Wednesday 30 March 2022

Manic Street Preachers - Album By Album: A Review


It would be no exaggeration to say that the Manic Street Preachers changed my life.  From galvanising my leftie views to encouraging me to seek out art and literature, they came crashing into my world when I was a hormonal teen and they still have permanent residence in my affections now that I’m a hormonal adult.

As a result, when I heard that Marc Burrows was releasing a book, charting the band’s career - with fourteen writers producing essays on each of the Manics’ albums - I was very much in.  I will consume basically anything featuring “my boys” and my plan was to write this review several months ago.  

Well, we all know what they say about the best laid plans, right…?!

Whilst books about the Manics are not an entirely new phenomenon, this one manages to tread old ground in a new, intriguing way.  It features a timeline between the band’s albums, tracking what the Manics were doing in the run up to - and following - each release.  For someone like me, this is utterly fascinating; I may like to tell myself that I have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of my favourite band, but reading about their career in this format brings everything into even sharper focus and I find myself poring over every detail.  

We all know the story by now - four friends, bonded by a fierce intellect, a mutual love of music and pop culture and a desperate sense of claustrophobia in their small hometown in South Wales - formed a band and took on a post-punk glam aesthetic that made them stand out like sore thumbs against a backdrop of early 90’s grunge.  That fascinating combination of political fury, perfectly applied eyeliner, shirts spray-painted with slogans designed to speak to a similarly disenfranchised youth, plus the kind of guitar riffs that would make Slash weep, resulted in a cult following and - far from the “sell 16 million copies of our debut album and split up in a blaze of glory” hype - an illustriously long and celebrated music career.  But the timeline between the release of each album, slotted neatly before and after beautifully written, often poignant essays by fans of the band, tells that story in a way that feels somehow more tangible and, at notable points in the Manics’ history, incredibly raw.  

The essays that punctuate the release of each album throughout the book are a glorious snapshot of what the Manics mean to their fans, as well as provocative pieces that bring each record to life in such a visceral manner that you can almost hear the songs playing as you read.  Every single one is written with such passion and enthusiasm that by the end of each essay, not only did I want to luxuriate in whichever album I’d just been reading about - yes, including the ones I’d have lower down in my personal ranking - but I was filled with a deep desire to buy each writer a drink and sit with them, swapping gig anecdotes and chatting long into the night about this band that unites us, even when they manage to divide opinion.  In fact, I frequently found myself nodding frantically or chuckling softly as I read sentence after sentence that resonated perfectly with my own experiences of being a fan.  Call it tribalism if you will, but we are woven together by such delicate threads - having felt like an outsider as a teen, perhaps, or having had our feelings of anxiety and depression so eloquently expressed through lyrics - that reading some of the stories presented in the book could easily equate to reading an old diary entry.  “These,” I thought on several occasions as I made my way through the essays, “are my people.”

And this is my PLACE.

Anything written about the Manics is usually done so with several heaped spoonfuls of melodrama.  Theirs is a story of genuine triumph in the wake of tragedy and it’s easy to fall into the usual heartstring-tugging tropes as a result.  What is wonderful about this book is that by using a timeline of events - literally a day-by-day account of where the band were in the world and what they were doing - we are simply presented with the facts.  There is no need for flowery prose.  The actual truth of what the band went through in the loss of co-lyricist and mouth-piece Richey Edwards is laid bare in all its starkness and is actually all the more powerful for it.  The emotional language comes from the essays breaking up the timeline, when opinions step into the spotlight alongside the facts and deeply personal anecdotes are shared.  This very plain split between “this is precisely what happened” and “here’s how I feel about it as a fan” makes this book in many ways all the more moving than others on the subject.

The Manics are a band who’ve dipped their toes into various musical styles and whose career can be easily split into neat “stages.”  Similarly, the essays within the book run the gamut from fond recollections of youth, to searingly honest descriptions of individual traumas.  As is so often the case with anything to do with this particular band, you come away from reading the book with a heightened awareness of the importance of the Manic Street Preachers, not only as a cultural, musical touchstone, but as a powerful symbol to anyone who has ever felt alienated or despairing.  That the band released some of their most anthemic, dare I say joyous-sounding songs after the darkest period in their professional and personal lives is testament to their brilliance.  Anyone who says the Manics are “only for depressed people” have never known the thrill of singing yourself hoarse to A Design For Life whilst the confetti cannons go off all around you.  

The Manics always described themselves as a band that liked to contradict themselves and history certainly shows that to be true in the most wonderful way.  In a sense, this book and its journey through the band’s career, punctuated with fascinating stories and what can only be called love letters to each individual album, highlights their uncanny ability to adapt and change, whilst remaining stubbornly the same at heart.  It’s one of the reasons we love them.  And it’s one of the many reasons you should read this book.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Coronavirus And Mental Health

There are things you expect to happen in any given year.  For example, people will inexplicably become obsessed with Love Island, we Brits will moan about the rain until the sun comes and then we'll freak out about being too hot, and the DFS sale will continue to be a never-ending feature of our daily lives.  But what we didn't expect was a global pandemic that would kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the world and cause schools, pubs and restaurants to close, whilst we stay at home and obsessively wash our hands until the skin cracks.

And once it became obvious that that was indeed what 2020 was going to bring, what I didn't expect was to receive a text (followed by a letter) from the government, telling me that I was on their "extremely vulnerable" list and that I was under instructions to "shield" for twelve weeks - i.e. not go anywhere or have anyone come to see me.  

I didn't expect to receive a further government message, warning me to pack a hospital bag, "just in case."

I didn't expect supermarkets to offer me next-day delivery, after I'd registered my "vulnerable status" online (although I was hugely grateful, given that I live with my parents and they've both been largely shielding with me).

What I did expect, once all of this had begun to happen, was that it would have one hell of a knock-on effect on my mental health.

Ironically, I'm a fairly introverted person.  I like my own company; I'm happy to watch something on TV curled up on my bed by myself, or spend a quiet evening with my nose in a book.  I've never been a hugely loud person who feels the need to be centre of attention, nor have I ever had a huge social circle and a diary filled with parties to attend.  I am the clich├ęd "you'll always find me in the kitchen at parties" type, anyway.  Give me food and a drink and don't make me talk to anyone I don't know, please.

But I am still a people person.  I'm just picky about who those people are.  If you're someone who barely knows me and with whom I have to make awkward small-talk, then you might find it hard to imagine me as someone who loves being around people and who is happy to lead a conversation.  But if you're someone close, you'll know that I thrive on being with the ones I care about.  I love cuddles.  I love planning fun days out.  I love spending precious time together doing almost nothing and loving every second.  And for the last seven weeks, that has all gone.  It will remain gone for at least another five.  

And I'm not handling that very well.

A lot of things happen to you when you're someone who thrives on being with the ones you care about and you suddenly have that taken away.  Firstly, you just feel sad.  When I got that text from the government seven weeks ago, I cried.  I cried at the thought of not seeing my best friend for three months.  Not being able to hug her or sit beside her.  Not being able to hang out together at her house or mine.  Not going out for dinners or pub quizzes or any of the other little things that I value as being a precious part of my life.  In the grand scheme of things, three months may seem like a tiny, trivial slither of time.  But for me, it was a case of being told I couldn't see someone I usually saw at least twice a week, often more.  That was a big adjustment to have to make.

Then I started thinking about other people, too.  The friends I was forever saying "we should do this more often" to, when we met for cake or lunch.  The ones I saw less frequently, but who I was sure I'd have been spending at least three or four afternoons out with over the course of a normal three month period.

I thought about my friends at chorus, who I'd normally be singing with every week.  I thought of the catch-ups over a cuppa at the end of rehearsal and the giggles we all have when we get together.

Don't get me wrong; I know I'm very lucky not to live alone.  I have my parents here as well as the dog, so I have company.  Skype, Zoom and Facebook video messenger have all come in handy as ways of staying in touch with people, too.  But, as a friend said yesterday, a video call can't replace a hug when you're really missing someone.

And whilst physical affection has always been something I knew I needed to give and receive, I've started to realise just how important other forms of non-verbal communication are to me, too.  I've always said my best friend and I can communicate entire sentences without words.  Just a particular look from her and I know exactly what she's saying.  We can't do that so easily online.  You can barely hold eye contact when talking via a video call, because you'd both have to be looking at the camera.  And I never realised how much I cherish eye contact until now.

With all of these thoughts and feelings to deal with, my number one urge is to go out for a walk to clear my head.  And...  Well, that's not really allowed.

Again, this is where I know I'm lucky.  I don't live in a flat or a house without any outdoor space and I feel terrible for those that do, who are having to shield.  I know that I'm fortunate to have a garden that's big enough to walk laps of a few times before sheer boredom sets in.  I also live in a pretty quiet road and have braved walking a few feet up and down it (always within sight of my house) twice a day when there's nobody around.  The few times I've seen someone walking, I've legged it across the road or even gone straight back into the garden, so I'm not taking any chances.  But stimulating it isn't.  Walking endlessly up and down the road (not even the whole road, obviously) is not the most interesting path to tread.  I've found myself desperately wanting to just say "to hell with this" and walk into town, but I know I can't.  I reach a certain point, where I can still easily see my house (and reach it within 30 seconds - I really don't go far), then I know I have to fight the urge to carry on and instead turn around and walk back again.  It's frustrating and repetitive, especially for someone who really does use a walk down by the river, or a stroll into town, as a well-practised method of dealing with any mental health issues I might be having.  Feeling sad?  Take the dog for a walk.  Too many thoughts in my head?  Walk into town have a mooch around the shops.  To be stuck in a situation that is making me feel really sad and to not be able to go for a proper walk anywhere has left me struggling to find new ways to try to handle any mental health issues that crop up, not all of which are exactly healthy.  I am, for example, currently obsessed with having a constant "project" to be working on, so that I'm not just thinking about how much I miss someone, or how bored I am of not being able to go anywhere.  But productivity and depression aren't exactly happy bedfellows, so half the time, I'm forcing myself to script and film a video, or obsessively polish my bedroom furniture, when what I actually want to be doing is lying under the duvet, sobbing and eating chocolate until I feel sick.  It's not like me to feel as though I'm almost forcing my feelings to one side all the time.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, usually.  But lately, I feel like every time I try to speak - or even think - about how I feel, the words just don't seem to come.

But sadness isn't the only emotion I've been struggling with.  Feeling isolated is making me horribly needy and paranoid.

Like I said, I wear my heart on my sleeve.  If you're special to me, you'll know about it, either because I will literally say "I love you," or because I show it in my actions.  I've always been really good at reading body language and picking up on non-verbal cues from other people, who maybe don't wear their emotions as visibly as I do mine (I'm well aware I'm weird) and that's all I've really needed in return.  Actions speak louder than words and all that.  But with lack of contact, I don't have those cues to pick up on and I end up being tortured by my own brain.  "They don't miss you, you know.  They're probably glad they don't have to see you.  Why would anyone be sad not to see you?!"  I torment myself over and over, because I'm too bloody proud to say "hey, I know this is needy as hell, but you miss me, right?"  Instead, I dwell and I convince myself nobody does and it sinks me further and further into a sadness I was already struggling to crawl out of.

I also find myself getting paranoid that absence is going to make the heart grow forgetful, rather than fonder.  That when this is all over, I'll be chomping at the bit to see people and they'll have grown used to not having me and my various irritating habits to deal with, so will be rather reluctant to go back to the way things were.

Believe me, if you're reading this and thinking "ugh, what a needy cow," you aren't alone.  I hate it about myself.  

So, sadness, frustration and paranoia are order of the day, right now.  But you know what else is?  Anger.

I don't just mean that "I'm mad that this is happening to me" type of anger.  I mean anger at other people.  Not at anyone I care about, but at the people casually breaking social distancing rules, because they fancy a drive to the seaside and it's only an hour or so away.  At the folks inviting their families round for drinks in the garden, because the sun's out and surely their own family members must be safe to all pop over for the afternoon?!  At the people writing "I had it and it was no worse than the flu, so end lockdown NOW, because it's only vulnerable people who are at risk" on their social media pages.

It's not "only vulnerable people who are at risk," for a start.  Several people have died, despite having no underlying health conditions at all.  But even if it was, who do these people think constitute as "vulnerable" and why the hell do they think those vulnerable people's lives aren't important?!  I'm only 37 years old.  I have family and friends who care about me (see, logically I know this to be true, despite the horrific paranoia).  I have a nephew due in a few months.  My best friend and I are starting a business that I'm excited to get off the ground.  I have places I want to visit when this is all over.  Why am I okay, in the eyes of some people, to be seen as "collateral damage," simply because they're fed up of lockdown?  How can people be so ignorant - so selfish  - as to assume that they should have free reign to go wherever they like, with whomever they choose, purely because they don't think they would be adversely affected by this virus?  How can they be so sure?!  And what about the people who would be hugely affected?  Are we on the vulnerable list supposed to remain indoors for several more months, cut off from those we love, letting our mental health fall further and further into decline, just so a few outwardly healthy people can go out early to try to prove some kind of point?!

I've spoken to people who also found themselves on the government's "vulnerable list" and they are of all ages and come from all walks of life.  Some are children.  So if I seem furiously angry when I see people writing this virus off as "something that only effects the vulnerable," as though the vulnerable don't bloody matter, it's because I AM.  

If I can stand another month or more of going no further than a few feet up my road, only seeing the person I love most through a computer screen and dealing with constant paranoia and depression over the whole situation, then people can adhere to social distancing rules properly, rather than behaving as though they're somehow invincible and don't have to worry about spreading this thing to all and sundry.  And they can sure as hell stop referring to people like me as though our lives don't matter, anyway.

I want to go out, just as much as you do.  I want to hold people I love close and have dinners in restaurants, visit shops again and stop feeling as though my life is on pause.  

And I will.   And so can you.  When it's safe.  Not before.

That's not to say that I think things will all just casually go back to normal.  I know that there are ways in which life will change, following this.  Possibly forever.

I've always been a hugger, but physical affection is going to be reserved for those I'm super close to, now.  I can't wait to put my arms around my best friend, but the rest of the world...  Not so much.  

I've realised my job isn't necessarily the healthiest for me to be in, given my medical conditions.  That's something I'm going to have to think a lot about.  I'll be throwing all my energy into getting our business off the ground, at the very least.

And there are so many little things I won't take for granted, anymore.  Making plans for a trip out, somewhere.  Holding eye contact across a table.  Chorus rehearsals.  A walk around the park.  Little, everyday things that were just a part of my life I assumed would always be there, will now be cherished as they deserve to be.

In the meantime, I will keep going as best I can.  

Stay safe.

Thursday 30 May 2019

No Outsiders: Why Equality Is a VITAL Thing To Teach Children

There are certain things we are taught at school: maths, spelling and for a lot of us here in the UK, how to play London's Burning on a recorder.  Parents everywhere must be so incredibly grateful for that one...

And then there are the things we learn without realising: how to share and take turns, that it's okay to ask a question if you're not sure about something and, crucially, that we are all different, but equally deserving of respect.

It may come as a shock to those parents protesting the new "No Outsiders" programme - which features books incorporating same-sex parent families and racially diverse characters, in an effort to teach children that differences are not a bad thing and that everyone is worthy of respect, regardless of gender, orientation or ethnicity - that equality and the celebration of differences has been fundamental to the Primary School curriculum (and Early Years, for that matter) for a very long time already.

Rightly so.

Yes, an understanding of what they have in common with their friends and what makes them different and special is a core aspect of what children are expected to have learnt by the time they complete their first year of primary education.  It has been for years.  Why?  Because it's important.  It's important for a child's sense of self that he or she can recognise things they are good at.  Things that make them unique.  It's equally important for a child's blossoming understanding of society as a whole, that they appreciate that not everyone is the same as them and that those who differ are no less special than they are.

Why is it important?  Well, think back to your school days.  Every single one of us can probably remember someone who was bullied for being different in some way.  Perhaps their family had a different set of customs and therefore stuck out.  Maybe there was a child who dressed differently or spoke with an accent unfamiliar to the rest of their classmates.  Perhaps there was one member of the class who struggled academically and fell behind everyone else.  Or maybe they just didn't look "right."

Some of you will look back and realise that that "different kid" was you.  I know that's what I remember when I look back to secondary school, in particular.  And I know what a dreadful effect it had on the rest of my life.  Bullying - which almost always stems from one child seeming to be "different" in some way - results in scars that last long after we leave the classroom.  And so, happily, modern schools have measures in place to ensure that differences, be they cultural, religious, ability-based or surrounding a family dynamic, are celebrated and discussed, so that we teach children that their version of "normal" is not necessarily the same as that of their classmates, and that that is not a problem.  We are all different.  We can all be celebrated.  We all deserve respect.

So far, so good.

The trouble over this long-standing programme of inclusion has only sprung up because it now also includes differences in sexuality as standard.  Suddenly, mothers and fathers who were perfectly happy to have little Daisy taught that some children only have one parent, are up in arms over the idea that their offspring might discover - heaven forbid - that some children have two parents of the same gender.

That's it, in a nutshell.  That's what the hoo-ha is about.

Never mind that the 2010 Equality Act already means that things such as discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or disability was already a thing you can't do and that we should be stamping out wherever possible, including in our schools; it took the introduction of the No Outsiders programme to convince protestors that the idea of children learning that gay people exist is  THE WORST THING EVER!!!1!!ONE!!!

And so we find ourselves in a situation in which furious parents are taking their children out of school and forming protests outside these educational establishments, chanting and holding up placards.  We find ourselves living in a world in which some school heads have suspended teaching of the No Outsiders programme, after receiving death threats.

And for any child with two parents of the same gender (or an LGBTQ+ sibling or other relative, for that matter) what is that teaching them?  That they're wrong.  That they're bad.  That they're different and unacceptable.  Is that seriously what we've sunk to?

Many of the protestors are using religion as the excuse for their blatant homophobia.  Many - laughably - are insisting that we don't call them "homophobic," as though the violent insistence that children cannot possibly be taught that LGBTQ+ people exist and are worthy of just as much respect as anyone else, is somehow something other than grotesquely homophobic.  Just as "I'm not racist, but..." almost always leads to an inherently racist sentence, this cry of "we're not homophobic, but..." falls bitterly flat, when followed by the outright denial of children being taught to respect diversity and to show tolerance to those whose lives differ to their own.

We live in a country which allows people religious freedom and goes as far as to protect that freedom.  However, we are a secular nation.  Religious beliefs do not underpin our laws or our school curriculum and nor should they.  As a non-religious person myself, I can say that the existence of God is unproven.  The existence of humans is not.  And those humans have every right to be represented, heard and respected, regardless of their sexual orientation.  There is nothing sinful about being gay, in my eyes.  And to those who believe that being gay is wrong for religious reasons, that is, again, a belief, not a provable fact.  Therefore, we as a broader society - made up of people of all religions, as as well as agnostics and atheists - cannot be held to ransom by those who have chosen to interpret their faith in a way that persecutes the LGBTQ+ community.

Grossly, as a last resort against any kind of tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community, homophobes will sometimes tell you that if we accept love between two men or two women, we must also accept "love" between a paedophile and a child.  I shouldn't have to make the obvious statement that to conflate consensual love between two adults of the same gender, with sexual abuse between an adult and child is horrific.  I don't know any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who would ever, ever condone paedophilia.  There is nothing loving about assault and to suggest as much is abhorrant.

Love between consenting adults, however, is and always has been, the most natural thing in the world.

Alongside the parents complaining for religious reasons of course, we have parents who claim to be against the teaching of the No Outsiders programme for cultural or personal ones.  These are the parents who claim that to mention gay people in schools somehow sexualises young children, or exposes them needlessly to something they shouldn't witness.  These are often the same people who disapprove of sex education full stop.  Because everyone knows, if a girl is shown how to put a condom on a banana at the age of 14, she'll be pregnant by 15.  Obviously.

And yet these are often the same people who think nothing of asking a young girl if she has a "boyfriend" at school.  Or of putting a baby boy in a "ladies man" t-shirt.  Children are subjected to an almost aggressive level of heteronormative behaviour that simply never gets questioned, because it's so ingrained in society.  It's okay to joke about two six year olds having to get married, because a boy has held a girl's hand.  But it's not alright to explain that men can marry other men.  Because that's somehow a line we can't cross.

These "you're sexualising/confusing our children" types are often the ones who genuinely believe that "boys are going to be taught that they're actually girls," or that "children are going to be encouraged to believe that they're gay when they're not."  I'd laugh, were it not for the fact that these are real arguments I've had from people who are against the No Outsiders programme and who have clearly not read about it, beyond what they've seen in The Daily Mail.

Having worked in schools, pre-schools and nurseries for 18 years, I have read the curriculum.  Everything that is taught has been adapted by year group, to ensure that it is age appropriate.  The gist of the entire programme is simply: "To teach children about the 2010 Equality Act and British Values.  To reduce vulnerability to radicalisation and extremism.  To teach children to be proud of who they are, whilst recognising difference and diversity.  To create a positive school ethos, where everyone feels they belong."   There.  I took that from the Equalities Primary website.  Note the distinct lack of "To teach boys that they are actually girls and to ensure that all children are made to doubt their own sexuality as much as possible."

And to those who believe that teaching about LGBTQ+ relationships will confuse children?  When my friend's son was around 4, he met my sister's then partner (now wife).  He wasn't remotely traumatised.  He just instantly accepted that my sister loved a woman, then went on with his day.  Children are not born judgemental.  They are taught to be that way.  

I am passionate about inclusion and diversity.  I know how vital it is, in order to stamp out extremism and prevent bullying.  I know how crucial representation is for a child who feels different, be it due to their burgeoning sexuality or their home circumstances.  To be told that you are accepted, respected and loved is a basic human right.  To deny that to anyone - at any age - is frankly revolting.  

The Early Years curriculum has the core ethos: "Every Child Matters."  This is indisputable, as far as I'm concerned.  Every child does matter.  Every child has the right to be represented.  That includes children of same-sex parents.  Children with LGBTQ+ family members.  Children who, as they grow and develop, may find themselves questioning their own sexuality or struggling with their gender identity.  Not because they've had those issues forced on them, but because not every child grows up to be straight and cisgendered.  For those children, the knowledge that their school has been stopped from teaching that everyone is equal and worthy of respect, regardless of sexual orientation, has the potential to be hugely damaging.  Why should any child suffer, just because a group of loud parents are using religion or outdated "moral values" as an excuse to be homophobic?  And what are these parents "protecting" their children from?  The knowledge that love takes many forms?  The importance of tolerance rather than judgement?

We live in a world in which - finally - same sex marriage is becoming increasingly legalised and accepted.  Yes, we still have countries in which it is simply not safe to be openly gay and that fact shames us as a species.  But we are moving forwards.  We are heading towards a world in which equality really will exist, on a universal scale.  To get there, it is vital that we teach the next generation that love is more important than hate.  That tolerance and acceptance should never be overshadowed by those who fear what they cannot - or will not - understand.

Equality is a vital thing to teach to the world's children.

Sunday 7 April 2019

My Top Ten Crazy Ex Girlfriend Songs

Around 2-3 years ago, my sister and sister-in-law were visiting and had gone into the kitchen to watch something.  I could hear them laughing to the point that I became determined to find out just what was so funny.  After I joined them in the kitchen, they showed me what it was that they were watching; a musical comedy show called Crazy Ex Girlfriend.  They were on episode two and the song that caused so much mirth was called I'm So Good At Yoga.  I watched it with them and by the end of that one song, I was completely and utterly hooked.

Last night, after four seasons of sheer brilliance, Crazy Ex Girlfriend reached its finale.  A show that started off as a slightly oddball pastiche of romantic comedy, about a woman named Rebecca uprooting her life to chase down her first love and win him back, had ended up becoming a raw and yet ultimately uplifting portrayal of mental health problems, a beacon of feminism and inclusivity and a heartwarming display of the many different forms of love we find in our everyday lives.  If it sounds a little ridiculous to say that my life is better for having discovered the show, so be it.  It's true.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend took comedy tropes and turned them on their heads.  It used music to deliver jokes and communicate ideas fresher and braver than many shows dare to put out into the world.  The cast were mind-boggling in their talents - this was no mere acting job.  This was an ensemble who danced and sang in a whole host of styles.  Over the course of 4 seasons, over 150 songs in a wide variety of genres were gifted to us and it's for that reason that the only way I can truly explain how much this show means to me and just why it's so amazing, is to go through some of those songs right now.  Besides, I can't resist a top ten list...

10) "I Have Friends"

So, a few months after I got really into Crazy Ex Girlfriend, some stuff started going on in my life.  A stupid argument with one friend led to the implosion of my entire friendship group and shortly afterwards, I realised the person I'd spent years referring to as my "best friend" was...  REALLY not.  Like... A whole lot of "NOT."

Being the kind of weirdo who mercilessly mocks my own tragedies in life as a kind of bizarre coping mechanism, I took to singing this song to myself as a way of distracting my mind from the fact that I kind of... didn't have friends.  Which, you know, is essentially what Rebecca is doing in this song.  

Sarcastically singing "I have friends, I DEFINITELY have friends" was just a thing I did to get through a bad situation.   And it worked!  I'll always have a soft spot for it, as a result.  Also, just like Rebecca realises she very much does have an incredible new support network of friends as the series continues, so I went on to realise I wasn't friendless, after all.  Hooray!

I Have Friends, I DEFINITELY have friends!

9) "Let's Have Intercourse"

Whilst we naturally focus on Rebecca and her character development across the four seasons, it's important to remember that one of the awesome things about Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the way it constantly develops the other characters in the show, too.

When we meet Nathaniel, he is hard, uncompromising and seemingly uncaring.  Only once he is brought off his pedestal (by a bout of diarrhoea, because duh, of course that's what it took) and eventually realises his strange crush on Rebecca is actually love (that plot line is not connected to any bowel functions...), does he start to change as a person.  And what's perfect is that he changes willingly, originally purely because he thinks only by becoming a nicer person will Rebecca want to be with him, but ultimately because he realises he's happier in all areas of his life when he does make the effort to be a better man.  By the end of the final season, he's almost unrecognisable from the emotionless taskmaster he entered the show as.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does pastiches of well known songs and singers extraordinarily well and this song is a perfectly pitched play on Thinking Out Loud, by Ed Sheeran, but without any of the romance.  As a result, it's both hilarious and somehow instantly familiar, even the very first time you hear it.  And as for Rachel Bloom's ballet dancing... Wow.  I mean, I know I have a super massive crush on her and I'm therefore biased, but the girl knocks it out of the park.

I won't be back to normal til I see what your nipples look like...
...They're probably straightforward nipples.

8) "A Boyband Made Up of Four Joshes"

In season one of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Rebecca's psyche is often explored through her reminiscing over events from her childhood and early teens.  In episode three, she recalls inviting everyone from school to come over and watch a boy band concert on pay per view at her house.  Distressingly for young Rebecca, very few kids show up and when they do, they witness the breakdown of her parents' marriage, explaining why adult Rebecca has some pretty major issues with abandonment, lack of a reliable male figure in her life and the prospect of throwing parties...

Of course, at this party, Josh turns up and Rebecca instantly believes it's his presence (and not all the background work Paula's done to ensure plenty of people actually come...) that makes it a success.  She dreamily revisits the pay per view boy band concert she never got to see, only in her own private fantasy, every member of the band is Josh.  Now, having been a  big fan of boy bands when I was growing up ( I quite like them now, too...), I'm not about to suggest that anyone who enjoys a boy band has some mental health issues they need to address, but I do love the fact that in this song, the boy band is very much presented as a non-threatening entity, where all four members are offering to "fix" Rebecca's problems.  Not only does it tie in to the fantasy a lot of young girls have (holding my hands up to this one) about the "perfect" member of a boy band being the ideal person who'd understand them and love them the right way (not like real guys, who might hurt them...), but it also neatly continues to emphasise Rebecca's delusional insistence that she requires the love of this one specific person in order to make her better, rather than working on fixing herself.

The song is also catchy as heck!

Baby you can kiss all your unexplained symptoms goodbye,
you're never gonna miss all those nightmares in which you tend to die...

7) "You're My Best Friend (And I Know I'm Not Yours)"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend has always been a fantastic analyser of relationships, be they romantic or otherwise.  Whereas Rebecca's obsessive nature and often over-the-top feelings for her romantic interests was one of the main themes of the show, other characters and their relationships were usually given a fair amount of airtime, too.  Darryl, originally Rebecca's boss in the show, is a favourite of mine, because (again, I hold my hands up) I often find that I identify with him.  

Darryl is unashamed about his feelings and he finds it hard to keep them in.  He loves completely and the people he loves are exceptionally important to him.  Before Rebecca comes along, he lives quite happily, believing his workmate Paula is his best friend.  Then Rebecca enters the equation and she and Paula have such an intense level of closeness, it's difficult for Darryl to get much of a look in.  His feelings towards Paula don't change, but it's clear that she thinks of Rebecca as a much closer friend than he is.  The trouble is, Darryl isn't great at stepping back and making Paula feel comfortable.  He has a few boundary issues and whilst they come from a good place - loving and caring about the people in his life - they can serve to make people feel a little uncomfortable (I'm hoping this isn't something we share...).  So, this song is Darryl's way of recognising that he's perhaps not as important to Paula as he wishes he was, but that that doesn't have to change the way he feels about her and she doesn't need to feel bad about it.

Also, being that I am someone who loves completely and finds it hard to keep my feelings in, but who also self-analyses a lot and isn't as kind to myself as I possibly should be, I can massively identify with the idea of having to say "sure, I adore you but I realise you probably adore other people more."  Tragic?  Kinda.  

"That's why I love you like a sister 
and you love me like a second cousin..."

6) "I Hate Everything But You"

At this point, picking songs and ordering them has gotten hard.  In a lot of ways, this should be top three, but it's landed at number six and I had to bump a lot of songs I like, along the way.

When Skylar Astin arrived in season four, taking over the role of Greg from Santino Fontana, I had some... feelings.  I had shipped "Grebecca" hard and I'd spent two thirds of season two and all of season three wishing that Greg would come back and that they'd eventually get back together, but that was all based on the original Greg.  Having him back and it being a different actor felt weird for a while.

But Skylar is a great actor and singer and his portrayal of a slightly more easy-going Greg (believe it or not, given this song!) was hard to resist.  Greg, with his enormous walls around himself and his habit of snarkily criticising things, was always the antithesis of Rebecca and her overly-emotional, almost childlike naivety and this song proved that Skylar Astin's portrayal of the character was just as true to who Greg really was as Santino Fontana's version in seasons one and two.

Rebecca's high level of enthusiasm for things that others might deem merely "okay" is something I very much identify with.  I get ludicrously excited about things and it's definitely fair to say I sometimes feel things a bit too much.  So I understood her disappointment at Greg not being as ecstatic about their day trip to a water park as she hoped he might be.  That said, I think this song is rather beautiful in its own way and I feel like if someone wanted to serenade me with it, I'd probably melt!

I hate the phrase "love conquers all" 
and I hate that it's true.

5) "Friendtopia"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does an incredible job of exploring the ways that friendships can affect our lives just as much as any other kind of relationship, and it often uses the friendships the characters have as a mirror to their behaviour in their romantic attachments.  For example, the way Rebecca tries to force Valencia and Heather into her idea of what a "girl group" should be is hugely similar to the way she desperately tries to squeeze her love life into her own unrealistic fantasy of what romance is.  In a lot of ways, the season 2 episode that contains the song Friendtopia is difficult to watch, as Rebecca attempts to engineer two women who've openly confessed to not having had a lot of close female friends in the past, into being her new "squad," whilst also failing to recognise that in doing so, she's massively alienating her best friend, Paula.  It's a clever way of highlighting that Rebecca's mental health issues don't only affect her romantic relationships, as well as being a reminder that friendships are better when they're not forced.  Rebecca's behaviour risks causing the end of the friendship she has with Paula, simply because it doesn't fit her pop-culture-influenced mental image of what female friendship is supposed to look like.

Also, this song sounds like the Spice Girls and takes the concept of "Girl Power" to slightly scary places.  Which will never fail to amuse me.

All citizens must watch Hocus Pocus, or they will be killed.

4) "It Was A Shit Show"

This song marks the first time (very much not the last) that Crazy Ex Girlfriend made me cry.  I mentioned earlier that I was very much Team Grebecca and despite the hugely dysfunctional nature of their relationship, I held out a lot of hope that they'd eventually settle into something lasting and healthy.  Greg's perfectly sensible decision to call it off and go to business school in an attempt to get his life back on track, having admitted to being an alcoholic, was one that was hard to argue with, however.  Santino Fontana was also one hell of a singer and the emotion in his voice during that last refrain "I won't regret this beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing..." broke me.

It's a huge credit to the show's songwriters (Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger) that this song manages to so perfectly encapsulate the tugging of the heartstrings that takes place when you know you have to end something for your own good, despite knowing that it's going to hurt like hell to walk away.  I'm putting the original show-version of this song as a link, because Santino's version is gorgeous and fully deserves to be heard, but I'd urge you all to seek out Rachel Bloom's live tour version, because DAMN.

Not to be crass,
but this sucked ass.
This was a shit show.

3) "Getting Bi"

Okay, let's get emotionally honest.  

First things first: if there was a couple on Crazy Ex Girlfriend who I shipped even harder than Greg and Rebecca, it was, without question, Darryl and White Josh.  

Darryl is a divorcee, who thinks he's 100% straight.  So, when he starts to connect with White Josh, he thinks it's purely as a friend until, after helping him clean up following a party, White Josh kisses him on the cheek and winks as he leaves.  This causes Darryl to openly question what it might mean and whether he's got to look at himself in a whole new light.  He tries to tactfully find out whether White Josh is gay, by asking why they call him White Josh and not Gay Josh (way to go, Darryl!) and is stunned when White Josh laughs and says it's not like people call him "Old Gay Darryl."  Darryl insists that he's straight, but the fact is, he's obviously intrigued and excited by the idea that White Josh might like him.  There are full-on butterflies and loaded looks and it's just too adorable for words.  Eventually, Darryl realises that he's bisexual - a fact he never cottoned on to until he was middle-aged and is therefore pretty stunned by.  But Darryl being Darryl, he's also not someone who can hide his feelings.  He quickly tells White Josh about how excited he is to be "out" and when White Josh suggests he try some gay dating apps, Darryl gushes that he won't find anyone he likes as much as him.


Getting Bi is not only a massively catchy Huey Lewis pastiche, but it's just perfectly played on a variety of levels.  Firstly, it's very on-brand for Darryl.  Of course he would feel the need to gleefully dance around, telling everyone about his sexuality whether they want to know or not.  Secondly, the reaction from everyone is perfect.  They're not remotely bothered.  They've been encouraging and helpful and nobody has seemed remotely fazed by the fact that their "straight" friend is agonising over his feelings for a guy.  The only thing that riles them is that their boss is singing "yes I like sex" in the middle of a work meeting.

Now, I watched that episode at a fairly important time.  As I mentioned at the start of this countdown, I got really into this show when I was going through a rough period with friends... well, not being friends, anymore.  Something that came out of that whole thing was that a girl I knew at the time offered to be a support, over the internet.  We'd talk every 2-3 days for an hour or so and she'd just check in on me and see if I was okay.  I didn't really think anything of it, until I realised how much I was looking forward to hearing from her.  And how pretty I thought she was.  And how much she made me smile.  Eventually, I asked myself a very simple question: If she asked me out, what would I say?  And I realised the answer was a resounding yes.  It suddenly didn't matter to me that she was a woman and I'd only ever been with guys and only ever imagined myself with a guy.  I figured her gender would be too small a reason to turn her down, given how much I liked her.  There'd be no harm in going on a date with her, just to see.

She never asked me out and I never told her how I felt.  And given all the crap that was going on in my life at the time, I didn't quite have the emotional capacity to deal with what this newfound revelation might actually mean about me as a person, so I sort of... Pushed it out of my thoughts.

Until around ten months later when I had that feeling "like glitter was exploding inside me" (to borrow a quote from the show I'm meant to be discussing) and that feeling was caused by locking eyes with a woman I was just instantly attracted to.  That was when I started to admit to myself that actually, yes, I was bisexual.  And that that was fine.  No biggie.

Seeing LGBT representation - specifically bisexual representation - provided so perfectly in Crazy Ex Girlfriend was a big deal for me and that was compounded in season 3, when Valencia - again, someone who considered herself completely straight and had only ever been interested in guys - met Beth and instantly "clicked" with her, then when the show did an "eight months later..." time jump, the pair were shown sitting, holding hands and clearly very much in love.  And just like with Darryl, nobody batted an eyelid.  Valencia had fallen for someone who was right for her.  That person's gender was completely irrelevant.

The message Crazy Ex Girlfriend sent out with these two storylines was that you can think you're one thing, only to meet someone who makes you realise you're something else entirely.  And that that doesn't have to be something frightening, or shocking.  It's just about meeting someone you click with and realising that love doesn't always take the form you expect it to.  You are who you are and that's fine.

God, I love this show.

I don't care if you wear high heels or a tie,
you might just catch my eye because I'm definitely bi.

2) "You Stupid Bitch"

In a lot of ways, Rebecca Bunch is an anti-hero.  She's a hugely troubled individual, whose actions are often questionable at best.  In the episode from which this song is taken, she crosses a huge line and goes from "quirky girl driven to bad choices by her naive belief in happy ever afters" to "actually borderline psychotic."  Having broken into Josh's apartment to delete a text she sent him by mistake, she's mortified when he finds her there and she has to make a quick excuse.  Lying that someone threw a rock through her window and she was too afraid to be at home alone, Rebecca is put on the spot when Josh offers to go back to her place with her and she's forced to call Paula and beg her best friend to put a rock through the window before she and Josh get back home.  The trouble is, the rock in question turns out to be a decorative rock that Paula's husband took from Rebecca's coffee table, whilst nipping into the apartment to use the bathroom.  Josh quickly realises that the rock came from inside the apartment and questions everything that has happened, eventually leaving Rebecca alone and devastated.  She tries to fall back on Greg, who happens to be passing by, but he's determined not to let himself get close to her again and Rebecca ends up spiralling into self-pity, realising she's "ruined everything."

Whilst I'd like to think I've never done anything as stereotypically "crazy" as the events leading up to this song, I can empathise with feeling like you've done something monumentally stupid and ruined everything.  I'm someone who beats herself up over the tiniest little thing and I've been known to attend the odd private pity party for myself.  This song has, therefore, become my go-to tune when I'm feeling especially down on myself and fancy wallowing for a bit.  It's a very pretty ballad and it perfectly encapsulates that angry-sad feeling of "well, I'm the worst human ever."

Bitch.  You're a stupid bitch.  
And lose some weight.

1) Face Your Fears

Paula Proctor is an absolute badass.  Yes, she's also a deeply flawed character in a lot of ways, given the huge amount of insane stuff we find out she's done in order to help Rebecca win Josh, over the course of the first season.  She pours all of her energy into her best friend's love life, rather than face her dissatisfaction with her own marriage, her career and her family life, for a long time, which is...  Less than healthy.

But Paula is fiercely loyal, tough, smart, funny and someone who you would absolutely want fighting your corner for you.  Besides which, Donna Lynne Champlin has one of the best voices on the whole show, combined with some of the greatest comic timing, both of which combine to make Face Your Fears my absolute favourite song from the show.  The advice she gives in the song is unquestionably bad, but even having heard it dozens of times, it still makes me laugh.  It was also only the second song I ever heard from the show and it takes me straight back to sitting in my kitchen with my sister and sister-in-law, marvelling at the amazing TV series we'd just discovered.

And just like that, this blog has gone full-circle.

If a bear runs at you in the woods, don't run away.
Look it deep in the eyes, put your hand on its chest and say

There's not much more I can say, other than thank you to Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna for creating this incredible TV show.  For giving the world something that picks apart stereotypes and portrays mental health problems realistically, even though that sometimes means it's uncomfortable to watch.  For showing female sexuality as an empowering thing and female friendships as something beyond the usual sitcom trope of "the girls," drinking wine and giggling on the sofa.  For making it blatantly obvious that a person can fall in love with anyone, regardless of gender and regardless of the way that person might have previously identified, sexually.  For giving us characters who are believable, with massive flaws and ridiculous ideas, as well as all the things that make them loveable. 

And I should add that several songs I love didn't make this list, purely because I would have been here all night, doing a top fifty.  So, special mentions to:

Let's Generalise About Men

Dream Ghost

Group Hang

We'll Never Have Problems Again

Ping Pong Girl

And so many other songs.  Just...  Go watch the show.

You won't regret it.