The hookup culture and the rock stars’ early songs
Back in 1995, Alanis Morissette’s jagged little pill shattered many rock records, and the lyrics are as well-known to my generation as “Summer Lovin’” and “Greased Lightening.” Jagged little pill might not have contained the first scorned woman song, but it was the first concept album about mistreated women. It was also the angriest to date.
Contrary to pop psychoanalysis, this anger was not empowering but did evidence a modicum of self-respect and greater expectation. We saw the transition to the hookup culture, which is so “essential” to women’s professional success today. We, therefore, still had expectations of traditional courtship. When our expectations of traditional dating and romance met the growing reality of untrustworthy men, we were given to bitterness and anger, which Alanis expressed with vigor. She had been Canada’s wholesome pop star who was used by men she had trusted. She sang the ugly truth of betrayal and, for every story of abused faith in Alanis’ lyrics, a Gen X woman could either directly relate or had a friend who could. Alanis was our primal scream.
But anger is hard to sustain. Women got used to men who were rarely ready for commitment or responsibility. What other option was there? And so anger melted into resignation. Compare the lyrics of “You Oughta Know,” released in 1995, to the video of P!nk’s “So What,” released in 2008.
The anger is evident in”You Oughta Know” before Alanis layers on the alternately cold and shrieking vocals.
You seem very well, things look peaceful/ I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know./ Did you forget about me, Mr. Duplicity?/ I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner./ It was a slap in the face/ How quickly I was replaced,/ And are you thinking of me when you fuck her?
‘Cause the love that you gave that we made/ Wasn’t able to make it enough for you/ To be open wide, no./ And every time you speak her name/ Does she know how you told me/ You’d hold me until you died?/ ‘Til you died, but you’re still alive.
And I’m here, to remind you/ Of the mess you left when you went away./ It’s not fair, to deny me/ Of the cross I bear that you gave to me./ You, you, you oughta know.
“You Oughta Know” challenges the man to acknowledge the pain he caused, which she is laying bare. “So What,” however, is a song about burying the pain and acting like everything is fine when it is not.
P!nk makes us laugh with hair on fire, highway rides on a John Deere lawn mower, and naked red-carpet strutting. She gets a bit of childish revenge with the urine in the beer bottle. But the part that always gets me is when she shakes off tears while taking a chainsaw to the tree with the carved lovers’ heart.
Regardless, P!nk doesn’t actually move on.