When Jenny Lewis made her transformation from child actress to indie songbird in the early ’00s, an assortment of sensitive girls with bangs and hormonally charged boys welcomed her with their underfed vegan arms. After all, her image was pure alternative perfection. She was a chick from the Valley who liked to hold a guitar and have issues with her musician boyfriends. Girls wanted to raid her closet and boys wanted to see what was underneath those short shorts and peasant tops. Her “deep” lyrics about California, heartbreak, and being fake poor made her the undisputed messiah for alterna-teens.
Full disclosure: When I was a teenager, I saw Rilo Kiley perform three times, and I witnessed Jenny Lewis’ solo act twice. I was obsessed. I ate her lyrics up with a religious fervor; I sat in my room trying to cry to “Bulletproof” 8,000 times. When she ditched the band in 2005 and released Rabbit Fur Coat, I totally bought her reinvention as a broke country goddess who was hell-bent on spiritual redemption. In the cover booklet, there’s even a photo shoot of Jenny Lewis wandering through a grocery store and trying to find money to buy milk for the children she definitely doesn’t have. Her new gimmick involved channeling the drama of Loretta Lynn and Dusty Springfield, and I thought it was totally genius.
Somewhere along the way though, she lost me. Her obsession with being a down-on-her-luck country singer seemed like a cheesy extension of her acting days—she was playing a role that didn’t quite fit. I realize that musicians are also performers. Madonna and Lady Gaga, for example, have built their careers around constant reinvention. But Jenny Lewis ain’t Gaga. She’s an indie princess living in a manse in Laurel Canyon with her hot songwriter boyfriend. She probably gets stoned a lot and buys organic. Her whole image is predicated upon relatability so seeing her adapt this new hokey persona seemed disingenuous.
I also realized her songwriting was totally LOL. Let’s look at some samples, shall we? Here’s a snippet of Rilo Kiley’s “The Good That Won’t Come Out”.
Let’s get together and talk about the modern age.
All of our friends were gathered there with their pets
just talking shit about how we’re all so upset about the disappearing ground.
As we watch it melt….
A teenager’s perspective: I love the way she says the word “shit.” It sounds so raw. And I love the phrase “the modern age” because we are in the age of now and we are modern and that’s real. There’s a lot of good that won’t come out of me. It’s buried underneath all this, like, hurt and resentment. I’m trying to be a better person. I just need to focus on passing Geometry fist.
A grownup’s perspective: I don’t even know what any of this means. Why are they all with their pets? Is that what people do? Have a “let’s hang out with our pets together” party?
Here’s a nugget of Lewis wisdom about financial hardship in “Paradise”.
The phone, it has been ringing
Ringing off the hook
And the creditors have said
That all of your debts have grown legs
And are running off the books
Sure, I’ll accept your calls
But the tales have grown tall
And the till isn’t at all
And tears are only bread crumbs
For the crooks
And my paycheck, it is bleeding
But it’s fight or flight
The exit from debt could be the entrance
A teenager’s perspective: This is some authentic shit. I wish my parents would give me ten bucks to go to the movies.
A grownup’s perspective: Wait, is Jenny Lewis wearing a Marc by Marc Jacobs romper while performing this song about poverty? #DARK
Lastly, the hilarity that is “Pictures of Success”.
i’m a modern girl but i fold in half so easily
when i put myself in the picture of success
i could learn world trade
or try to map the ocean
…i’ve had it with you
and mexico can fucking wait
and all of those french films about trains
cause i’m not scared
but i’d like some extra spare time
i’m not scared
but the bills keep changing colors
A teenager’s perspective: That’s what I’m gonna say to my boyfriend. “I’ve had it with you and Mexico can fucking wait!” That’s so true. I also totally get what she’s saying about those french films about trains.
A grownup’s perspective: She’s having hallucinations about bills, and making nonsensical comments about Mexico and French films. She’s either schizophrenic or eating too much gluten.
Funny, right? Not quite how you remembered it? I think the moment you realize how awful her songwriting is is the moment you are officially no longer a teenager. Leaving the Church of Jenny Lewis is an eye-opening experience and a true marker of adulthood. You can look back at it fondly, but thank your lucky stars you no longer relate to faux-deep lyrics about pets talking shit.
* I apologize to anyone who’s still a member of the church. I realize that everyone has to be ready at their own time.