Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Offspring, "The Kids Aren't Alright"

Song: "The Kids Aren't Alright"
Artist: The Offspring
Album: Americana
Written by: Dexter Holland
Year: 1998
Key: B♭m
Classification: SF2
Lyrical content: the streets claim another victim; pretty heavy (for a joke band)
Where used: verse, chorus

I was rolling my eyes at the Offspring by the time "The Kids Aren't Alright" came around. The first two singles from Americana had squandered just about any goodwill I'd developed towards the band in the five years since they had become a big deal. "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)" wallowed in all of the dumbest clichés of casual racism while convincing itself that it was mocking them, and the appeal of "Why Don't You Get A Job?" seemed to rest entirely on the fact that the first line was "My friend's got a girlfriend and he hates that bitch." So feel free to toss some casual sexism onto that pile, too. Both songs relied on the audience's stupidity. As punishment, they ended up being the Offspring's first entries into the Billboard Hot 100.

"The Kids Aren't Alright" was the followup single, and its impact lay partly in the fact that you're waiting for a punchline that never comes. These aren't happy-go-lucky fuckups that Dexter Holland's singing about. They had the same optimistic hopes for the future as most, only things didn't quite turn out that way. At least two of the characters turn to drugs, but instead of offering blissful withdrawal from the frustrations of the world, they put both Brandon and Mark in holes from which they won't escape. (The fact that Mark's is metaphorical doesn't make it less of a waste.) Meanwhile, the person with the best prospects fails to avoid the same fate as everybody else -- "Jenny had a chance, well, she really did/Instead she dropped out and had a couple of kids" -- and is just as stuck.

To be honest, it's all kind of a bummer, like if you front-loaded every discussion of your high school graduating class with the four biggest burnouts while conveniently ignoring everybody who achieved satisfactory mediocrity and better. And it's not as if Holland points to any root cause for these kids' dead-end lives or offers any sort of solution; he might as well be frantic and wide-eyed, shouting "This street's evil, I tells ya! Eeeeeeeeevil!" But even if lines like "The cruelest dream [is] reality" are maybe a little more overwrought than they need to be, there's something bracing about its fierce earnestness coming so close on the heels of the puerility of the Offspring's two previous singles.

Too bad it turned out nobody cared. Despite the band's track record and the song's reliance on the otherwise-charmed SFCP, "The Kids Aren't Alright" didn't make it to the Hot 100. Maybe it was just too relentlessly breakneck for the SFCP to settle in and turn the song into a proper hit. (To be fair, it did just as well on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts as "Gotta Get Away," one of the Offspring's two previous SFCP singles.) Maybe it was too serious to hook the folks who listen to pop radio. Whatever the reason, the Offspring learned their lesson and returned to sophomoric jokes and the glamorization of the clueless with their next single, "Original Prankster." It hit #70 on the Hot 100.

Full song: The Offspring, "The Kids Aren't Alright"
Listen to the SFCP clip for this song

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