect they have but they made a catchy song about it, that may not have been widely relatable, but it was relatable to me, and amongst the people I hung out with at the time, only me, so it was mine.
Look, it might not be the most accurate representation of mental health issues, and I definitely don’t think of my times in the psych ward as “sexy” or “sellable” but I buy this. I buy it because I am about mental wellness becoming mainstream. I am about art (maybe not always the “sexy, sellable” kind) in the name of niche, sometimes marginalized communities. This song was a first in me having a representation as a mental health patient in pop culture. This song made me feel that my deepest and darkest secrets were a topic in media that thought my shameful setbacks were — yes! — sexy and sellable.
You might not agree with me, and that’s okay. Now there are all types of music branded towards weirdos and outcasts, and maybe there was back then too (à la Creep by Radiohead which I didn’t hear for the first time until at least 5 years later when it also became a mainstream song for artists to cover), but none that reached my ears and made me feel as though my issues were valid enough to write a song about.
All I’m saying is we’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go. There are way more ways to find, connect with, and consume this music too as back in the early 00s nobody actually paid for music and it was either whatever was on the radio or whatever you could find on Napster. YouTube is progressive. Spotify and Apple Music are progressive. Get out there and find your representations, and please share your art. You never know what it could awaken in someone.