Hit play, let’s set a mood here.
I wouldn’t consider myself to have been the most media- or socially-critical tween/teen. I didn’t want to be a shallow sheep, so I threw myself into emo counter-culture as much as I dared in an enlightened search for alternate perspectives (spoiler alert: I didn’t delve far). I relished the decision to vandalize my poor seventh grade boyfriend’s picture in my yearbook after our “dramatic” break-up, the cause of said break-up being that I believed some hearsay and didn’t bother to fact-check against even my own knowledge and experiences. As special as I’ve always wanted to be, I don’t know that I possessed particularly exemplary qualities compared to any other 13-year-olds.
However, even in middle school I was a bit baffled and impressed with how successful and well-received Simple Plan’s music was among my peers. The band was and remains a conflicting cultural point in my Millennial experience. I never had any of their albums personally, but I heard them occasionally at friends’ houses and I knew the main singles. Listening to some of the songs–“Welcome to My Life,” “I’m Just a Kid,” and “Worst Day Ever” standing out the most–I couldn’t shake the sense that some of the lyrics are an almost offensive caricature of teenagers and growing up, and that I was being mocked or duped by listening to them.
Pierre Bouvier was about twice my age when Simple Plan took off. This was undeniably apparent to me by looking at him and the rest of the band, so I immediately mistrusted these songs which I interpreted as an attempt to represent me and my life. He was more than a decade away from who I was, and therefore was not one of us. I’ve read a few places that Millennials value authenticity above everything else, and, at least in this case, I militantly demonstrated this assessment. The cover of No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls has a trashed hotel room and members of the opposite sex together in a way that I did not have access to as a pre-licensed teenager. I was fairly positive these 20-something-year-old men, who probably had neighbors that would probably call the cops on them, hadn’t been locking themselves in their rooms and screaming over the radio anytime recently. I expected, being creative people who are twice my age, that Simple Plan’s ability to express themselves would be more refined and eloquent than mine, even with my above average reading level.
And yet, “Welcome to My Life” promptly goes down a checklist of teenagerisms from which I was already trying to set myself apart because they’re all part of an overplayed stereotype of what teenagers are like. My peers loved it, and I did not understand why. Was I being pretentious? Did I miss some irony in the lyrics that made them cleverer than I thought? Was I a special snowflake with more advanced lyrical analysis than the rest of my friends? I had a hard time believing that I was the only one who had noticed the misunderstood teenager trope in every movie, commercial, and show I ever saw. I also had a hard time believing that I was the only one trying to prove that I was more than that.
I remember MSN screen names boasting “I’m Just a Kid” and feeling out of the loop because this phrase didn’t speak to me. I didn’t even want it to speak to me. The whole concept felt like an attempt to rescind responsibility for our lives, and even if we were limited by our youth, we certainly weren’t helpless. I might not have been blatantly aware of it, but just having the option to make a screen name was a demonstration of the options and power available to us, and I guess I didn’t appreciate the irony of using that power to bemoan that we were powerless. I probably considered myself deeper than that: if I was powerless, it wasn’t because of something as pedestrian as being a child. My favorite bands were Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance–I was powerless because I knew there was darkness in the world and nothing I could do would stop it.
Not everything Simple Plan produced offended my teenaged identity. “Shut Up” became a significant part of my life’s soundtrack when my best friend and I left it blasting in her room while we snuck out the window to go talk by a nearby creek. They headlined with Good Charlotte at the first real concert I ever attended. I enjoyed several of their other songs without feeling put down at all, and I knew of at least one video that seemed to agree that the all-alone tone of “Welcome to My Life” was a bit silly. Although I felt that it lacked creativity, I had to admit that even the band’s “offensive” music was catchy–a virtue on its own.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about these songs is that, for all my pubescent dismissal of Simple Plan’s genuineness, it seems that I was operating under a gross misunderstanding that I can only attribute to lack of experience. I am 24 now, and I have discovered that feeling misunderstood and angsty is still absolutely a part of my day-to-day life. Simple Plan was actually telling the truth about their ages, and I know this now because… I do feel like breaking down. I am sick of everyone around. And you don’t know what it’s like. To be like me.
Except that you probably do. My expert analysis has revealed that Simple Plan continues to apply to all ages and phases of life, at least up to your 20s. How liberating that nothing has changed for me since seventh grade except my perception of what adulthood actually looks like. Apparently it looks like I’m just a kid.