My sister was mouthing the words to this song in the car, and I noticed only because the sun was still out and, really, they’re cheesy. She wasn’t paying attention to her mouth; I’d have thought she was already a little too old for an ‘I believe in myself’ song because she got a tattoo on her birthday last week, finished high school yesterday. But that’s not fair. I do not play this kind of station when I am driving alone. “I think this was on the Pretty Little Liars Christmas special,” I said, but my sister doesn’t watch that show. Those are teenagers whose pain and whose outfits I only ever talk about with grown women.
“Fight Song” sounds like it ought to be fifteen years old. I don’t really understand how it’s not. It gains little through close-reading. It doesn’t get better when you listen to it over and over. I heard it once and I knew it belonged nowhere more than in the turning-point scene of an early aughts chick flick, the moment where the well-scrubbed female lead realizes that she has the power to solve whatever crisis has arisen in her color-by-numbers pretty world, that she can succeed in law school, or reunite her feuding friends, or save the wedding, that she can, in fact, meet that magazine deadline and win back the guy. What speaks to me about Rachel Platten’s track is a dated toothlessness. Vanessa Carlton should sing this song in boot leg jeans. Today, when adults speak to teenagers through the radio (Rachel Platten is thirty four years old, which is approximately two decades older than the target of this watermelon flavored — cherry-tasting music can’t be this sexless. this is a science. watermelon lip balm is for girls who go to the mall to buy t-shirts with sayings not to cruise the food court for offduty FYE clerks with double-pierced ears — me-against-the-world jam she’s schilling, but! but!!!) they do it with their hip more popped, wearing their bravado less like it surprises them, with a little more #game. The delicate declaration of self here, the cute comeback call, sounds like it could have been playing when Lauren Conrad got a second chance to go to Paris and didn’t fuck it up for her loser boyfriend that time. Platten’s voice dances above the piano, emphatic but candied, emphatically candied. The only moment of that goes so far as to break the spell is the odd and plucky “and I don’t really care if nobody else believes.” That line is delivered with an earnestness I almost have to take to bed about, even after I tell myself it is just little baby boxing punches aimed at nobody at all. You can’t even get something like that down your throat without a swig of adolescent disengagement from the reality where nobody is working against you, because nobody cares that much. I have a vision inside me of a girl processing this song with a pretty pink brain that doesn’t have all the pathways yet that mine does now. I don’t like to talk about teenage girls as if they are fragile, fairy-tale obsessed babies to be treasured and coddled and fed girl power anthems, because that discredits the force and intelligence and compassion of the lot of them and full-scale alienates and erases huge swaths, but I was a weird girl, too. I was a weird girl and I still had soft parts. Not every girl needs a Taylor Swift song to score their every emotion, and anybody anywhere will certainly go on fine having never heard “Fight Song,” but, I don’t know. “And I don’t care if nobody else believes,” just probably sounds really perfect sometimes on the school bus.
This nothing song, these empty platitudes we have heard a million times, the way that the movement of the whole thing, a dance that has been here done over and over so the floor has small shoes prints worn in, calls to mind a crisply edited montage of a girl in a pink sports bra galloping determinedly on an elliptical machine, toning her thighs as a symbol of the new fire in her heart, none of it has any right to work so well. But it does. It has. It always will. There is something torn open, but neater than a proper wound, in young women, that can always be filled by the kind of song that immediately conjures up the image of music video where a white girl in a fluttery tank top walks down an abandoned street, feeling deeply, even if the actual video doesn’t exist, and I am old, and I don’t know care to know better, and I am just glad it isn’t Sara Bareilles, and it doesn’t make a difference that’s it’s stupid and you’re boring to think so, and it acts as a crystalline dart straight to my wore pink on Wednesdays in eighth grade heart. And, like, I don’t really care if anybody else believes. You know? What Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants girl are you? I’m a Tibby, but I’m a Bridget. I think, a Bridget rising, I think I admire all my Lena friends the most. Are you crying a little all the time, like, I heard a version of “Feels Like Home” play at work and I almost cried. I get so sad about Brittany Murphy out of nowhere. I’m still worried for Heidi Montag but I want to respect her life choices. I have learned that Michelle Branch can be a strange salve when your muscles atrophy on a wooden floor years and years after the song you’re playing was new. A spoonful of sugar, the soundtrack to 13 Going on 30 pulled out from under the bed, still in its jewel case. That Sixpence None the Richer song when you can’t tell if you’re not dead. Elle Woods had a scented pink resume and then she spoke at graduation. “Suddenly I See” really does make every day seem like maybe it can be conquered if you listen to it when you’re walking.