When I was 17, I did work experience at my local newspaper. I was in year 12, it was my holidays; I really should have been out there losing my virginity or at least licking someone’s face. But instead, I wrote articles about local politics and tagged along with journalists (my heroes) when they went out on the road to do interviews. There was journalist Jeremy, a ‘cool dude’ with floppy hair. He’d turn up to interviews with no questions prepared. When I asked him how he managed it, he’d roll his head back, working out some of the cricks in his neck, and say, “I know what I’m doing.” (I’ve channelled Jeremy a few times since then whenever I’ve been short on research time; he’s the closest thing I have to a spirit animal.)
Then there was the editor, who was permanently pissed off, and her number two, Lina, who was permanently bubbly. I liked both of them for being exactly who they were, which was weird. Technically, the editor didn’t have to get as pissed off as she did, but she made an impression. When she saw that I had written “says she” instead of “she says”, tiny fireballs erupted in her pupils. (Well, not literally, but that’s how my teenage brain recalls it.) Lina’s exuberance was similarly unnecessary. When we went to her car, she grabbed her Ricky Martin cassette tape as though she were a child or extremely high on coke. “Do you like Ricky Martin?” she said. “I. LOVE. HIM.”
I did not love, nor even like Ricky Martin. I couldn’t tolerate any Top 40 music, because it was Top 40 music. I was into Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, the Doctor Zhivago soundtrack and generally being “deep” for my age. I hated the Backstreet Boys, I thought Hanson should be dead (I erected a basic webpage in year seven, entitled, “Let’s All Kill Hanson”; I’d been forced to listen to “MMMBop” that many times) and I considered Britney Spears a disease from which society needed to be cured. But I couldn’t just come out and say to Lina – one of my professional heroes and someone who, on a personal level, filled my days with joy – “No, I think Ricky Martin is fucked. I’d prefer to be in Guantanamo than listen to his inane bullshit.” So instead I said, “Sure, we can listen to Ricky Martin.” And she put it on as loud as it would go.
As we drove along in her hatchback, I felt I was literally inside the song, as though Ricky Martin’s voice was a quivering membrane containing me. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. But it was also one of the best, because I was hanging out with a very cool lady, who just so happened to be losing her shit to a song I hated.
That was many years ago. In recent times, I have flip-flopped,so dramatically it has terrified me. Not only do I now approve of Ricky Martin, but I own a vintage “Livin’ La Vida Loca” t-shirt. I own a vintage Hanson t-shirt. When a friend recently shared a video of the now-adult trio singing “MMMBop”, I nearly cried. “There’s so much going on in that song,” I wrote in the comments. I meant it. There is. I can do the vampire dance to “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”. And Britney? Well, Britney is just necessary. That’s all I’ll say. She may be a disease, but she’s that strange disease that’s somehow keeping us all alive. And good on her for that.
So what happened to me? Why have I embraced the pop music I once hated? It’s possible that I’ve just lost too many brain cells to alcohol – or, more likely, I’ve come to associate these tunes with the times I first heard them. And I had some pretty good times, when I was 17. Even if the music was shit.
Image: Courtney Jackson
This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 74 (Nov/Dec 2016).