“Teenage, teenage/I want a car, I want a girl.”
It’s 10am, and the 1979 hit “Teenage” by L.A. punks The Weirdos rotates maliciously in my head. I meant to wake up hours ago, but the weighty fuzz of last night’s beer kept me tucked in.
“Teenage, teenage/Don’t wanna work, don’t wanna go to school.”
I don’t believe it. I’m being mocked by my subconscious – and I haven’t even had coffee yet.
My dream state has produced an apt song to score the morning. It must have known that I’ve been feeling “Teenage, teenage…”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the teen image in pop music lately – and wondering if it is to blame for my arrested development. It’s not the most reliable theory, but hey, it’s possible.
The teenager is a relatively new concept to Western history, and yet the moment it was introduced like a sparkly new car model near the close of World War II, the identity found a home in popular culture. Born in 1944, Seventeen magazine was the first periodical to specifically target this new demographic. Naturally, the film, fashion, and music industries weren’t far behind in glossing their products for teen appeal. Teen-themed songs shined especially bright.
Early instances of the teen hit included “Seventeen” by Boyd Bennett and His Rocket (1955), Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958), and “A Teenager In Love” by Dion and the Belmonts (1959). Of course the trope has persisted into contemporary music, although teenagers themselves often sing the songs, which is far more comforting. When The Undertones released “Teenage Kicks” in 1978, the band members had hardly touched their twenties. When Chuck Berry sang “Sweet Little Sixteen,” however, he was 32 – not so sweet, Chuck!
More recently, Cherry Glazerr’s “Teenage Girl” was written by 19-year-old Clementine Creevy, and Lorde’s “White Teeth Teens” from 2013’s Pure Heroine was recorded when Lorde was still a teen herself. These tracks are just a couple of current reminders that the motif isn’t going away any time soon. And why would it? It seems now more than ever the teen and tween sectors hold an influential hand over the pop culture marketplace. Goliath hit makers such as Katy Perry (“Teenage Dream”), Drake (“Teenage Fever”), and Khalid (“American Teen”) know this too, though their own ages render the subject matter a bit tired and sad, if not creepy. I guess “Early 30s Dream” and “Millennial Fever” don’t roll off the tongue too well.
But who am I to judge? I’m 27 and still wearing band shirts. In fact, I pretty much wear the same outfits I wore in high school, just pared down to feature fewer spiky things. Maybe I do this because I hate shopping, or because I’m clinging to the fact that the clothes still fit (thank you Lycra!), or maybe – and this is a far more embarrassing possibility – I still feel like a fifteen year old. In many ways I am perpetuating a similar state of arrested development as pop culture en masse…and I’m not even getting paid for it.
At 27 – an age already loaded with music mythology and tragedy – you can do one of three things. 1) Die horribly of a drug overdose or in a plane crash. 2) Cling to the idea of your bountiful 20s and become a (Wo)Man child. Or 3) Become an “Adult” with a capital “A.” Follow in the footsteps of my old co-worker, who despite being two years my junior, makes monthly Excel spreadsheets with his girlfriend to track and budget their combined spending. This is the same person who, when I got excited about the free poster stowed within a record I was opening, earnestly asked,
“Who puts posters on their walls anymore?”
ME. That’s who.
Looking around my bedroom, I wouldn’t say it screams “27-year-old-educated-woman!” but rather, “15-year-old-pop-culture-junkie!” “Hey!” my room shouts. “Do you wanna listen to a record?! Look at my cool stuff!”
Some people my age want to buy houses, or couches, or couches for their houses. The well-adjusted long for crockpots and a nice dining room table. Looking around my bedroom I realize I haven’t paid for a single item of furniture in it. Desk: found on the street. Dresser: left by a former roommate. Bookshelf: free pile in the hall. The things I do spend money on – records, books, movies, writing and drawing supplies, food, booze – haven’t changed a hair since high school. My monetary ambition seems stunted, and my income is in a gradual decline. When people speak about being “an adult” I spin around. “Adult? Where? Do you see one?” I ask, only half-kidding.
Because a teenager’s finest skill is not taking responsibility for his or her actions, I blame this all on pop music. How am I supposed to adult when listening to Tom Waits sing “I Don’t Wanna Grow up,” or “Teen Lovers” by The Virgins? It’s not that I want to hang out with teenagers – that would be weird – I just don’t want to be shamed for my teenage taste, and my teenage disinterest in “feeling like an adult.” Because just like the teenager, the adult is a construct, too.