Music Monday – Barbie Girl and The Last Time I Danced With Abandon

Barbie Girl came out in 1997, and was popular through to 1999. This song reminds me of my first school dance.

There are no school dances in Taiwan. In Taiwan, we have strict final exams in Grade 6, the results of which decided your future. Depending on your grade, you could end up going to Trade School (trade school at 12, imagine that) or you’d be going on to further academics. We had no school dances.

My first official school dance was in Grade 7. It was my first year at a middle school. It was the Halloween dance. October 1998.

The dress I had on: a white sailor dress with big red bows on the front and back. It was a child’s dress, but I loved it. I was still very much the fobby (fresh off the boat) kid at school, but it was Halloween: everyone was bound to look silly, right?

Imagine this dress in white

Turned out, 12 to 15 year old teenagers don’t dress up in costumes for a school dance, doesn’t matter what we’re celebrating. It was a rare chance for them to “look nice and sexy” without being “too weird”.

And there I was, the girlish sailor dress, with a girl’s black shiny shoes, frilly socks to go with them. I wore my hair in pig tails… a style my mother had convinced me was perfect for a 12 year old at her first school dance.

I found my friends… okay, my one friend, Heather Price, pretty soon after I walked in. I remember avoiding meeting anyone’s eye. I could hear them laughing and jeering. For some reason I don’t remember feeling ashamed. I remember thinking that I should be ashamed, but I just didn’t feel it.

Heather had worn jean shorts and a tight tank top. She had to fight her mother on letting her wear hoops in her ears, and her make up was too light (we could wear make up?!). Heather told me she liked my dress, there was no sarcasm or irony in her voice. That was why Heather was my only friend; she was never judgmental. Later I would learn that she grew up this way because her family had raised them as “good Christians”, who are just generally good to everybody.

Barbie Girl came on the loud speakers. Heather asked me if I wanted to find her other friends and dance. I did. My brother and I had spent the whole summer playing Aquarium on repeat. Aqua was the first music group we were ever obsessed with since moving to Canada.

Dancing with my good friend Heather to Barbie Girl made me forget all about the laughter at my expense. I ended up having a great night. It was the first time I understood the liberating properties of throwing my limbs about to the beat of music I loved. That one night, it didn’t matter I was ostracized by pretty much all of my peers because of my stuttering Otherness. I danced and laughed until my face was flushed and my throat was soar.

That was my favorite school dance of all school dances. In later years when I learned how to be a “normal” North American teenager, I became too aware of what other girls thought of me, too concerned with whether boys liked what they saw in me. I never danced again with as much abandon as I did that night, and that is a little sad.

Music Monday: Iris by Goo Goo Dolls

Music Mondays… each Monday, I’ll pick a song from my memory banks and write about it.

The song is originally written for the 1998 movie, City of Angels. So naturally almost everyone associates Iris with Nicholas Cage & Meg Ryan.

But for me? Iris reminds me of Monica.

Monica was one of my best friends in middle school. Monica is an only child, an over achiever. She liked bands like Goo Goo Dolls and Red Hot Chili Peppers, which is pretty unusual for a Chinese teenager with a nerdy bob of a hair cut, glasses, acne, and braces.

We spent many afternoons after school sitting on her bed, listening to songs from her favorite bands while we chatted about nothing. While Monica was extremely intelligent, she somehow stooped to my level and listened to me whine about young teenage nonsense. Monica didn’t have a “crush” on any boys at school. I had a running list of “Hot 10”. Monica wasn’t into make up, or looking good. I was desperately trying to fit in with blood red nail polish and sparkly white eyeliner.

We were opposites.

But we talked, and we listened to each other, for hours on end. We wrote each other lengthy notes while sitting bored in class, and we’d slip them into each other’s lockers through the crack between the metal.

Our friendship ended fairly simply. Monica did something to another friend of ours that I could not forgive. I always knew that Monica was the type of take advantage; to step over others to get to the top. It’s not something she could have helped; she was raised that way. Monica was cursed with both a Tiger Mom and a Tiger Dad, and in a single-child family, that meant your fate was sealed.

Our friendship ended over one lunch hour, when I’d found her in the Art classroom having lunch with a group of our friends. I cornered her, my anger for the injustice fueling an hour-long “telling-off”. Monica never said a word in reply. I kept yelling even though the class bell, even through the next class filing in. I finally stopped when our Art teacher came in, and tried to gently steer me away.

When I hear Iris, I think of the countless afternoons we spent sitting on the edge of her bed, the song playing in the background. Her telling me about her parents and the next impossible task they had in store for her. Me telling her about the stories I was planning to write and her giving me her opinions on them.

Monica had been a true friend. I was too young and stupid to know how to maintain it. I was too rash to forgive. But I’m really happy that I have such fond memories attached to an old song, and I’m really happy to have known her.