KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #224: Popular by Nada Surf.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #224: Popular by Nada Surf.

The song, “Popular” by Nada Surf is a perfect little song in the Pop-Rock category that was a big hit for the band in the late 1990s. It is a song that is set in a high school and is all about the “popular” kids in school….the jocks and the cheerleaders. There are two aspects of this song that have always made it one of my favourite tunes. First of all, it uses a fairly original lyrical device, in that all of the verses are taken directly from a real book that was published in 1964 called, “Penny’s Guide to Teenage Charm and Popularity”. Nada Surf’s lead singer, Matthew Caws, acts as the classroom teacher. His lesson of the day is about how to become “popular” and how to use your “popularity” to get what you want as far as desirability goes and the power that comes from being attractive and wanted. The language used in this “guide to popularity” is, understandably, different than how kids spoke in the 90s and how they speak today. This dated vocabulary helps give the song a cadence and a feel that most modern songs fail to achieve. The result is that “Popular” sounds like a throwback song but, at the same time, is unquestionably a modern Pop-rocker.

The thing that really made “Popular” special was the music video that accompanied the song. It is one of the best I have seen and, easily, one of my Top Ten personal favourite music videos of all-time. The video is a mini-movie that chronicles the exploits of a cheerleader and two high school football players. What makes the video special is that it is never really clear who is in charge and empowered; is it the cheerleader who is controlling who she dates and for how long she allows the guys to date her OR it is more of the same old same old, as the football guys pass the cheerleader among themselves and laugh about it to each other. I encourage you all to watch the video and see which way you think the wind is blowing there.

Because this video hints at the possibility that the female character may actually be the one in charge, “Popular” has always had an element of feminism to it. So, what has changed about this song that is causing me to rush it into print today is something that happened just recently. As I was mindlessly scrolling through my Twitter feed, in between the outraged tweets about Covid response from the government and outraged tweets about the January 6th US Insurrection, came a tweet from a new girl band called, Pom Pom Squad. I had never heard of them before but, what caught my eye was their official tweet proclaiming the launch of a new video of theirs which was, a “shot-for-shot” remake of the video from “Popular” as told from a female perspective. In fact, their whole idea is a modern one which is, to examine the gender roles at play and re-imagine what the scenario would be like with gender roles turned on their head.

In the original Nada Surf video, the lead singer/teacher acts as an observer but, in Pom Pom Squad’s remake, we see the drama unfold from the cheerleader’s perspective. Within a minute or so of seeing this tweet, my Twitter timeline exploded in tweets of joy from young people who were loving this take on “Popular”. In fact, Pom Pom Squad’s tweet went on to become one of Twitter’s Top Trending Tweets of the Day. Soooooooooo, because I want you to all be able to score points with your kids/grand kids and come off as sounding like you are “all that”, I decided to tell you all about the origin story of Nada Surf’s song, “Popular” and alert you to this new cover from Pom Pom Squad so that, if you hear them talking about it, you will be able to say, “Is that the new “Popular” cover?”, like a Boss!

So, without further delay, here is one of my favourite Pop-Rock songs and, definitely, one of the best music videos ever, “Popular” by Nada Surf. Please watch it and, if you feel so inclined, drop a comment about who you think has the upper hand in this social drama: the cheerleader or the football guys. What do you think of Pom Pom Squad’s re-make and re-imagined gender roles? I will play the remake by Pom Pom Squad in the comments section below. For now, here is the teenage guide to charm and popularity, come to life. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Popular” by Nada Surf, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Nada Surf, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Popular” by PomPom Squad, can be found here.

The link to the official website for PomPom Squad, can be found here.

The link to a Rolling Stone Magazine article about the PomPom Squad remake of “Popular”, that appeared online the very next day after I wrote this post, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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