You Get What You Give and the Last True Sense of Millennial Joy
Updated: Sep 23, 2021
"You Get What You Give" by New Radicals was released November 3, 1998, and peaked at 36 on the Billboard charts in early 1999. Although not a massive hit at the time, there's something special that happens to anyone of a certain age whenever this song comes on at the supermarket or even, dare I say, an oldies station (Are we really that old that now late 90s tunes are appearing on oldies stations? Shit!). For myself, it takes me back to the feeling of possibility I felt on my first day as a high school freshman. Granted, high school for me largely felt like a four-year prison sentence. And where, admittedly, I did start to find myself towards the end, the joyful moments were few and far between. But, whenever this song comes on, it always makes me focus on the good times more than any other song can.
What is it about this five-minute burst of joy that has made so many Gen Xers and Millennials come back to it? Sometimes the euphoria of the song is enough for me to listen to New Radicals' other, kinda-ish big song that wound up finding success as a defacto soundtrack slot filler rather than the Billboard charts, "Some Day We'll Know." But there were bigger hits at the time. Why don't they hit the same way? Why don't I get that same special feeling whenever I listen to "Californication" or "Learn to Fly"? I don't feel reflective listening to any of the pop stars of the day. So what is it about this song that contains that extra magic?
Maybe it's that this song was the last genuine gasp of optimism for late Gen Xers and early Millennials. Six months after the song's release and five weeks after the song peaked, the events at Columbine High School unfolded. And that was about it from there on out. The rest of 1999 and the year 2000 were primarily forgettable, minus the 2000 election. And once 2001 hit, well, all bets were off.
What makes the song a little more special is that it sits in one-hit wonder territory. Like "Flagpole Sitta" a year or so before it, "You Get What You Give" feels untouchable in the sense that no other major label band can lay claim to it. It's not just another hit used as part of a track record to prove a songwriter's supposed genius. It has become not so much a song than a moment—a beautiful five-minute dose of the purest nostalgia.
While being a one-hit wonder is something many musicians try to avoid, for some, those one-off hits become a rare wildflower in the garden of music. A song that perfectly captures that last bit of untainted hope and possibility of a generation. And when you're lucky enough to come across something so special, you can't help but stop and smell the flowers.