(Sevens, a recurring feature on Aquarium Drunkard, pays tribute to the art of the individual song.)
There’s a moment in Sleater-Kinney’s “Modern Girl” where the music and lyrics begin to meld in ways rarely seen in popular music. But it relies on a lyrical thread that builds from the song’s opening.
The song’s melodic, sing-songy structure openly embraces its simple sounding beginning. “My baby loves me / I’m so happy / happiness makes me a modern girl.” Carrie Brownstein’s narrator seems overtly cheerful, her joy based on the acceptance of her lover, a happiness seen to be essential to her identity. She purchases a television which she claims “brings me closer to the world,” but this disconnect from the world – of coming “closer” to it by observing it through another degree of separation – is the lyrical theme that binds the verses together.
The one constant is that “my baby loves me,” but it doesn’t prevent her from being hungry (“hunger makes me a modern girl”) and buying a doughnut that she claims has a hole “the size of the entire world.” But this misconception of the size of the world comes from within the self-focused view of a culture where romantic love defines a woman. The world is the size of a television screen. Or of a doughnut hole – an item implicitly denied our narrator in an image-focused world where body size and type define a woman. Thus, a constant state of self-imposed hunger also defines her modernity, a point driven home by the media, the lens through which she views the world.
At this point in the song, the music begins to warp. When the drums enter, their huge sound push levels into the red, distorting the narrator’s voice and the music in a haze of static. Is this the noise of the modern, self-destructive world impeding the voice of the narrator? Is it the inner monologue of the narrator, bordering on implosion, crying out in slowly building frustration at the social limitations imposed upon her?
“My baby loves me / I’m so angry / Anger makes me a modern girl.” Anger becomes an inherent part of the ‘modern girl': anger at the narrow view of the world allowed her; anger at the limited definition of self available to her; anger at the realization of her inability to purchase anything important (“I took my money / I couldn’t buy nothin’.”), the one power allowed her on a regular basis. And it’s here that the song’s theme comes together in its closing lines. “My whole life was like a picture of a sunny day.” The themes of separation, of perception rather than reality, come crashing together in this one image: a picture – cold and static – of a life that should be anything but. words/ j neas
MP3: Sleater-Kinney :: Modern Girl