Channel Awesome
Bitch

ONE HIT WONDERLAND Bitch.jpg

Date Aired
June 1, 2021
Running Time
19:15
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Todd plays "Bitch" on the piano.

MEREDITH BROOKS - BITCH

A one-hit wonder retrospective

Todd: Welcome to One Hit Wonderland, where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. This week, we are going back to the nineties. And one of the best things about that decade was that it was a truly glorious time for chick rock.

Montage clips of nineties female rock videos

Todd (VO): Women never had more of a presence in rock and roll than they did during this period. It was so big that they had a whole touring festival, Lilith Fair, devoted to it.

Todd: And then everything got [clip of Nickelback - "How You Remind Me"] replaced by bro-ey suck rock and nothing was ever good again. But for a while, it was great.

Clip of Meredith Brooks - "Bitch"

Todd (VO): And somehow, despite my love of nineties alt rock, I have never covered any of the alternative women on this show. So, I figured I might as well cover...

Todd: ...the biggest One Hit Wonder from this sub-genre. But this one's kinda fraught.

Meredith Brooks: I'm a bitch, I'm a lover

I'm a child, I'm a mother

Todd (VO): In 1997, Meredith Brooks [image of "Bitch" single cover] shocked America with a single word.

Todd: And she did not feel ashamed.

Meredith: I do not feel ashamed

Todd (VO): Rebelling against a culture of forced femininity, her song "Bitch" rose all the way to number 2 in the summer of 1997. Striking a bold blow against the patriarchy or something.

Meredith: I hate the world today

This is a song that I probably should have covered a long time ago. And I haven't, cause...

Todd: Quite frankly, I don't like this song and never have. Now, I was afraid to say that for a long time, because...

Todd (VO): ...the song "Bitch" seemed to mean something to a lot of women. Something empowering, made them feel like they were allowed to be messy and contradictory and pissed off sometimes if they were angry, god damnit.

Todd: So for me, it was like, you know, "Way to go, Todd, you're gonna shit all over this. What's the matter, you chauvinist pig? You can't handle and outspoken woman!?"

Todd (VO): So I was thinking maybe I'd just keep this one in my pocket.

Todd: But, [images of 1997 Mentos ad, PC Magazine cover and Barbies] 1997 was a long time ago. And this song has aged... very strangely.

Clip of "Bitch"

Todd (VO): At one time, I think at least some people really did consider this to be bold and challenging. But since then, the song has become... [image of Tweet reading "I'm a bitch, I'm a lover, I'm Hulk Hogan, Hey there brother"] more of a meme than anything.

Todd: It certainly hasn't gone away, but...

Todd (VO): I think it's more seen now as part of a long tradition of [images of a mug with "Girl Boss" written on it...] well intentioned, but [..."All About That Bass" single cover...] corny pop feminism that seems kind of [...and "Sex and the City" poster] shallow and embarrassing in hindsight.

Todd: Is that fair?

Clip of "Bitch"

Todd (VO): I think that a song with this kind of longevity sort of deserves more consideration than that. So I may wind up defending it more than I expected to.

Todd: As befitting a song about the complexities of womanhood, it leaves a complicated legacy.

Todd (VO): Who was Meredith Brooks? And what are we to make of her biggest hit?

Todd: Was it a raging blow against sexism?

Todd (VO): Or was it just [clip of "All Star" by...] girl-power Smash Mouth.

Todd: We shall see.

Meredith: Tomorrow I will change

And today won't mean a thing

I'm a

Before the hit

Todd: I realize it is gauche to talk about a woman's age, but Meredith got her big break pretty late. [screenshots of article with "31-year-old" highlighted...] Articles from the time said she was 31, [...and another article with "38" highlighted] Wikipedia now says she was 38. I don't know which one's right.

Clip of interview with Meredith

Todd (VO): But either way, that's some persistence in a really ageist music industry that doesn't have any use for women past age 26.

Todd: So yeah, she's been trying to make it for a while.

Image of Meredith Brooks - "The Look/Pick It Up" cover art

Todd (VO): As you can tell from the cover art for this much earlier single of hers. Nice 1984 hair. [clip of The Graces live performance] But, in 1989, she finally got her first major label record deal.

Todd: Or, more accurately, [image of...] one of the Go-Go's got a record deal and she was on it.

Clip of The Graces - "Lay Down Your Arms" live performance

The Graces: Lay down your arms

Lay down, down, down, down

Todd (VO): This is the all-girl band The Graces. Led by Charlotte Caffey, [clip of The Go-Go's live performance] formerly the main guitarist and lead songwriter for The Go-Go's. [clip of "Lay Down Your Arms" performance] That's Meredith there on the right. [clip of "Lay Your Arms Down" by...] The Graces put out one album in 1989. It sounds weirdly more like The Bangles than The Go-Go's. They had one minor single that didn't crack the top 40 and the album tanked. Meredith has said the experience was great, but [clips of live performance from...] The Go-Go's came up together in the punk scene, [...and "Lay Down Your Arms"] The Graces were manufactured by a label and it just never felt legit.

Todd: Meredith quit the band to find her own way. [clip of interview with Meredith] I don't know what she did for the next eight years, but I do know what was happening in the background.

Clip of Bikini Kill - "Rebel Girl"

Kathleen Hanna: Rebel girl, rebel girl

Todd (VO): In the early nineties, a new female punk movement called Riot Girl started springing up. [clip of Hole - "Violet"] Within a couple years, the unapologetically female anger it pioneered had bled over to mainstream artists. The most famous example of which being:

Clip of Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know" live performance

Alanis Morissette: I'm here to remind you

Todd (VO): In 1995, former Canadian teen-pop star Alanis Morissette releases her first American record, Jagged Little Pill.

Todd: By 1996, she is the biggest star in music.

Clip of Alanis Morissette live performance

Alanis: You heard, you heard

Todd (VO): You know today, record labels are looking for the next Billie Eilish. Last decade, they were looking for the next Lorde.

Todd: In the nineties, they were looking for the next Alanis.

Clip of Alanis Morissette live performance

Todd (VO): Meredith claims she got signed before Jagged Little Pill took off, but [image of newspaper article saying Meredith sounds like Alanis] Alanis will loom large over the rest of her career.

Todd: But for a while, it didn't look like Meredith was gonna be the next anything.

Clip of Meredith Brooks live performance

Todd (VO): She kept turning in songs, the label was just never impressed. [clip of interview with...] She was collaborating with an industry songwriter, Shelly Peiken, to try and find something.

Shelly Peiken: I was feeling kinda stressed, kinda PMS-ey, kinda bitchy. And I had this thought.

The big hit

Clip of "Bitch"

Todd (VO): Meredith co-wrote the song, but it was Shelly Peiken's original concept. [clip of interview with Shelly] She was in a bad mood one day because...

Todd: ...she'd been in the industry for ten years and none of the song's she had sold had become hits.

Todd (VO): And then she gets to thinking how understanding her man was even when she was being pissy like this.

Todd: And that's where the song comes from. So... it's kind of a love song, really.

Shelly: I call Meredith, she totally got it. Because she was that bitch too.

Todd (VO): Ha-ha. [clip of interview with Meredith] Now, the two of them have a lot to say now about how empowering it is to flip that insult around.

Meredith: There's definitely a side of me that can be what society calls as a bitch. But what I wanted to do is change the meaning of the word by using my semantic realignment theory and take the negative meaning off the word.

But her producer says that when she first brought it in, she was worried they'd written an anti-feminist song.

Todd: And the producer was like "No, you've hit on something very powerful here."

Clip of interview with...

Todd (VO): Her producer, by the way, was a guy named Geza X. A guy who'd already produced some...

Todd: ...all-time classic pop songs. Like [clip of...] "Holiday in Cambodia" by The Dead Kennedys.

Jello Biafra: It's holiday in Cambodia

It's tough, kid, but it's life

Todd: That's very funny to me.

Todd (VO): This guy was an original punk. [clip of...] He produced "Lexicon Devil" by The Germs. And now...

Todd: ...here he is, making adult alternative secretary rock.

Clip of "Bitch"

Meredith: I hate the world today

Todd (VO): [sighs] But anyway, now we got to get to the actual song. And...

Todd: [sighs] I'm-I'm sorry this, this has always rubbed me the wrong way.

Meredith: I don't envy you

Todd (VO): Ok, it's not that I'm put off...

Todd: ...by a woman being shamelessly [air quotes] "bitchy".

Todd (VO): Let me first say that I get why this song was a hit. And that it was actually challenging for the time.

Todd: And it's not because the title is a bad word.

Clip of Meredith Brooks live performance

Todd (VO): Meredith was nervous about that. And apparently some stations would not even say the title when they played it.

Todd: But, it wasn't the first song to say that word.

Clips of "Bitch" by...

Todd (VO): You had The Rolling Stones, [...and "The Bitch Is Back" by...] you had Elton John.

Todd: No, the challenging part wasn't "bitch". It was "I'm a bitch".

Clip of "Bitch"

Meredith: I'm a bitch, I'm a lover

I'm a child, I'm a mother

Todd (VO): That was a shocking statement.

Todd: That seems silly now, cause the word [images of things with "Bitch" written on them] "bitch" has been so thoroughly overused and re-appropriated it's more playful than harsh these days.

Video of a little girl

Girl: You pay now, bitch!

Clip from Breaking Bad

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul): Yeah, bitch! Magnets!

Todd: Women still get called bitches, obviously. But [images reading "That's Queen Bitch to you"...] they call themselves bitches, [...and "These are my Bitches"] they call the friends bitches. Everyone calls everyone bitch.

Clip of Lizzo - "Truth Hurts"

Lizzo: I'm 100% that bitch

Todd (VO): It's basically a pronoun at this point.

Todd: But in the nineties, that word meant something.

Clip of The Prodigy ft. Shahin Badar - "Smack My Bitch Up"

Shahin Badar: Change my pitch up

Smack my bitch up

Todd: Not something good, but something.

Todd (VO): Or, I don't know, maybe I was just a little kid and all bad words were shocking to me in the nineties. But I'm pretty sure I'm right about this. [clip of "Bitch"] So for Meredith Brooks to reclaim the word and say "Yes, I am angry and unpleasant sometimes and I'm not gonna apologize." That was a big deal.

Meredith: You know you wouldn't want it any other way

And a lot of women did feel empowered by this. And if you see a lot of women proudly claiming the label these days...

Todd: ...this song was probably a big part of why.

Clip of Missy Elliott - "She's a Bitch"

Todd (VO): A couple years after Meredith, you had Missy Elliott singing "She's a bitch".

Missy Elliott: She's a bitch

Todd: And that pretty much did it. From then on, we had bad bitches everywhere.

Clip of "Bitch"

Todd (VO): So I get all that, I do. That's not my problem with the song.

Todd: [beat] Ok, maybe it is a tiny bit.

Meredith: Take me as I am

Todd (VO): I've known enough toxic people, men and women, who've done the whole, you know...

Todd: "I'm not perfect, you have to take me as I am".

Todd (VO): And it does remind me of excuses I've heard for some pretty awful behavior. So...

Todd: ...that does put me on edge a little bit.

Meredith: This may mean you'll have to be a stronger man

Todd: [cringes, then image of supposed Marilyn Monroe quote] If you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my- Marylin Monroe never said this. So there's a part of me that's, you know, says this song makes Meredith sound a little self-absorbed and erratic.

Meredith: Tomorrow I will change

And today won't mean a thing

Todd: No, the things you do today do matter tomorr- Whatever, let's not make more of this than what it is. That's not my real problem with the song.

Meredith: I'm an angel underneath

Todd (VO): The thing is that being a bitch is not actually what the song's about. It's a major element and it's the name of the song and, you know, it's the majority of the verses. But...

Todd: ...it's not the main thing.

Clip of "Bitch" live performance

Meredith: I'm a little bit of everything

All rolled into one

Todd (VO): The theme of the song is that being a bitch...

Todd: ...is just one of her many facets.

Meredith: I'm a sinner, I'm a saint

Todd (VO): She's a bitch. She's a lover.

Todd: She's a child, she's a mother, she's a sinner, she's a saint.

Meredith: I'm nothing in between

Todd (VO): There are just so many characteristics and components to her. A woman contains multitudes.

Todd: And I'm sorry, this shit just makes me roll my eyes into the back of my head.

Clip of "Bitch"

Meredith: I'm a bitch, I'm a tease

I'm a goddess on my knees

Todd (VO): You have multiple personality traits, you play many roles. You don't say.

Todd: For her being older than most of her peers, this just sounds so adolescent.

Todd (VO): Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm sad. Sometimes I'm fun and sometimes I'm gwumpy.

Todd: Yeah no shit, everyone has multiple dimensions. How is this an insight worth writing a song about?

Todd (VO): It is just pure fucking cornball. And the title doesn't help it either.

Todd: Any charge this song has comes from her dropping the b-word. But the song otherwise is so edgeless.

Clips of Alanis Morisette's...

Todd (VO): "You Oughta Know" is very much a bitchy song. [...No Doubt's...] And "Just A Girl" still fuckin' rips. [...and...] But "Bitch" has the unthreatening, relatable tone of a viral post your aunt shared on Facebook. It kinda feints at being aggressive, but mostly it's just cute.

Todd: Oh God, that felt good to say. But, now that I've finally gotten that out of me, I actually feel a lot more kind to this song.

Clip of "Bitch" live at Lilith Fair 1997

Meredith: I've been numb, I'm revived

You can't say I'm not alive

Todd (VO): I don't think anyone's gonna disagree or get mad at me for my issues with the song. But...

Todd: The song's 25 years old now. By this point it's clear; no one cares.

Todd (VO): It stood the test of time. In the end, none of my complaints mattered. Including to me I realize now. What matters is that it goes "I'm a bitch sometimes, deal with it." The rest is window dressing.

Todd: And despite me saying that it's edgeless...

Todd (VO): ...now that I really listen to it, it does actually rocks a lot harder than I ever gave it credit for.

Snippet of "Bitch" guitar solo

And there is something about that hook. You can call it basic, but some songs can become so basic that they come out the other side. They become iconic and universal. [clip of...] Like, "Creep" by Radiohead is one of my favorite songs so I don't know if I have room to complain about anything else being blunt and obvious.

Clip of "Bitch"

Todd (VO): And on top of everything, it's just a really well constructed song. That hook's pretty undeniable. I guess in the end, "Bitch" won out because I do appreciate it despite its imperfections. It's a song that needed to exist.

Todd: But the grand irony, of course, is that Meredith Brooks was trying to make the case that she was a multifaceted person. And yet she would always be defined by one song.

Meredith: I'm a bitch

Todd (VO): She's a bitch, she's a...

Todd: Well, what else is she? What other parts of her did we not get to see?

The failed follow-up

Clip of Meredith Brooks - "I Need"

Meredith: I need some good luck

I need a best friend

I need a rough dog

Todd (VO): This is Meredith Brooks' second single, "I Need". It's all about the billion things that she says that she needs.

Meredith: A week on an island

A diet that works

That's all I need

See how easy I am to please

Todd: This is hack-tacular. I hate this.

Meredith: Cool friends, weekends

And someone to die for

Todd (VO): It's so undercooked, the chorus is barely there. This is as cheesy as "Bitch" but without any of the power. There's no substance to the hook, it's just a lame self-deprecating joke.

Meredith: See how easy I am to please

Todd: And look, Meredith Brooks really did not like being compared to Alanis Morisette.

Clip of Sheryl Crow - "If It Makes You Happy"

Todd (VO): She thought of herself as more of a Sheryl Crow type. You know, that's who she thought she was gonna have to defend herself from comparisons to. [clip of "I Need" live performance] And I see what she means. She was a girl with a guitar. She probably started in a rootsier place than where she wound up.

Meredith: That's all I need

Todd: But the comparison is just unavoidable.

Clip of Alanis Morisette - "All I Really Want"

Alanis: All I really want is deliverance

Todd (VO): They have similar singing styles, they have similar production. Their biggest songs were very brazenly, confrontationally female.

Todd: The big difference was that Alanis was a much more interesting songwriter.

Clip of "I Need"

Todd (VO): Meredith wrote this one with [brief clip of interview with...] Shelly Peiken too, and I- [back to "I Need"] I think it's worth noting where Peiken went with her career.

Todd: It sure wasn't angry Riot Girl alt rock.

Montage clip of Brandy - "Almost Doesn't Count"; Christina Aguilera - "What a Girl Wants"; Cast of Descendants - "Rotten to the Core"

Todd (VO): She made hits for Brandy, Christina Aguilera.

Carlos (Cameron Boyce): Rotten to the core, core

What, seriously? Ok. [clip of "I Need"] Regardless, they both seem outmatched by this singer-songwritery brand of rock which demands something more thoughtful.

Clip of Meredith Brooks - "What Would Happen"

Todd (VO): "I Need" didn't chart. This is her other single, "What Would Happen".

Meredith: What would happen if we kissed?

Would your tongue slip past my lips?

It's hot, it's sexy. I think it's probably her best single. It did chart, but it landed outside the top 40.

Todd: For what it's worth, Geza X has a different take on Meredith's failure to capitalize on her hit.

Clip of interview with Geza X

Todd (VO): He said he had more interesting plans for Meredith. He was gonna push her into new sonic ideas. But the label decided they wanted someone safer, [clip of "What Would Happen"] and so they brought in one of Sheryl Crow's collaborators and the result was a petty uninteresting record.

Todd: Meredith never really recovered from it.

Did she ever do anything else?

Clip of Meredith Brooks - "Shout" live performance

Meredith: You've got something to shout about, baby

Todd (VO): For what it's worth, the second album is better. It's like a lot of failed second albums I've heard on this show. It's more confident and sophisticated, but that one magic hook just wasn't there.

Todd: Which is probably why the lead single is a cover.

Clip of Melanie - "Brand New Key"

Melanie: I got a brand new pair of roller skates

Todd (VO): This is early seventies folk singer Melanie, best known for the twee novelty hit "Brand New Key". [clip of Melanie - "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)"] But she had one other big hit in 1970, it's called "Lay Down" parentheses "(Candles in the Rain)".

Melanie: Lay down, lay down, lay it all down

Let your white birds

That's the one Meredith covered. [clip of Meredith Brooks - "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)"] Let's see how that turned out.

Meredith: Lay down, lay down

Queen Latifah: Come on

Todd (VO): What?

Meredith: At the ones who stand and frown

Queen Latifah: Bring it on, bring it on

Todd: [laughs] Didn't see that coming.

Meredith: Lay down, lay down

Queen Latifah: Lay it on down

Todd (VO): Ok, this song actually translates pretty well to the late nineties. But, apparently they wanted to make it really stand out, so they got Queen Latifah to add a guest verse.

Queen Latifah: Take the sunshine right from the sky

And let it shine on

Like, this seems like nothing now, but a song from an adult alternative artist having a rap verse on it, that's actually kind of bold and forward thinking, actually. The song is still very middle aged, though. I didn't even know Queen Latifah was still a rapper by then.

Todd: After her second album tanked, she basically disappeared.

Clip of Meredith Brooks - "Shine" acoustic performance

Todd (VO): She recorded a third album on a smaller label that... immediately folded. It got re-released on a different label a couple years later. And the title track actually became the theme for Dr. Phil for a few years. [clip of Jennifer Love Hewitt - "BareNaked"] She also wrote a whole album for Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Jennifer Love Hewitt: Bare naked and I just can't take it

You know, I think that's as good a sign as any about how this moment in rock became slicker and popier and then just ran outta gas.

Todd: It started with Annie DiFranco and Tori Amos, and it ended with the girl from I Know What You Did Last Summer trying to sing. [image of Meredith Brooks' If I Could Be... album cover] She wrote a children's album in 2007, and then just seems to disappear from public life completely.

Screenshot of AV Club article "Wow, 'Bitch' singer Meredith Brooks sure hates Hillary Clinton"

Todd (VO): Oh, except for a couple gossipy headlines she made in 2016. After she tweeted about how much she hated Hillary Clinton [screenshot of Meredith Brooks tweet from 2016] and how mean Hillary was being to Donald Trump.

Todd: [beat] Huh.

Clip of "Bitch" live performance

Todd (VO): Well, that should dampen your enjoyment of the song forever. In fact, she seems to be contradicting the message of her one song. But as she repeatedly tried to tell us, she is a...

Todd: ...very complicated person with many contradictions. [beat] Don't check out her Twitter feed, you won't like it.

Did she deserve better?

Todd: I was thinking of being kinder to her, but uh, seeing where she is now, you know what, no. No.

Clip of "Bitch" Lilith Fair performance

Todd (VO): The nineties just had way too many singer-songwriters who were just way more talented and way more interesting than Meredith Brooks. Her one statement to the world will remain "Bitch". A gift to wine moms everywhere. I still don't think I'm a fan of this song, but it feels like the world would be missing something without it.

Todd: It's relatable, it's universal. It's real dumb, it's controversial.

Todd (VO): It's perfect, it is lame.

Todd: It could not be sustained.

Todd (VO): To some, this song will always represent the normie commercialization of the Riot Girl moment, and it's no surprise it fizzled out for Meredith. But she has her place in pop culture. She made being a bitch mainstream.

Todd: Would you really want it any other way.

"Bitch" performance ends

Closing Tag Song: Chris Franklin - "Bloke"

THE END

"Bitch" is owned by Capitol Records

This video is owned by me

THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!!