Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Lauren Alaina – Ladies in the 90s

Join us in December while we celebrate Twenty One Pilots’ song-long Goo Goo Dolls paean called “1997”…


Alfred Soto: Two years ago Maren Morris scored a deserved country hit with “’80s Mercedes.” With Troye Sivan and Charli XCX giving a fond look back to the Y2K era, “Ladies in the 90s” feels inevitable and rather stale. No rule says a song has to sound like the decade it praises, but it has to sound better than fast-tempoed country pop. Dropping Christina Aguilera and Spice Girls lyrics ain’t enough either.

Katherine St Asaph: Charli XCX and Noonie Bao wrote a ’90s nostalgia song and called it “1999.” Ed Sheeran and Julia Michaels wrote a ’90s nostalgia song and called it “2002.” Now Ed’s co-writer Amy Wadge, who between this and Golden Hour seems to be pivoting to Nashville, wants in. “Ladies” is the country A Bug’s Life to Anne-Marie and Charli’s pop Antz; besides a light spritz of twang and Faith and Reba references, the songs are so near-identical I wonder if they came of some trend forecast or writing assignment. They all quote the same Britney line. They all drain the songs of wistfulness and controversy and songness, as if “…Baby One More Time” wasn’t about loneliness killing you, or “Strawberry Wine” wasn’t about bittersweet innocence, or “You Oughta Know” didn’t contain the line “would she go down on you in a theater?” To its slight credit, “Ladies” mostly foregoes ridiculous storyboard “memories” like dancing on a Mustang in the woods or playing air guitar on the roof in favor of listening to the radio in the car, which at least seems plausible. And “I was raised on radio waves where ladies dominated,” while clunky, is also there for a reason: It’s a clear subtweet to Tomatogate, whose gator is recently at it again. The problem is, if ladies dominated ’90s radio, why did Sarah McLachlan organize an entire festival in protest that they didn’t? The other problem is, lyrics like “females were unstoppable” and “all those women paved the way” are phrased less like genuine feeling than the bromides of a corporate Facebook post. And the critical problem is, as with “2002” and “1999,” they’re more concerned with the identities of the Spice Girls than the identity of Lauren Alaina.

Will Adams: Much as I like the light disco chug and Lauren Alaina’s performance, “Ladies in the 90s” falls into the same nostalgia trap that Anne-Marie and Charli XCX did before it: placing an entire decade of musical history into a vise and retaining only the parts that get clicks. I held onto some hope when the first reference was Deana Carter, but then it went back to the same touchstones of Britney and TLC — the remaining references, like Faith Hill and Destiny’s Child, are given such little weight that they barely register. It’s not that “…Baby One More Time” or “No Scrubs” aren’t worth canonizing, it’s that there’s so much else left to the wayside. Noting who isn’t included — off the top of my head: Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Jewel, Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow — makes it all the more clear that these songs aren’t interested in a nostalgia that speaks to any semblance of what people actually remember about their youth, but a notion of nostalgia that, while sellable, is not relatable.

Katie Gill: Country music really wants that pop crossover appeal, doesn’t it? I’m not here to judge Alaina’s taste: growing up, she might have actually listened to these songs! Lord knows I did. But referencing TLC alongside Deana Carter and Destiny’s Child alongside Faith Hill seems like the sort of scrambling for appeal that makes Florida Georgia Line team up with Bebe Rexha. The most galling thing about this song is how it reduces these songs to clickbait nostalgia. Remember “Wannabe?” Alaina does! And based on this song, that’s all she remembers. The Dixie Chicks did not get blacklisted from country airplay and Madonna did not get banned from MTV for you to dismiss them as trite “females are unstoppable” mass-market faux feminism. And on a pedantic note? Don’t start off your song about how you miss the ’90s with an admission that you weren’t even alive for 1/3 of it. For fuck’s sake, “Fancy” came out before she was even born!

John Seroff: “They weren’t afraid to make a statement / That’s What I Call Entertainment,” said no one about the ’90s, ever. Could we please make sure that whoever does this same nostalgia cash grab again doesn’t leave out Missy and Janet and Mariah and Paula and Sinead and Whitney and Brandy next time? Citing (and stealing) from better sources is likely to make something less melt-in-your-hands-not-in-your-mouth.

Alex Clifton: Honest to god, if I hear one more song referencing “…Baby One More Time” in the next two months, I will, indeed, hit something.

Stephen Eisermann: I tried humming the melody for this, and I don’t think that’s possible, so that’s not great. However, the chorus call-outs to ’90s songs are done better here than on most other songs in the same vein, and Lauren sounds energized and passionate. I just wish this sounded more like a song and less like an Instagram caption read to percussion.

Taylor Alatorre: The lack of shame or subtlety is reminiscent of vintage Shania Twain. The loudly confused production, which tries to be all things to all audiences, is very much not. Lyrics like “where the ladies dominated” and “females were unstoppable” read like rough-draft cuts from a 20-year retrospective on Come On Over or FanMail rather than anything from the albums themselves. And ending the bridge with “stuck in the ’90s”, when the next line also has the word “’90s,” is just head-shakingly amateur. Alaina deserves credit for recognizing the place of “Strawberry Wine” in the ’90s nostalgia canon, but Deana Carter wasn’t asking for this kind of help.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Given Lauren Alaina’s American Idol past and the popularity of the artists she mentions, it’s likely that “Ladies in the ’90s” is an honest depiction of her childhood inspirations. It’s also only that: a personal recounting of an entire decade of music through the lens of a kid oblivious to the music industry’s realities. You can call this amnesiac or ignorant or intentionally misleading, but to most it’ll just be a song about adolescence and identity. Alaina doesn’t want to feel like Britney or Deana as much as she does a younger version of herself, one that found excitement in seeing pop stars showing her who she could be. But while exhorting the women that paved the way for you is good, but glazing over the actual climate of the time is disingenuous.

Edward Okulicz: Behind the curve not just by months in comparison to “1999” and “2002,” but by years. One Direction did the “let’s make up large parts of our song entirely out of iconic lyrics/song titles” thing a couple of years ago, and they did it better than this because they didn’t explain the joke, they just executed it. A good homage is affectionate and effortless. “Ladies in the 90s” strains under its attempt to reference an entire clickbait playlist.

Dorian Sinclair: There’s a rule I’ve seen people use that has served me well when it comes to evaluating referential media: if your pop-culture nod just makes me regret paying attention to you instead of the thing you’re referencing, it’s probably a mistake.

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3 Responses to “Lauren Alaina – Ladies in the 90s”

  1. a) Edward I nearly mentioned “Better Than Words” in my blurb but then did not so I’m really glad you mentioned it
    b) I actually shuddered at the subhead

  2. couldn’t fit it into my blurb but the seeming copyright side-stepping that results in the enjambment of “come on baby hit me… / one more time” was, uh, kinda weird

  3. I was trying on jeans in Benetton yesterday (too short! It’s WINTER ffs I don’t want cold ankles) and they were playing ’74-’75 by The Connells. Give it six months and some terrible dude or other will be writing a miserable song about *that* 90s. I’ll take Britney any day. I bought the jeans in the end.

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