In the pantheon of 1990s post-grunge guitar strummers, the Goo Goo Dolls are most assuredly not the coolest or most commonly cited of the bunch. The mid-to-late ’90s is a fascinating land of alternative rock, with bands like Foo Fighters trying to escape their long shadow, Pearl Jam fighting Ticketmaster, and acts like Radiohead beginning to find their voice.
At the same time, there were plenty of bands who were lining up to be the next Nirvana. Bush, Silverchair, Nickelback, Sponge, Collective Soul, Staind, Creed… there was a gold mine just waiting to be tapped, and a throne just waiting to be sat on. Record companies were desperate to make their own alt-rock cash grabs, and plenty of bands that only had a tangential connection to grunge got caught up in the whirlwind.
The Goo Goo Dolls were one of them. Originally a punk band from the cold recesses of Buffalo, New York, the Goo Goo Dolls had already put out three albums by the time they were snatched up by Warner Bros, swapped lead vocalists, and started to make pop-rock songs that could appeal to suburban moms who needed another Bon Jovi in their lives.
This sounds like it’s going to devolve into slander, but that’s before I tell you that 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl is actually a brilliant album. Sure, it’s cheesy and weak sauce compared to the harder edge of alt-rock radio, but I refuse to vilify a band for wanting to write pop songs with big hooks and memorable melodies. With very few exceptions, that’s what every artist should aim for, and the Goo Goo Dolls just happened to do it really well.
The apex of Goo Goo-mania was undoubtedly ‘Iris’, a song that appeared on both Dizzy Up the Girl and the City of Angels soundtrack. That movie is certified garbage, but it made a ton of money, and the Goo Goo Dolls got the big sappy love ballad at the centre of it. ‘Iris’ is a fascinating song when you deconstruct it: an experimental folk song with wacky tunings and time signature changes that you would usually only find in prog-rock songs. But on the surface, it has an undeniable pop sheen, and that’s what translated to the masses.
Because we live in a world obsessed with irony and facetiousness, it’s hard to tell if anyone these days genuinely loves ‘Iris’, love to hate ‘Iris’, truly hates ‘Iris’, or ironically likes ‘Iris’ because of how much other people hate it. I stand by the idea that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, and that ironically liking something is actually the same as genuinely liking something. Don’t be a sociopath – just like what you like and be done with it.
That’s why I’m sure Phoebe Bridgers and Maggie Rogers both had a genuine love for ‘Iris’ when Bridgers promised to cover the song if Joe Biden won the 2020 US Presidential Race. If you’ll recall, it took a few days to tabulate all the votes, and Bridgers, like most of us, was riddled with anxiety about the results. She took note of a Twitter meme video that was going around at the time and promised to bring it to life if Donald Trump lost the general election.
Oh yeah, this is where the whole “ironic appreciation” thing comes in. That’s because this entire exercise started as a joke video from musician Loud Letters, who posted a cover-impersonation in the style of Bridgers playing the Goo Goo Dolls’ classic track. That got some traction online, so much so that Bridgers responded to the original video and promised a cover. Even the Goo Goo Dolls Twitter account got in on it because we’re living a weird dystopia that allows you to influence artists who have legitimate top ten singles with meme videos you shot in your bedroom. Welcome to the future.
Anyway, to make a long story short, Trump lost, Bridgers fulfilled her promise, and she donated the proceeds to Stacey Abrahams’ Fair Fight organisation. A happy ending for everyone, and even though the original song was only available for a day, of course, you can still listen to it somewhere on the internet.
Check out the cover down below.