March 3, 2020

Social healing anthems come from manic pixie dream girls

The role of the manic pixie dream girl is to coax socially wary men out of their refractory-phase shells, in order to get both sexes re-acquainted with each other during the warm-up phase of the excitement cycle.

It's a form of social integration: undoing the social isolation of everyone huddling under a pile of blankets during their emo vulnerable phase, and getting them to join a social whole -- whether it's the two sexes interacting in ordinary public places, a dance club, or actually dating and mating.

The MPDG role is a kind of social healer, nursing others out of their state of social isolation, which heals the collective back into an integrated functioning whole. I don't mean "social healing" in any other sense (social justice, etc.).

We've already seen that these roles are overwhelmingly played by women who were born during the manic phase of the 15-year excitement cycle. They imprinted on an atmosphere of carefree invincibility regarding social relations, and are the most unflappable in that domain of life -- and so, the most capable of encouraging others that there's nothing to be afraid of about social integration.

In their movie roles, the specific kind of social integration they encourage is forming a couple between the male protagonist and a love interest (perhaps the MPDG herself). But there are other kinds of social integration that people who are just coming out of a refractory phase might be wary about pursuing, and may be tempted to continue wallowing in isolation.

An earlier post looked at resilience anthems, which appear during the warm-up phase as people start to come out of their emo cocoons. Only two of those songs are by women, and they're distinct from the male songs in having a more personal, intimate, direct, one-on-one address, as though the singer were a therapist or nurse to the listener. The kind of social integration here is all-purpose -- to get over self-doubt and self-pity, in order to form fulfilling relationships in general.

Both of these songs are performed by manic-phase births -- all three members of Wilson Phillips ("Hold On") are late '60s births, and Avril Lavigne ("Keep Holding On") is an early '80s birth. As a bonus, on the same album as "Hold On," Wendy Wilson was given a song ("Impulsive") in which she exhibits spontaneous, free-spirited traits that cement her in the MPDG role during the early '90s warm-up phase.

But the new genre I want to showcase in this post is the anthem that is a certain kind of therapeutic, self-empowerment, "you are not alone," "things will get better" type. It comes in the form of a direct, intimate, one-on-one address, like a therapist or nurse again. It's empathetic toward the listener's depression, doubt, etc., portraying it as a kind of social isolation. After trusting in the encouragement of the singer-nurse, the listener will feel better -- not in some generic sense, but specifically by being accepted by a larger group, by fitting in. It's encouraging social integration over isolation. The listener initially doubts that this is possible because of their gloomy view about their own individual quirks and traits -- but the singer-nurse assures them that being who they are is not going to make them ostracized, but will make them welcomed by the group.

The four examples are "True Colors" (1986) by Cyndi Lauper, "Hero" (1993) by Mariah Carey, "Beautiful" (2002) by Christina Aguilera, and "Firework" (2010) by Katy Perry. Lest I be accused of cherry-picking, I got them from Wikipedia's list of gay anthems. But they are universal in appeal -- they don't make any reference to the listener as marginalized, outcast, misfit, freak, weirdo, etc. All sorts of people may feel socially isolated, not just the tiny minority who are actively marginalized (or marginalize themselves).

Only one of these comes from a warm-up phase ("Hero"), one from a manic phase ("Firework"), and two from vulnerable phases ("True Colors" and "Beautiful"). So they are not linked by the phase they appear in, nor therefore what particular function they play within the excitement cycle. The tone is different according to their phase, with the vulnerable-phase ones sounding much more emo, and the manic-phase one sounding the most upbeat and carefree. But they do share the common theme described above.

All four of these songs were performed by manic-phase births: Lauper was born in the early '50s, Carey in the late '60s,* and both Aguilera and Perry in the early '80s. No matter what phase they found themselves in, they carried an imprint stemming from their birth (whose phase repeated when they were 15 and hitting their social stride as adolescents). They were meant to play a social healing role, whatever atmosphere they found themselves in at the time.

Since only one song is from a warm-up phase, it's not accurate to refer to these songs as manic pixie dream girl songs, but the performers do possess the free-spirited and spontaneous traits that are associated with the role. It may be hard to remember, but Mariah Carey was a different persona back in the '90s (see the video for "Dreamlover," during a warm-up phase, where she couldn't look like more of a MPDG). And Katy Perry was still fairly MPDG: compare the video for "Simple" (2005) with the video for "Firework," and see how similar her expressions are, looking directly into the camera with a sympathetic and encouraging look, reaching out her hand for reassurance, etc. Not a sex-bomb persona.

Finally, I'll reiterate that these are universal in their appeal, rather than "let you freak flag fly" anthems, which are a separate sub-genre on the gay anthem list, and are more apropos for deviants. I include "Brave" by Sara Bareilles in that category, since it's specifically about an outcast, someone getting bullied who ought to stand up to their bullies. Those don't show a bias toward performers born in any phase: Pink and Bareilles are warm-up phase births (late '70s), Kelly Clarkson ("People Like Us") is a manic-phase birth (early '80s), and Lady Gaga and Kesha are vulnerable-phase births (late '80s).

I looked for examples of social healing anthems before the 1980s but couldn't find any. They appear to reflect the neoliberal era's alienation and social isolation, and the need it causes for reassurance that they'll belong to a healthy group at some point. The hyper-competitive norm of the status-striving era also means that people are more likely to cut others loose, and to focus more on one's own needs than on including others in the group. The songs above serve to ameliorate the sense of hopelessness and isolation.

"Lean on Me" from 1972 is not an example, since it's about solidarity among equals within a community, rather than a relationship between nurse / therapist and patient. Its ethos belongs to the New Deal era, before neoliberalism. But for what it's worth, Bill Withers is also a manic-phase birth (late '30s).

* Wikipedia says Mariah Carey was born in either '69 or '70, with claims made in the media on both sides. But in a discrepancy over the year a woman says she was born in, always go with the earlier one. Especially if it straddles a decade boundary, and might make her think she's a full decade younger by being born "in the '70s" rather than "in the '60s".

All of Mariah Carey's personality traits and facial expressions, from her heyday during the '90s, resemble those of manic-phase births -- carefree, wholesome, and free-spirited, not an instigating provocative wild child (warm-up phase births), and not grave, tragic, or emo (vulnerable phase births).


  1. I was surprised Gwen Stefani and Kelly Clarkson didn't make social healing anthems. They'd seem to be naturals: born in a manic phase (late '60s, early '80s), and in their heyday of the 2000s had an hourglass shape, members of the IBTC, and nice round buns.

    Clarkson is a "big-voiced diva" whose first hit was an uplifting and inspirational ballad ("A Moment Like This"). But she never fit into a role addressing another person who she wasn't in a relationship with. Her persona is a little too intimate, and prevents her from playing a therapist / nurse / counselor role, as they don't already have lasting personal relationships with their patients.

    And of course most of her songs are about me, me, me. So self-focused and self-loathing. Obsession with abandonment and being mistreated. Fixated on revenge fantasies against those people.

    She's not a gay icon, she's a bitter BPD winemom icon. Specifically one who transplanted to the suburban Sun Belt ("Breakaway").

    Gwen Stefani is not bitter so much as bittersweet -- too wounded herself to play the healing role. I think she was molested growing up, or something. She was married to a homo (the singer from Bush) for 15 years -- doesn't trust men who have sexual feelings toward her.

    If anything, she's the one looking for a manic pixie dream guy to heal her social isolation ("Sweet Escape").

  2. Can't believe those damn cucks in Minnesota

  3. You see it on the male side also - men indicating they're willing to heal a woman, but also yearning to be healed:

    "Buy you a Drank" - man willing to heal a woman - subtle, but the line "you can do it all by yourself" indicates urging someone forward, plus the more lighthearted and relaxed tone -more like kicking back in a jacuzzi, indicates regeneration

    "Hey Soul Sister" - man healing woman

    Man yearning to be healed: Akon's "Bartender"

    Woman yearning to be healed: "Halo"(Beyonce)


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