Michelle Branch was “Everywhere” in the summer of 2001. The singer-songwriter dropped the single in July of that year, a track that peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song appeared on her major-label debut album, The Spirit Room, which turned 15 on Sunday.
So, you may ask, why am I blogging about Michelle Branch? Well, I have a soft spot for female musicians, especially girl rockers. Growing up, I idolized guitarists Jane Wiedlin of the Go Go’s, Kim Deal from the Pixies and the Breeders, and Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. I also loved Tanya Donelly of the Throwing Muses and Belly, Juliana Hatfield, and Liz Phair. They were all cool as fuck.
I bought every Sleater-Kinney album and watched the final episode of THE ADVENTURES OF PETE AND PETE because Luscious Jackson was in it. But, my rock goddess at the time that I wanted to marry was Miki Berenyi, the lead singer of the British rock band Lush. Why? Well, not only were they an amazing rock band, but she was hapa (half Japanese and Hungarian), had pink dyed hair and I crushed on her hard. She was Asian Angela Chase, but with rockstar bravado and could probably outdrink at the pub, and still jump on stage to play a killer set.
Granted, the many examples I just presented are a bit more hardcore than Michelle Branch, who came out of the girl power pop era of the early 2000s. She was on heavy rotation on Total Request Live, alongside her contemporaries Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton.
So how did my musical tastes soften up to become more palatable for Branch’s brand of suburban, ready for the mall, breakup music? Two things — I blame Lisa Loeb and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER — With Loeb, it was her debut single STAY, which was attached to the film REALITY BITES. I kind of think that film bites, but the music video of a bespectacled Loeb looking straight at the camera as she runs around in an unfurnished Brooklyn apartment that would probably cost $2 million to buy today, was what sucked me in.
Shit, I even wrote about my obsession with girls who wear glasses on this very blog back in 2010 (my dream came true when I actually hung out with Loeb, and her then boyfriend Dweezil Zappa, on Kauai, but that’s another story)!
The second reason was BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and the ilk of shows that catered to the desirable 18-24 demos of the time. BUFFY was the flagship show for the burgeoning WB Network, as well as other shows like DAWSON’S CREEK (I blame that show for burning in that Paula Cole song into my brain) and FELICITY (created by J.J. Abrams) revolutionized the way TV soundtracks came to what we know and hear today, full of pop and alt rock music from emerging artists. It’s now become second nature to watch TV dramas with new, catchy tunes that would make overnight sensations for many of these artists. Side note: Just as I blame DAWSON’S CREEK for Paula Cole, I blame the early seasons of GREY’S ANATOMY for Tegan and Sara (but, they’re still cool).
Second side note: As these shows live on beyond syndication, DVD box sets and now streaming on services like Netflix and Hulu, many songs that were included in the original broadcast run of these shows have been replaced by cheaper, mostly shittier songs because the performance licenses have expired and most of them are not renewed. Case-in-point: Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want To Wait” is no longer on current DAWSON’S CREEK reruns and it’s weird.
Michelle Branch was one of these artists, primed and ready for TV, or the WB, which spawned UPN and now the CW. Her music definitely defined Generation Y and all its teen angst, like a decade before when the likes of Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark and Simple Minds were defining the soundtrack of Gen X’s lives in John Hughes movies.
When Michelle Branch’s “The Spirit Room” was released in the summer of 2001, its radio play and ubiquitous presence on WB TV dramas fit this milieu. But, like Lush’s front woman Miki Berenyi, she was also a cute hapa and it was great to see a mixed-race Asian American female rocking the charts. Although this was way back in 2001, musicians like Branch and Lush’s Berenyi were rare and it was refreshing to see way cooler people who looked like me kick ass in rock music. Heck, it’s 2016 and that is still rare to see in rock music today (in the West, at least).
As I grow older, I’ve grown to appreciate “The Spirit Room” even more. I own the album and its in my iTunes library. I also have to add a third reason why I love this album and it’s unequivocally the most important of all — KARAOKE. Those damn, earnest lyrics of heartbreak just gel well when you’re singing your heart out with other like-minded and inebriated karaoke friends.
So, kudos to you, Michelle Branch, for the 15th anniversary milestone of “The Spirit Room.” I’ll be belting out one of your tunes at karaoke this weekend!