10 Years, 100 Songs: #57. “I Don’t Ever Wanna Be Like You…”
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 12, 2009
Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.
I had something of a personal breakthrough my Freshman year of college. I was walking around the campus area wearing an old t-shirt from high school or possibly even earlier with the cover to The Clash’s London Calling on it, and I was listening to Good Charlotte’s “The Anthem” on my mp3 player (a Creative ZEN, if you must know). And it occurred to me, “If I were to die right now, future anthropologists would think I was the kind of person who wore Clash t-shirts but listened to Good Charlotte.” And then it occurred to me that, well, I guess they wouldn’t be wrong about that. At that point, any previous pretensions I possibly could’ve claimed to punk, indie or underground sensibilities flew out the window, likely never to return. I was now, first and foremost, officially a pop music listener.
I grew up despising Good Charlotte. Well, despising probably isn’t the right word, since I never could’ve possibly taken them seriously enough to put in the energy necessary for hatred. I wasn’t the smartest 13-year-old in the world, but I was certainly wiseass enough to realize what a stupid piece of shit “Little Things” was, to recognize how much it pandered to an unspecific audience of outcasts and how it relied on boring high school haves-and-have-nots cliches that in my experience, rarely actually materialized in the real world. They looked like idiots, they sounded like idiots, and they acted like idiots–and not in a charmingly aloof way, but in the way where they thought they knew what they were doing but really had no clue. As someone beginning to fashion himself as a Real Music Fan, they offended just about every aspect of my existence.
It’s tough to tell if they got smarter by “The Anthem,” or if they just got much, much better at being assholes. Oh sure, a lot of it had to do with my own growing maturity as a music listener (thus making myself arguably the first human being in history to consider themselves more mature by listening to Good Charlotte), but I still hated all the other singles off The Young and the Hopeless–mediocre you’re-not-alone lighter-waver “Hold On,” non-sensical gender gawker “Girls and Boys” and simply deplorable class riot “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” And thematically, there was remarkably little separating “The Anthem” from being “Little Things Pt. 2”–the same boring Us vs. Them mentality, the same broad strokes of relatability. Hell, even the intro chords were remarkably similar. But whereas my reflexive response to “Little Things” was a beused feeling of smug superiority, my reflexive response to “The Anthem” was to throw my fist in the air and sing along at an unhealthy volume. Hmmm.
The first thing, which I will say with absolute certainty, is that the intro is infinitely better. Good Charlotte shot themselves in the foot on “Little Things” with their ranting about who the song was being dedicated to, talking in purposefully poor english (“To every kid that never had a date to no school dance!”) and just making it impossible for anyone with half a brain to give them a fair chance. The “Anthem” intro is thankfully devoid of such chatter, but it does have a cut-up, almost hip-hop sounding guitar hook and beat, which would probably could be just as ridiculous if it wasn’t so fantastic-sounding. Unlike most other GC intros, it kind of eases you into the song (it’s even played at half-volume) instead of blasting you with the band’s personality so full-throttle, which in their case is always a wise move. And one thing that no one could ever say about Good Charlotte is that they didn’t have great production–far more Boston than Dead Kennedys, unquestionably a good thing for a band of their skill set.
The verses, while still a ways away from Black Flag, were at least slightly less cringe-worthy than before. Singer Joel Madden is still sticking with the cliches, but they’re a little less awkwardly specific, just your basic teenage “No one can tell me what to do with my life!” shenanigans (though Maddon was around 23 when the song came out–youth springs eternal in pop-punk, I suppose). Really, it’s not that the lyrics are better-written as much as they’re better arranged–more cleanly shoe-horned into a verse/pre-chorus/chorus form, with no lyric standing out that shouldn’t, and even managing a semi-clever coup with the “I don’t ever wanna be like you” line that starts the first pre-chorus turning into “Do you really wanna be like them?” the second time out. Meanwhile, the playing is tighter, the harmonies are better, and the hip-hop posturing is mostly contained to one pointless bridge that nobody remembers being in the song anyway.
Probably, it’s mostly that Good Charlotte perfected the art of seeming anthemic and rebellious in a way that people that really had nothing to be anthemic or rebellious about–in which I suppose I’d have to include myself. Take a look at the chorus, after all: “I don’t ever wanna be you / Don’t wanna be just like you / What I’m saying is / This is the anthem, throw all your hands up.” Has there ever been a chorus supposedly about something that’s actually less specific than that? Madden doesn’t talk about who the “you” is that he doesn’t wanna be (though I suppose he presumably has a job and a college education) or what it is he does wanna be, exactly. And it’s telling that the song is just called “The Anthem”–anthem for what, really? (Losers, I guess, but that only comes in at the end of the song and doesn’t exactly narrow the focus very much). Point is, this song wasn’t written with actual losers in mind–it was written for people with organized lockers and clean fingernails, people who thought Avril Lavigne would’ve been better with just a little less attitude, people who wanted to shout along to something but didn’t want to say anything that could be traced back to them. Hell, soon enough afterwards Joel was dating Hillary Duff anyway–who would he have been to make a legitimate attempt at talking to the underachievers of the world?
That all said, it’s unfair to view the song and band as being worthless merely for bearing no relevance at all to how the other half lives. This probably wasn’t what Green Day wanted, but it is what they made possible–by proving that three-chord, bored-on-my-couch punk had blockbuster potential, it’s understandable and perhaps inevitable that some group of teenagers would view their success and take all the wrong lessons from it. And as filtered through The Offspring and Blink-182, Good Charlotte was the significantly less talented end of a lineage that took punk from being a statement of personal expression to being a reach for universal appeal. That all sounds like a bad thing, and perhaps it would have been if too many others had followed from their example, but really all they did was locate the exact point at which shitty punk music becomes fantastic pop music. Every once-credible genre loses its soul eventually, and if that’s what “The Anthem” meant to the punk true believers, then fair enough–but hey, at least it took two and a half decades to happen, right? That’s a pretty good stretch, all things considered.
Things were all in motion for Good Charlotte to be the Herman’s Hermits of their generation, but a strange and unexpected thing happened to Good Charlotte in the middle of the decade–they got kind of weird. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the first two singles from 2004’s The Chronicles of Life and Death–the “Institutionalized”-esque ranting and unnervingly dramatic strings of “Predictable,” and the Maroon 5-esque white-boy funk of “I Just Wanna Live.” They’re not going to make anyone confuse GC with Fugazi, exactly, but they sounded shockingly uncalculated–or shockingly poorly calculated, depending on your perspective. Neither was a big hit, and neither should have been, though I thought both were unusually compelling. They haven’t fallen back in line since, taking their commercial hits (2007’s remarkably catchy “Dance Floor Anthem”) with their misses (the same year’s Avenged Sevenfold-featuring “The River”). I don’t know how or why it happened–maybe Duff was more of an artistic muse than we could have anticipated–but it’s been an interesting twist in what should have been one of the Naughty Oughties’ most predictable plotlines.
Still, it’s “The Anthem,” and the band’s other peak-era hits, that Good Charlotte will be remembered for in 20 years’ time. You won’t hear them on your modern rock station’s all-time countdowns, and you won’t see up-and-coming punk bands giving them shoutouts and tribute covers–rather, you’ll be hearing them sung drunkenly at karaoke bars and featured in LOL 00s-ian retro movie soundtracks. I am confident that history will make the sense of Good Charlotte that I was unable to do in my own time.
(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)
The List So Far:
100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia”
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)”
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly”
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar”
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)”
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious”
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space”
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below”
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)”
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
90. Cassie – “Me & U”
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater”
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’”
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel”
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love”
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood”
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over”
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent”
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It”
81. 311 – “Amber”
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite”
79. Nas – “Made You Look”
78. Royksopp – “Eple”
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha”
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)”
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet”
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz”
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes”
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps”
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot”
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone”
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!”
67. Incubus – “Stellar”
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together”
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard”
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie”
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure”
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite”
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get”
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity”
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan”
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly”
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem”