by Lucy Cuthew
I have just watched a video on YouTube. Not your usual ‘Cat Falls Down Toilet’ or ‘Best 5 Base Jumps Ever’. No. I’ve just watched an innocent little music video, which turned out to be a Big Moment in my life. It was Red Hot Chili Peppers singing ‘Under the Bridge’. If you don’t know the track, you should watch this video immediately, then come back so we can talk about it. This song was the national anthem of the United Nation of Teenagers in the 90s. As we flannel-shirted our way through a decade of grunge, grieving Kurt Cobain and dodging boy bands, we listened to, played and sang this beautiful piece of music. When I was thirteen, or somewhere around that awkward phase that doesn’t appear to exist for teenagers anymore, my friends, sisters and pre-Frizz Ease self were completely obsessed with it. We learned to play it on our guitars. We recorded it off the radio and listened until the tape wore out. We sang it on coach trips, at sleepovers, on family holidays. Got it? This song was a pretty big deal.
Despite this, I’d never seen it played live or seen any video of the Chili Peppers live. I saw a handful of their videos on MTV while babysitting at 16, but we didn’t have MTV at home. As with many an idle click, this YouTube video has been the gateway to harder stuff. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. The music has ‘taken me right back’ as my Granny would have said. I’m a teenager again, this time with YouTube. And I have some news. Anthony Kiedis (the lead singer of the Chili Peppers) is ridiculously sexy.
I can’t get over it. My pants have just melted. I’ve got a crush. My husband will have to forgive me, because I’m not in control of my feelings. It’s not now-me getting giddy. It’s 13-year-old me. And we were so hungry back then.
I now know there were people back in 1994 who recognised Anthony Kiedis as being the Hot bit of the Chili Peppers, but it was also easy to miss. The music was the thing. My YouTube-crush-procrastination-adventure got me thinking. What is it like being a teenager now, in this corner of the internet? There is no escaping the aesthetic, not that I want to or think we should. Music and good looks have gone hand in hand for generations before mine. (Elvis anyone? Mmm.) But I don’t think you can untangle the two anymore. The internet serves us up whatever we desire, the moment we desire it. I wonder if everything being so available leaves time to work up an appetite? How much of the pleasure I just experienced in that video was born out of those years of yearning? Isn’t yearning a right of passage anymore?
Even as a writer and editor of teenage fiction, someone who spends hours inhabiting the minds of teen characters, I am struck by how much has changed over such a short period of time. I can just class myself as a millennial – those born between 1980 and 2000 – but the years 1996 and 2016 are different universes in which to live your formative years. In those years the internet happened.
Until I watched that video, I had only considered all the terrifying aspects of being an internet-native teenager. All the porn, the trolling, the self-aware selfies. It feels almost inevitable that we conclude any conversation about young people and the World Wide Web with a pejorative. But watching that YouTube video took me back to being my young self, and added a richness – admittedly a largely pervy one – to the experience of the music. And I loved it. Instead I find myself curiously jealous of teenagers happily gorging themselves on the videos of sexy pop stars which my own youth denied me. So it’s back down the rabbit hole for me. I’m off to re-live my youth like the millennial that I am. On YouTube.
Lucy Cuthew | @lucycuthew
Lucy Cuthew is an editor and author of children’s books. She was shortlisted for the prestigious Booktrust Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for her acheivements as a young woman in publishing. Her picture books have been nominated for several awards. She is currently writing a young adult novel calledHorrible Love Story. Her first short story, ‘The Waiting Room’, was published in January. She works from a studio in Cardiff.