It was 20 years ago today…”Popular”

It was a tough decision this month whether to conduct a review of Beck’s Odelay, which was one of the more popular albums of the 1990s, or to cover Nada Surf’s High/Low, a much more obscure album, but which featured on of the seminal, timeless, touchstone songs of the alternative genre.

“Popular” is an absolutely singular track, both a blessing and a curse of Nada Surf.  The song is instantly catchy, humorous, and features several lines that attract the listener.  It was also a curse because the rest of the album High/Low doesn’t follow suit.

However, the members of Nada Surf have persevered, creating gems of albums while maintaining their independence, whether you’re talking about The Weight is a Gift, featuring the stellar “Always Love” or its follow up Lucky, which featured “Whose Authority”.

The lyrics of “Popular”have their origins in an obscure publication titled “Penny’s Guide to Teen-Age Charm and Popularity”.  Both act as an advise column regarding how to attract the object of our affection.  The song itself features sometimes absurd advice such as “keep your hair spotless and clean/wash it at least once every two weeks” and “you don’t need date insurance/you can go out with however you want to/every boy in the whole world can be yours”.

The chorus itself juxtaposes lines such as “I’m head of the class”, “I’m teacher’s pet”, and “I make football bets”.  It is my understanding that the purpose of these lines is that all types of people within the same class have the ability to be popular in their own right, whether they excel in class, suck up to the teacher, or participate in gambling activities.  As such, the song calls out to several types of teenagers in particular, putting them on notice that they are exactly the person they intend to be, that they have as much potential to fulfill their dreams as anybody else.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further adieu, The Teenage Guide to Popularity:

Three important rules for breaking up:
Don’t put off breaking up when you know you want to
Prolonging the situation only makes it worse
Tell him honestly, simply, kindly, but firmly
Don’t make a big production
Don’t make up an elaborate story
This will help you avoid a big tear jerking scene
If you wanna date other people say so
Be prepared for the boy to feel hurt and rejected
Even if you’ve gone together for only a short time,
And haven’t been too serious,
There’s still a feeling of rejection
When someone says she prefers the company of others
To your exclusive company,
But if you’re honest, and direct,
And avoid making a flowery emotional speech when you break the news,
The boy will respect you for your frankness,
And honestly he’ll appreciate the kind of straightforward manner
In which you told him your decision
Unless he’s a real jerk or a cry baby you will remain friends!I’m head of the class
I’m popular
I’m a quarterback
I’m popular
My mom says I’m a catch
I’m popular
I’m never last picked
I got a cheerleader chickBeing attractive is the most important thing there is
If you wanna catch the biggest fish in your pond
You have to be as attractive as possible
Make sure to keep your hair spotless and clean
Wash it at least every two weeks
Once every two weeks!
And if you see Johnny football hero in the hall
Tell him he played a great game
Tell him you like his article in the newspaperI’m the party star
I’m popular
I’ve got my own car
I’m popular
I’ll never get caught
I’m popular
I make football bets
I’m a teachers pet

I propose we support a one month limit on going steady
I think it would keep people more able to deal with weird situations
And get to know more people
I think if you’re ready to go out with Johnny
Now’s the time to tell him about your one month limit
He won’t mind, he’ll appreciate your fresh look on dating!
And once you’ve dated someone else you can date him again!
I’m sure he’ll like it!
Everyone will appreciate it!
You’re so novel, what a good idea!
You can keep you time to your self!
You don’t need date insurance!
You can go out with whoever you want to!
Every boy, every boy, in the whole world could be yours!
If you’ll just listen to my plan:
THE TEENAGE GUIDE TO POPULARITY!

I’m head of the class
I’m popular
I’m a quarterback
I’m popular
My mom says I’m a catch
I’m popular
I’m never last picked
I got a cheerleader chick

I’m the party star
I’m popular
I’ve got my own car
I’m popular
I’ll never get caught
I’m popular
I’m a teachers pet
I make football bets

 

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