When I Grow Up (1998)
Today we’re listening to “When I Grow Up” by Garbage
Driving by the former home to Smart Studios can be deflating. The building that produced so many great records is a bit worse for wear. Left to wither for years, it’s only now being refreshed…as an AirBnB.
A sign in an upstairs window says something like, “You are beautiful.” The last time I drove by, it was still sitting crooked and had been for a while. There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.
Day after day, it stands stoically, reminding us of a certain age when the only thing coming out of those windows were the early sounds of what would become our favorite records.
A fellow music obsessive, Mark Blankenship, fell in love with the weekly Billboard charts as a kid, spending hours poring over them each week. Today, he takes us on a tour of those past eras every week as part of his The Lost Songs Project newsletter.
In my experience, lost songs can be the most interesting, because they’re both entertaining and instructive. As we’re tapping our toes or shaking our groove things, we also can get a window into particular moments in time. Or to put it another way: When we rediscover lost songs, we rediscover part of ourselves.
If you are a fan of songs that seem to have been lost to time, find yourself wandering down music rabbit holes, or just like numbers in general, TLSP is for you.
Today, we’re in for a treat as Mark takes us back to 1998, to Smart Studios and Garbage’s “When I Grow Up.” Enjoy!
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Garbage’s “When I Grow Up” at 25: The Happiest Chaos
Right there in the first verse of “When I Grow Up,” Garbage’s lead singer Shirley Manson sings about golden showers. And yes, she means the golden showers your older cousins meant when they tried to impress you with their filthy talk.
“When I Grow Up” isn’t filthy, though. It’s naughty. It’s a song with a twinkle in its eye. For me, that’s one reason it’s the definitive Garbage song.
You know a band has a saucy attitude when they call themselves Garbage. It’s like they’re mocking the idea of what affronted parents will eventually call their bratty dance-rock. Manson herself embodies this posture. She has a way of hyper-articulating consonants that make it sound like she’s laughing and sneering at the same time. (Consider the various ways she sings the word “rains” in “Only Happy When It Rains.”) Her lyrics strike an equally insouciant tone. Even when she’s writing about something heartwrenching, she’s feisty.
That makes her a perfect fit with the rest of the band: Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig. The four of them specialize in happy-sounding songs about dark things. “Queer,” for instance, is the world’s sultriest jam about sleeping with multiple generations in the same family. “Cherry Lips” is an electro update of sunny California pop, even though it’s about exploiting images of girlhood for cultural and sexual kicks.
Or, to put it another way: Garbage’s music is fun, but it’s never just fun. When I’m bugging out to their hits in the car or on the dance floor, I savor that edge. It makes me feel like I’m getting away with something.
This is especially true of “When I Grow Up,” the fourth single released from their 1998 album Version 2.0. As noted above, the lyrics push so hard against the envelope that it almost rips, delivering a litany of destructive yet pleasurable things that the narrator swears she’ll stop doing when she finally grows up. But she’s fooling. She clearly won’t grow up. In fact, she ridicules the idea that anyone can get old enough to stop making mistakes. By the end of the record, she encourages us to simply make our peace with chaos.
This all happens atop one of the band’s peppiest instrumentals. After a cheeky intro, the track moves recklessly, with frantic drums encouraging us to shake it fast. And when those guitars and drums come crashing in? Along with Manson’s “bah-bah-bah” vocalizing? Ecstasy! When you’re in the song’s grip, it’s hard to believe growing up could ever be better than this yawping rush of immaturity.
“When I Grow Up” by Garbage | Version 2.0, 1998
Click the record to listen on the platform of your choice.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this track!
Thanks to Mark for sharing this, and thank you for being here!