Nicole Recommends: “Swan Song” by Juliana Hatfield

I have to imagine most girls and their mothers don’t sing along to songs about threatening suicide to get back at a shitty ex-boyfriends. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

My parents introduced me to a lot of the music I love today. Whether by blasting Prince albums or tuning into what was hot in pop radio, I was exposed to so many different styles and themes—probably way earlier than I should have. I mean, we all know “Raspberry Beret” is about the clitoris, so why my father, who was opposed to me wearing makeup and seeing “age-inappropriate” movies like She’s All That, felt it was no big deal to have that song accompany family car rides is beyond me.

After my parents divorced, my mom really became the main influencer of my musical tastes. Far more into contemporary pop and rock than my dad, she’s the one who fostered my love of Incubus while encouraging me to belt along to Christina Aguilera. The car became the place for me, my younger sister, and Mom to groove together.

A frequently queued album was Bed by Juliana Hatfield, who wrote fast and dirty, or ambling and lamenting, indie pop. “Swan Song” got the most play, so it took a few years for me to venture into the complete work myself and know all its sordid love themes—being the other woman, self-destructively wanting someone bad for you, and how attraction can turn you into someone you don’t want to be. These were all themes that likely would’ve gone over my head as a teenager who hadn’t even been felt up yet, which makes it even crazier that “Swan Song” was one of my favorite songs.

I imagined forming a band of ladies and learning this song, performing it in front of the school at a talent show. This didn’t come to pass—something that’s for the best, considering I don’t think lyrics like “Foaming at the mouth / with a needle in my arm” and “You shit / You stabbed me in the back” would have flown with the administrators.

It’s a dark song with a catchy chorus that’s all about the anger and blame and hurt you feel when the person you’re dating isn’t who you thought they were. While some might worry that such an upbeat tune could undermine or even encourage the behaviors mentioned in the song, I think it’s more to play up the fact that a lot of people go through an exaggerated period of self-destruction after a breakup. Whether it’s setting fire to your ex’s belongings a la Waiting to Exhale or just writing furiously in a journal about all the ways you wish you could watch them hurt, many feel that wanton rage and need to show just how fucked up everything is when they’ve been left behind.

And it’s a lot healthier to just sing those thoughts than act them out.

(Song recommendation by N. Alysha Lewis)

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