A lot of Democrats would probably like to go back to the late 1990s to change a few things (namely spending just a liiiiittle more time in Florida making sure people know how to fully punch through their 2000 presidential election ballot). But there seems to be another reason Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, wants to party like it’s 1998: the New Radicals. Our nation’s soon-to-be first First Gentleman handpicked New Radical’s “You Get What You Give” as his walk-on song during rallies ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Now the band is reuniting for the first time in over 20 years to close out the Biden-Harris administration’s virtual “Parade Across America” event on Wednesday, Rolling Stone reports.
“If there’s one thing on Earth that would possibly make us get the band together, if only for a day, it is the hope that our song could be even the tiniest beacon of light in such a dark time,” New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander, who dismantled his band in 1999 when the pressures of fame became too stressful, said in a statement. “America knows in its heart that things will get bright again with a new administration and a real plan for vaccines on the way. That’s the message of the song… this world is gonna pull through.”
The performance—which will take place after the swearing-in ceremony—is the first time the band will reunite on stage since breaking up just months after finding success with their only hit single “You Get What You Give” (though their second single off Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, “Someday We’ll Know,” is also worth checking out).
In 2015, Annie Zaleski wrote an ode to “You Get What You Give” for The A.V. Club, examining how the deeper meaning behind the seemingly frothy pop song gave the one-hit wonder staying power.
On one level, “You Get What You Give” almost feels like [frontman Gregg] Alexander’s pep talk to himself to continue on his creative path. The song’s lyrics remind dreamers who feel down on their luck that they’re special and capable, even if they’re broke and desperate (“Don’t let go / You’ve got the music in you”), and encourages them to hang on despite bleak times. Still another throwaway line even seems to presage his disappearance: “Don’t give up / Just don’t be afraid to leave.” In fact, “You Get What You Give” has plenty of subtle layers. The beginning hints at stifling religious forces and youthful abandon; later, there’s a plea to strive for substance, as well as an oblique reference to romantic solidarity. Even the recurring phrase, “We only get what we give,” is deceptively simple: It hints at deeper philosophical and spiritual conversations about the impact a person’s life has on the world.
But this optimism was tempered by the end of the song, which devolved into a very specific, deliberate critique of oppressive forces. “As an experiment on the song ‘You Get What You Give,’ I had what at the time was one of the more political lyrics in a long, long, long time, to the point where some of the people I was working with were horrified,” Alexander told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, during his first interview in 15 years. “In a pop song, I was going after health insurance companies and corruption—‘Health insurance rip off lying’; the FDA, the Food And Drug Administration, and the hypocrisy of the war on drugs, which was not real; ‘big bankers’ and Wall Street. To allude to all that stuff in a pop song was, in retrospect, a naively crazy proposition.” But not only did this hiding-in-plain-sight political statement give the song weight, it’s kept the tune relevant 15-plus years later, because the issues Alexander spoke of are still pressing concerns.
The song also has deeper meaning for President-elect Joe Biden. In his 2017 autobiography, Promise Me, Dad, Biden wrote that “You Get What You Give” became an important anthem for son Beau Biden during his battle with cancer: “During breakfast, Beau would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals,” reads an excerpt noted by Rolling Stone. “Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most – I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: This whole damn world can fall apart. You’ll be ok, follow your heart.”
Alexander’s statement also acknowledges the impact his band’s hit had on the heads of the new administration: “Performing the song again after such a long time is a huge honor because we all have deep respect for Beau’s military service and such high hopes for the unity and normalcy Joe and Kamala will bring our country again in this time of crisis.”
Us too, Gregg. Us too.