The summer of 2007: My last summer as a college student. I interned in DC all day, took English classes at night, worked at a catering company on the weekends, and spent every other waking moment reeling from a breakup with my boyfriend of two years. I was heartbroken, I was exhausted, I was smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day, and I was rocking a head full of muddy brown hair that I had dyed within an hour of the breakup (Life lesson: don’t be fast and loose with your post-breakup hair coloring).
Musically, it was a lucky time to be heartbroken. Amy Winehouse had just exploded, and I couldn’t get into anyone’s car without them saying “Have you heard this?” and cranking “Back to Black” or “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was the kind of music that made me feel like “One day I will turn all this pain into art, ART!” instead of my usual “Tonight I will turn all this pain into pizza, which I will eat in my underwear, UNDERWEAR!”
In another happy twist of musical fate, my dad had given me Aimee Mann’s “Bachelor Number 2” and Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” at the beginning of the summer. I swished under the city on the Metro with “Calling it Quits” and “Down to You” blasting in my ears. I felt terribly deep. I imagined the many suit-sporting characters on the Metro coming over and asking “What are you listening to, over caffeinated tear-stained girl in half a catering uniform?” “Oh just some Joni Mitchell,” I would respond casually, like this breakup was a time of great music-listening, poem-writing, maybe scotch-swilling, as opposed to a time of great toaster-streudel-eating and shower-crying.
I was working hard on the whole “change everything and get over this” game. I had a rearranged bedroom, the aforementioned new hair, the quick and joyless loss of ten pounds, and a well curated soundtrack. And though all of this was making me look thin and tired and very brunette, it wasn’t doing much to lift the breakup haze. Then it happened.
People ask Joshua and I a lot about our guilty pleasures. A real music snob will answer in a couple different ways. There’s the “no such thing” route. There’s the “what’s a guilty pleasure?” route. There’s the total lie route, where you pick a handful of clearly not questionable artists and add a time frame to their name (“Early Bonnie Raitt” or “Late Brian Eno”). And there’s the truth, which does not in this case set us free, but instead makes us blush. That summer, no matter how hard I tried to listen to the right music, a very wrong song got through to me: “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” by Fergie.
I don’t know why the artist known as Fergalicious was the one to break me out of my spell. But when that song exploded, it got under my skin. I sang the chorus constantly for weeks, and was basically half a step away from getting “But I’ve gotta get a move on with my life” tattooed on my upper arm. Singing it made me feel the kind of wistful empowerment I imagined a girl who was a breakup instigator would feel, even though I was firmly on the other side of that equation. The lyrics said everything I wanted to say: I miss you. You’re totally wrong for me. I’m going to go start my new awesome life with my backup band, the Black Eyed Peas.
That was my first, and last, experience as a Fergie fan. Though Joni Mitchell and Aimee Mann have stood the test of time, Fergie faded out for me. I gave you a hair dye lesson already, so lets close with a music lesson. Don’t be afraid of bad music. When you need something to get through to you, it doesn’t have to be beautiful or fraught: it can, on occasion, be something that belongs on a teen movie soundtrack. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Big girls don’t cry.