January 12, 2020

Early '90s alterna Manic Pixie Dream Girls

In the post below about Manic Pixie Dream Girls being born, appropriately, during the manic phase of the 15-year excitement cycle, there's only one off-hand mention of the type from pop music during the restless warm-up phase of the early '90s (the phase when this type shows up).

It's worth fleshing that out with more examples, though, because at the time and ever since, the focus has been on the hard-edged aggressive women of the early '90s heyday of alternative rock, rather than the traditionally feminine helpers and partners of men. There's also the focus on the irony trend, when there was a notable counter-trend of heart-on-their-sleeve sincerity.

The background for this phenomenon was the vulnerable refractory phase of the late '80s, when soft rock and emo power ballads were the norm, and when there was a widespread fixation on being victimized (most obviously in the "Save the children" movement). During the warm-up phase of the early '90s, people were out of their refractory state, and women had to let men know that, hey, it's OK now, you can come out of your shell and we won't require a schmaltzy prostrating power ballad in order to trust you. We can just mix it up with each other again, and we women are only too eager to nurse you out of your funk if necessary -- how else are we going to connect?

That is the broad role of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and in pop music it's a more impressionistic persona that the performers convey, rather than a clearly defined character who plays such a role over the course of a narrative movie. But the basic traits are still all there -- quirky, eccentric, adorkable, directly addressing her male love interest, who may have trouble leaving his emo funk behind, but using her feminine charms and allure to pick up his spirits and get them together as a couple.

Other than that, they come in various flavors. However, all of the female singers below were born in the manic phase of the late '60s, and imprinted on that mood at an early age (as well as imprinting on the next manic phase, the early '80s, when they were 15 and just getting out of puberty). As with the actresses born in the late '60s, these musicians were best suited to playing the role of leading the charge out of the emo phase (the polar opposite of the one they've imprinted on and find most natural).

Many of the other alterna stars were born in the late '60s as well, but I'm leaving aside the hard-edged in-your-face ones (Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt, etc.). This is only looking at traditionally feminine ones who want to help weary guys come out of their late '80s emo cocoons.

Mazzy Star

Hope Sandoval is not as manic as the others, but no less of a pixie (5'0, size 0). As a waif, seemingly abandoned by her caretakers, she projects an anxious attachment style, but that insecurity does not diminish her eagerness and sincerity to form a deep connection. The anxiety only emphasizes how much she wants a partner, which combined with her petite frame and pouty lips, make her seem like a child who's upset that the immature boys aren't paying attention to her on the playground yet, but she's going to keep on trying until they do.

Guys in a social-emotional refractory state are behaving like prepubescent boys in a way -- "keep those annoying girls away, we don't want to play with them." But men in such a state are doubly wary of leaving their shell because they anticipate the women being in the same "leave me alone" state -- so it falls to the women to send the first signal that the anti-social withdrawn mood is over.

"Blue Flower" and "Fade Into You" (1990, 1993; live '94)

Juliana Hatfield Three

Another waif with an even more childlike voice -- this serves the purpose of not setting off the guy's alarm system. She couldn't be any less threatening -- "Don't worry, I won't bite". Guys coming out of a refractory state need to be approached more gently, so it's not a job for the hard-edged aggressive type of woman. It has to be a disarming pixie.

"Spin the Bottle" (1993)


This case is approaching a hybrid of the disarming feminine nurturer and the in-your-face badass chick type of the same era. But she stays just enough on the nurturing side of the line, without it being primarily an aggressive come-on. Pretty sensual though, especially in a live performance -- I never expected her to have such a ripe body, based on the "Human Behavior" video that introduced her to the world.

"Come to Me" (1993; live '94)

Lisa Loeb

Not the purest example of the type -- more of a neurotic overly attached girlfriend, rather than one coaxing you out of your shell to begin with. But that's still the opposite of being refractory and not wanting attachment whatsoever. Plus her image was an eccentric waif, and the video was in constant rotation on MTV. So it's still worth including in this survey.

"Stay (I Missed You)" (1994)


Just look at how unaffectedly smiley the lead singer is, and remember this is an all-girl early '90s punk-inspired band. Hence the label "cuddlecore". Her warm welcoming vibes are too infectious to resist -- you couldn't possibly want to languish in your goth/emo cocoon any longer, could you, anon?

"New York City" (1994/5?)


  1. Angela Nagle was born in '84. I was thinking who the "Cub" video reminded me of in the current online media world. Angela "Gigglepants" Nagle -- googled her name, and sure enough, born in the manic phase.

    BTW I found conflicting info on when that Cub album was released, either '94 or '95. The latest date given was Jan 15 '95, so even if it was released just outside of the warm-up phase, it was only by two weeks -- not a big exception to the overall chronology.

  2. Most of the other social media world are late '80s births, who imprinted on the emo phase. The two who come to mind are Aimee Terese and Anna Khachiyan.

    But this cohort in general are more likely to describe themselves as 100% submissive sexually, and would never take the initiative in making a connection even if they were eager for it to be made -- absolutely, the guy has to make the first move. That could be where their brand of anti-woke feminism comes from -- they imprinted on the refractory phase when they're holed up in a cocoon, so if either side is going to make the first move, it has to be the guy.

    Then there are the early '90s births, who imprinted on the mixing-it-up anything-goes warm-up phase. They give off crazy bitch vibes -- er, chaotic feminine energy. And as suitable as that is for getting themselves into the warm-up phase, it isn't suitable for coaxing guys out of their own cocoons. It's too threatening and destabilizing, and off-putting to such guys.

    These two cohorts are the most likely to attack and shame the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type.

    The girls born in a manic phase are the least likely to be totally submissive -- they imprinted on a phase where everyone feels invincible, where there's nothing to worry about since you can't get seriously hurt even if you sustain minor damage, you just brush it off and move on.

    So they're most able to take the initiative in connecting with guys -- at the extreme, it's the in-your-face hard-edged women of the early '90s who were born in the late '60s (Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt, etc.). But apart from that extreme, it's the Cub and Juliana Hatfield types who are willing to take the risk of putting themselves out there first, giving the boys a playful push on the playground to start off an interaction.

    Also, they don't have the crazy destabilizing vibes of those who imprinted on the warm-up phase, a time when people are shattering taboos in order to pull themselves out of the paranoid trauma-porn climate of the emo phase. The manic phase is when that transition has already been made, and people are coasting carefree on a high.

    Carefree is better than crazy when trying to coax someone out of a cocoon. Both find it undesirable for that person to be holed up in their own little world, but the approach is different.

    The carefree one makes light of it, says there's nothing to worry about, it's no big deal, trust me I won't bite, gives a giggle to reassure the cocooner. But the crazy one makes leaving the cocoon about shattering a taboo, take the transgressive plunge with me -- if you dare. It's not reassuring and gentle but disturbing and confusing.

    Like I said before, the next crop of Manic Pixie Dream Girls are probably going to be born from '95-'99, and they haven't yet emerged onto the social media scene as widely known personas. But I'm guessing those girls, who imprinted on the late '90s manic phase (and who emerged from puberty during the early 2010s manic phase) are going to have a more carefree tone about leaving the emo cocoon, and will not be as submissive -- and therefore, more comfortable taking the initiative to coax guys out of their own cocoons.

  3. the cub's album that new york city is on is called "come out come out" interestingly enough.

  4. Zach Braff is in on the 15-year cycle and manic-phase births. His movie Garden State, which I haven't seen, starred an '81 birth as the MPDG (Natalie Portman). Around that time, he was dating Mandy Moore, born in '84.

    There's nothing in his wikipedia until 2019, when he started dating Florence Pugh -- born in '96. Skipped right over the submissive late '80s births, and the wild child early '90s births, and found another manic-phase birth, now from the late '90s.

    Will she be a new Manic Pixie Dream Girl? No clue, I haven't seen anything she's in. The point is, that guy would know who has the potential for the role, and he instinctively picked a manic-phase birth for his first girlfriend in over a decade.

  5. I was looking over singers to see who could be the next such figure in pop music -- only mainstream one I could find who was born in the late '90s was Dua Lipa ('95). She's not a Manic Pixie type, but could work in the hard-edged role. Like the lead singer chick from Elastica (naturally born in the late '60s manic phase), only adapted to an electronic disco era rather than the bygone rock era. Maybe a cover of "Stutter" -- I could totally see that from her.

    Billie Eilish, BTW, is an emo phase birth ('01), in case you couldn't already tell. Won't be her.

    Most of the other recent ones who you'd think could try their hand at a high-energy pixie role are wild child births from the early '90s -- Charli XCX, Demi Lovato, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, etc.

    I was really hoping Ava Max would be a manic-phase birth, but she's another wild child (shocking), born in '94.

    But this role tends to be a break-out performance, so they're probably not an existing act that's going to transition into the role, but someone we haven't even seen yet.

  6. Natalia Dyer (Nancy in Stranger Things) was born in '95, not a wild child early '90s birth, also not a total submissive late '80s or early 2000s birth.

    Plus she's got the waifish figure, childlike doe eyes, and natural friendly smile. And just enough of a will of her own to take the initiative, playfully push the boys on the playground, etc. Non-threatening and nurturing, but also willing to make the first move if her crush is in a withdrawn emo cocoon.


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