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Connected to a Song: ‘You Get What You Give’ by New Radicals

The perfect balance of daring youth and commercial success.

I get a feeling of immense joy when I hear the opening guitar chords of the New Radicals ’90s hit “You Get What You Give.”

Although far gone from the days of bucket hats and the iconic paper cups with turquoise and purple squiggly lines, it is still one of my earliest memories of music. A track that, for all its sentimentality, will still stay with me forever.

The song immediately drew me in with its bright beginning. The opening guitar lines are instantly recognizable, and reels me into the ebullient spirit of the song. 

What sounds like an airplane taking off in the intro is followed by the coming together of buoyant keyboard notes and vibrant drums. The band’s front man Gregg Alexander sets the tone of the track, kicking things into high gear with his “One, two!”  “One, two, three, ow!”

The mood is carefree and relentless throughout. The lyrics build the intensity of the moment, leading to one of the catchiest bridges to a song I’ve ever heard. The perfect balance of daring youth and commercial success.

“You Get What You Give” was released on November 10, 1998 as the first single from the groups’ one and only studio album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too. The song is reminiscent of classic rock power ballads like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

Instead of crooning about unrequited love, songwriters Rick Nowels and Alexander choose to explore the complexities of unhappiness young people face due to societal pressure.

At its peak, the song rose to number 30 on Billboard Hot 100 in January 1999, and number eight on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. It reached number five in the United Kingdom and number one in Canada and New Zealand. The track is also featured on the soundtrack for the 2007 animated film Surf’s Up.

I remember first hearing this track at the young age of six. It is the first piece of music my mother shard with me, a song that she holds dear. Too young to grasp the lyrics completely, I connected to the music first.

Ever since that first listen the melody has radiated hope inside me. The kind of hope that uplifts you in times of uncertainty and reassures you in times of prosperity. I see vivid shades of yellow when ever I listen. It’s therapeutic.

Every time I hear the song I’m reminded of the countless times I’d play it when I was younger: times when the song would blast through the house as I danced around. To this day, when the pre-chorus plays I feel like a dove flying above the clouds. No matter how many times I’ve heard it — in shopping malls and cheesy commercials — I still feel free. I still feel the same pure ethereal comfort as the first time.

The opening lyric “Wake up kids/ we’ve got the dreamers disease” speaks to me in my very essence. I’ve always been the quiet dreamer, hoping and observing for the future. When Alexander sings that line I feel almost as if he’s only speaking to me.

When the bridge begins I get the same feeling of individuality, as the culmination of emotion in the lyrics and intensity in the music reaches its peak. This portion of the song touches on serious topics like health insurance and the FDA, while still giving it a light-hearted feel, dropping names like Cortney Love, Hanson, and Marilyn Manson.

According to Alexander, it was written in this way as an experiment to see which topics the media would focus on more.

What I love most about this song is that it allows me to create the magic of it for myself. With the music video having a carefree storyline and very few live performances available, the imagery I create while listening to “You Get What You Give” has become all my own, something completely personal to me. 

I love the duality in the song’s notes, how they can so easily make me melancholy or inspired. What has become cheesy, uninspired, or overplayed for others is serenity in motion for me

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