No one gets breakups like teen artists. Sure, grown-ass women like Adele, Katy Perry, and Beyonce have given us some of the greatest “go fuck yourself” themes of the last million years, but it’s the emotions and harsh truths offered by Britney, JoJo, and Ashanti that perfectly sum up the post-relationship/crush-gone-awry feeling of both truly hating and wanting to still impress a person. (Which is a Jenna Maroney thing to say, but listen to me, please—this matters, I promise you.)
Frankly, I think we sold our teen selves short. Or more specifically, we’ve wrongfully dismissed our teen selves’ affinity for gravitating towards songs that offer pure, uncensored teenage emotion. There’s nothing wrong with being too earnest (unless it occurs above the age of 25), and there’s nothing wrong with just letting it all out (unless it occurs above the age of 20). So there’s nothing wrong with these breakup anthems, all remembered because I heard O-Town on the radio last week.
O-Town, “All Or Nothing”
In this case, O-Town (also known as the World’s Grossest Boy Band) constitutes as a teen artist as a whole because Ashley Parker Angel (the only member we cared about) was 19 upon the release of “Liquid Dreams” in 2000 (when O-Town got famous), and his youthfulness carried over to this: “All Or Nothing”—the song my friend’s 18-year-old ex-boyfriend scream-sang to her in the Rona Home & Garden break room one afternoon after she broke up with him. And frankly, no mental image is more appropriate. Why? Because this song is a bunch of whiny boys. Which as adults, we’re aware of. But as teens? Switch the “girl” to “boy” and it’s, like, so true, guys: we also wanted it all—or nothing at all. (Which, it turns out, is an ultimatum that never goes well, particularly in grade 10.)
Britney Spears, “Stronger”
Thanks to Britney, all I ever wanted was to say “whatever” to some guy and start dancing on a chair in sequins to prove that he’d made the biggest mistake of his life. (But it turns out that’s actually just how you get escorted out of Jean Machine.) Anyway, enter: the age of “oh HELL no” pop music—the songs that were less about pining and far more about proving how strong, ass-kicking, and unfuckwithable you were (and are). I mean, check these lyrics: “Here I go / on my own / I don’t need nobody / better off my own.” We may dismiss the majesty of Britney’s empire thanks to leaked tracks and trying to convince ourselves we’re cool (we’re not, and Britney is forever, traitors), but you don’t know true power until you hear the voices of a hundred girls singing a pop song fuelled by strength. *Gets off chair*
JoJo, “Get Out (Leave)”
Every so often, a teen breakup anthem came along (and still does) that reflected no aspect of your life, but because of how good the song was, you wanted it to. And with her catchy hooks and gospel-like chorus, JoJo had the power to make us want to dismiss whichever monster had broken our hearts and send them packing forever. (That’s RIGHT, Leo.) By building a dynasty on a “Too Little Too Late” mentality, the 14-year-old was us, minus being more talented and with more willpower. And not only did she provide the perfect mantra for escaping bad relationships, she did it while hitting notes so high that if we tried to mimic them, we’d burst the eardrums of whoever had hurt us. (Which, Leo, I swear was an accident.)
Avril Lavigne, “Happy Ending”
We give Avril a lot of grief because, well, this break-up song isn’t about Chad Kroeger. But hey—”Here’s to Never Growing Up” aside, we owe a hat-tip to the song that not only helped mourn the end of whatever romantic entanglement you happened to be in, it let us grieve for the lives we wanted to have with whoever we were scream-singing about. (Because that is a real thing, and if you think it isn’t, you are wrong and come here, let me sing that JoJo high note at you.) Not to mention, how’s this for a teenage truth bomb: “You’ve got your dumb friends / I know what they say / they tell you I’m difficult / and so are they.” Hurts, doesn’t it? (If it makes you feel better, those friends now live above a bowling alley and below another bowling alley, and I bet you have the best job in the world.)
Yes, I recently included this on a post about movie spoofs in music videos, but do you know what I didn’t include? How many months the lyrics to “Foolish” lived in my ICQ info box because that one guy needed to see that I was better and also how dare he. (And in my defence I was better, and how dare he not know who Murder Inc. was.) But unlike the “TAKE THAT, IDIOT!” songs we’ve just listened to, “Foolish” was just . . . sad. It was a real, live breakup anthem in a way the others miss out on. It’s a song about being frustrated with a shitty situation and deciding to walk away from it (and then sometimes not being able to because—say it with me—we’re “Foolish”). It also allowed us to say, “WELP, I’m a moron, because I think I’m hanging out with so-and-so again next week”—and we all know how powerful honesty (no matter how embarrassing or ICQ box-related) can be.