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Needle Drop: The Greatest Music Cue in All of My So-Called Life

How a then-decade old Violent Femmes song brought an exhilarating high to the angsty teen drama.
  • Claire Danes in My So-Called Life. (Photo: ABC)
    Claire Danes in My So-Called Life. (Photo: ABC)

    Welcome to Needle Drop, our ongoing series about crucial pop music moments on TV. It's brought to you by Mark Blankenship, Primetimer's Reviews Editor and the co-host of the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    Angela Chase wasn't the type to rock out. Anyone who watched My So-Called Life, the short-lived but much-loved 90s teen drama, knew that Angela (Claire Danes) gravitated toward moodier, sadder music that echoed her emotional turmoil. How could she possibly listen to, like, En Vogue when she was pining for Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto)? How could she sing along to Madonna when Jordan's band Frozen Embryos was playing sad-guy rock music with their acoustic guitars and their floppy bangs?

    Accordingly, the show's soundtrack featured mid-90s indie stars like Buffalo Tom, Afghan Whigs, and Juliana Hatfield, who even showed up in the Christmas episode as a sad angel. Dousing one's self in this music increased the pleasure of witnessing Angela's teenage angst.

    But things shifted in Episode 17, "Betrayal." Knowingly, it opens with the lush, plinky score we're used to, along with an arty shot of Danes' contemplative face. It would seem to be business as usual. Then, however, Angela confesses she's over Jordan. Over him! Done!

    And we hear Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun."

    For 50 glorious seconds, we see Angela being carefree and happy. Instead of a young woman making the painful journey into adulthood, she's a goofy kid dancing around in her pajamas and doing flips on her bed.

    "Blister in the Sun," which is bratty and low-fi and exuberant, is the perfect song for this burst of energy, and since Violent Femmes are a cool indie band, it's believable that Angela would have this CD tucked in her Case Logic.

    Dramaturgically, it matters that Angela begins the episode this way, since by the end of it, she's reeling from the news that her best friend Rayanne (A.J. Langer) has slept with Jordan. Angela's crash in those scenes is even more palpable because the "Blister in the Sun" dance break was such an exhilarating high.

    Violent Femmes released the song 39 years ago this week, but it's hard to mention it now without thinking of My So-Called Life. Let other people say "Blister in the Sun" is about heroin abuse or self-pleasure. For those who were watching TV in 1995, it will always be Angela's anthem.

    My So Called Life is available for streaming on Hulu and ABC.com

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    Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.

    TOPICS: My So-Called Life, ABC, Claire Danes, Jared Leto, Needle Drop