The New Radicals Reunited For Joe Biden's Inauguration. Maybe America Is Gonna Pull Through.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Esquire

“Don't give up,” New Radicals begged us in their classic 1998 single “You Get What You Give.” And if they didn’t take their own advice, if they never followed up on that pop song’s promise, if they left our nation wanting a whole lot more, today is a day to celebrate. The band has reunited after 22 years to perform the song as part of the Biden-Harris virtual inaugural parade. It is a benediction for a next-level ‘90s pop song, an exclamation point at the end of a joyful day, a “Don’t Stop” moment for a new generation.

It is, to borrow a phrase from our new President, a big fucking deal. Here’s why.

If you’re new to the Radicals, the band was essentially a duo: singer Gregg Alexander and percussionist Danielle Brisebois. Michigan-born Alexander had bounced around the music business as a little-known teenage pop artist in the late 1980s, while Brisebois achieved success as a child actor, starring in the later seasons of All In The Family and on Broadway as the original Molly in Annie. After Brisebois was recruited to sing backing vocals on Alexander’s second solo album Intoxifornication, they went on to co-write tracks for her first, Arrive All Over You. If it had stopped with simply those two album titles, it would have been enough. But it didn’t; there was a spark, they formed a band, and they got signed by MCA Records, because MCA Records knew what was up.

Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too was released in late 1998 to instant critical acclaim, and for good reason. It is what we would now call “a mood,” and a particularly good one. It is an early summer day all year long, an antidepressant with zero side effects. Alexander wrote and produced every track, finally nailing his unique sound, which has endured long after he disappeared. (More on that later.) Though the album is best known for its one hit single, it is banger city from start to finish.

And oh that one hit single. “You Get What You Give” is the greatest pop-rock song of the last 25 years, and if you disagree, I need you to take a quiet moment and reflect on why you’ve chosen to reject pleasure. Though the song-ending call-outs of Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson still get most of the attention, the song itself is about the resilience of the human spirit. Its chugging piano is the sound of a soul struggling to see the bright side. The song gave us the word “frenemies,” and the video sent me on a still-fruitless search for that windbreaker. It is the perfect jam for a tense time in history, a song whose optimism is hard-won.

It is for that reason that the song has significance to the Biden family. In his memoir Promise Me, Dad, President Biden reveals that his son Beau used “You Get What You Give” as a psych-up song for his chemotherapy treatments, and when it became clear that his brain cancer was inoperable, the family continued to play it for him to keep his spirits up. In honor of Beau, First Gentleman Doug Emhoff uses it as his walk-on music. It’s in the pantheon.

New Radicals dissolved before their second single “Someday We’ll Know” was released, as Alexander found the spotlight too stressful. But even if you didn't know it, you still had their music in you. Brisebois co-wrote Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” while Alexander lent his signature sound to Santana & Michelle Branch’s “The Game Of Love,” the Oscar-nominated “Lost Stars” from Begin Again, and what pop historians unanimously recognize as our greatest blowjob anthem, “I’m Gonna Blow Your Mind” by Carly Hennessy, who would later go on to American Idol fame as Carly Smithson. Dude’s been busy.

Though I did not see Brisebois on stage today, Alexander was back, eyes hidden as ever under his signature bucket hat. He’s less boyish than he was the last time we saw him, and we can all relate. We’ve come out of a dark few years, and we’re choosing optimism. The song has a special resonance today not only for the Biden family, but for all of us. In this moment, we are all catching the dreamer’s disease once again, and it feels good. (You can watch the performance at the 1 hour and 17 minute mark above.)

Whether he decides to stick around this time or not, Gregg Alexander has seized his moment, and the world is already better for it. “You Get What You Give” isn’t just a bop anymore, it is now an American standard. It carries the Presidential seal.
Maybe this world is gonna pull through after all.

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