Punk Rock Prom Queen: Josie & the Pussycats

Josie & the Pussycats is my favorite movie. I read the comics when I was younger, and I watched the show, and my favorite episode of Scooby-Doo was the one where they showed up to help fight crime. I have always been, and will always be, a sucker for ladies saving the day, especially when they do it in ways that aren’t necessarily coded as useful or cool. What I mean is this: Josie, Valerie, and Melody are three average girls who play music together. They like shoes and kittens and ramen, and also, they save the world. They wear platform heels and cat ears, they scream and jump up and down, Josie can’t throw a punch to save her life, and they shred. They’re my heroes.

This isn’t not the best intro to a movie in the history of time. I mean, okay, to parrot Wyatt, yes, obviously, yes, of course if you want to be technical the actual intro is “DuJour means crash positions,” but. This is three perfect minutes that tells you exactly who the Pussycats are, what matters to them, and how much they love each other. Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley did the vocals and some of the writing for Josie, and she should have won a million Oscars. Elisabeth will be particularly excited to know this if she doesn’t already: Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz wrote on the majority of the tracks. Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne contributed, as did a host of other wildly talented early-noughties artists. The end result is an incredible album, honestly, one of my favorite albums of all time, and I will never understand how it managed to get as slept on as it did. Even barring the fact that a lot of people still don’t get that this is, like, an incredibly smart and well-crafted film, which, I guess, fine, how can you ignore the music! How can you ignore these incredible pop-punk lyrics, how can you ignore black cherry paradise / half the sugar, twice the spice. I don’t get it. Listen:

Why do you do what you do to me, baby?
Shakin’ my confidence, drivin’ me crazy
You know if I could I’d do anything for you
Please don’t ignore me ’cause you know I adore you
Can’t you just pretend to be nice

The production on this song alone is, again, perfect. Like where are the Oscars? Why did they not just pour Oscars onto everyone involved in this movie, I am furious, I will always be furious. That like sparkly echoey whispery bit on the bridge, what a perfect representation of every single song of this era. That video! It is incredible how spot-on it is. Like, God. The people who made this movie care more about the music of the early 2000s than I do, which is saying, like, an unbelievable amount. Anyway. I had a dude like this, in my life, he disappears for a week at a time/shows up just like everything’s fine, and my entire freshman year of college I spent listening to this song on repeat and seething. Can’t you at least pretend, can’t you do me the favor of just doing the bare minimum so that I can stop obsessing and move on with my life? It’s a little mean, honestly, all their songs are, and I won’t lie, I love that. I don’t mean to bore you, she says with just a hint of a snarl, and what she’s really saying is if you’re bored you’re not paying attention.

“You’re a Star” is one of my favorites on the album; it plays during the makeover montage, and we all know I’m a sucker for a makeover montage. It’s wildly upbeat, infectious, all rollicking drums and power chords, and it is to this day one of my ultimate feel-good songs. Josie came out in 2001; I was ten, I was instantly obsessed. This was probably my most-played track – we don’t care what they say / we’ll be alright, we’ll be okay is still so important. Be who you are, ’cause you’re a star, honestly. The sincerity of pop is one of the things that I think gets really undervalued, the idea that if something is trite it can’t mean anything, but listen. Do you know how important it was to me as a chubby girl with glasses, who had skipped a grade, who was constantly reading and constantly bullied, do you know how important it was for these three confident, awkward, human women to tell me that I was a star? To see them scared and insecure but overcoming their demons? It was everything, and it still is, if I’m being honest. This movie is about a lot of things but it is primarily and fundamentally a movie about friendship, about doing the right thing in the face of overwhelming pressure to do the wrong thing, about apologies and forgiveness and being true to yourself. Admitting when you’re wrong, and fixing your mistakes. Essentially, it’s a movie about being a human, and it’s couched in these viciously bubblegum terms that make people underestimate it, misunderstand it. Which, I mean, not to make everything (more) about me, but like, same.

“I Wish You Well” is my sort-of adult favorite, if that were a thing, if it all weren’t my favorite. It’s a breakup anthem; not just of romantic relationships but any relationships, anything that involves a person you thought you’d never not be with. It’s reflective, it’s after the fact, it’s had time to deal with things, to make peace. It’s still angry, but it’s a clean anger, the kind that doesn’t point fingers and assign blame, the kind that knows there was nothing to be done. If there was a better time I could not find it / what’s mine’s not yours and yours not mine and we couldn’t hide it. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s both of our faults. What made me think that I could survive all the wear and tear becomes I wish you well. I wish you love, and life in a world that you’re dreaming of. I wish you well, I wish you love – I wish myself all of the above. I wish you well because you deserve it; I wish myself well because I deserve it.

“Spin Around” is the closing number of the movie, after the world has been saved, after the apologies and the tears. “Spin Around” is Josie & the Pussycats’ first introduction to the world on their own, truly on their own, without Mr. Moviefone in the background. (God, please watch the movie if you haven’t. You will love it, but also this piece will make a lot more sense.) They’ve got their old kitty ears on, Melody’s wearing a tiara. The audience isn’t sure about it at first, they’re skeptical, and then they get swept away. They love it. The Pussycats keep looking at each other across the stage and smiling, the secret contented smile of deep, abiding friendship, of power and confidence and can you believe it. They haven’t looked this happy playing since the intro. Parts of the movie flash across the screen and they’re all just the girls, together, loving each other. “Friends first, a band second,” they promised each other, and they almost lost both but then they didn’t. Everything you lost, I found. They saved their friendship, they saved each other, they saved the world. And then they got to shred a stadium show. Josie’s yowl at the end, that wild triumphant sound of pure joy, it’s so fierce, it’s so important to me. What a note to end a movie on, that defiance, that celebration of everything they are triumphing over everything they thought they had to be. Friends first, friends last, friends always.

The credits of the movie are almost as good as that last number, because they bring it full circle, back to that opening, back to these three girls and who they are. Back to what this movie is at its core, which is a celebration of friendship, of people loving each other. The song is a loose cover of the original Josie & the Pussycats theme, starting the same and then diverging into something better, wilder, something that I sing to myself on a regular basis. Believing in yourself isn’t not the entire point of this movie, and this song sums it up and puts a bow on it.

Even though we’re playin’ in our garage
Soon we’ll have a massive entourage
Going triple-platinum, you just watch us
Climbing up the billboard charts
Breaking records, breaking hearts

What’s the first thing you really hear Val say to Josie? What’s the first view of their friendship that you get? Josie, dejected in her riot-girl tank top, wondering if they’re ever gonna get this band off the ground, wondering if they even deserve to, and Val looks her in the eyes and says, “Who’s a rock star? Come on… who’s a rock star?” and Josie finally smiles and says, “I ammm,” and even though her smile is still a little sad they put their arms around each other and they laugh. That’s what this movie is, and that’s what this music is for. It’s the thing in the back of your mind that keeps believing in you even when you don’t, the thing that keeps you afloat. It’s love, the love you have for others and the love they have for you. It’s the idea that believing in yourself matters, and that it can take you places, and that it can buoy you up and keep you true. It’s everything to me, honestly, and it comes in this incredible sharp hilarious package that has never once failed to make me feel better, and if you haven’t seen it or heard it I really hope that you go do that immediately. You won’t regret it. Who’s a rock star? You are.

About Aly

aly was born in nashville but left before she could meet and befriend and ultimately wed taylor swift. now she lives in colorado, where she spends her time crying about bucky barnes, yelling about pop music and vampires, and writing young adult fiction.

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