If you happened to be a teenager in 1996, and if you were a teenager who also happened to be black, there is a moderate to strong likelihood that you have a soft spot in your heart for the Ghost Town DJs. If this describes you and you heard Virgo Williams’ 18-word-long a cappella soothe through the speakers while you were out somewhere last weekend (“Boy you should know that/I got you on my mind/Your secret admirer/I’ve been watching you!”) signaling the beginning of “My Boo,” you definitely smiled, you probably stopped what you were doing, and mouthed the words to the song or nodded along. And you might have even got up from the comfortable couch you were sitting in (because, again, you’re old now) and started dancing.
For the people who remember this song and smile and dance when they hear it now, it induces an immediate nostalgia the same way a pack of blue raspberry Now and Laters or a pair of Cross Colours jeans might—but stronger, though, because the “My Boo”-specific nostalgia also evokes the memories of junior high house parties and high school homecoming dances, and notes given to a friend so they could pass it to their friend who’s friends with your crush, and first hugs, first kisses, first dates, and the first time you could say you were “going with” somebody and have it be true.
Anyway, I hate that fucking song. I hate the chorus. I hate that they’re called the fucking Ghost Town DJs when the song is only sung by one person. I hate that “Ghost Town DJs” sounds like the name of a tribute band playing during the prom scene in a movie about a collective of functional zombies at boarding school.
It’s an irrational, inane and just-plain-pathetic hate of perhaps the least hateable song of the ’90s. Hating “My Boo” is like hating a jump rope or an ice cream cone or a tax refund. But when it was released in 1996, it was during a time when I pined for a specific girl to think about me the way Virgo Williams does about the guy she’s singing to. But since it wasn’t happening for me, I was sad about it and jealous of those it was happening to. So when she sang, “Boy you should know that/I got you on my mind/Your secret admirer/I’ve been watching you!” I’d hear, “Boy you should know that/You’re on nobody’s mind/You got no admirers/No one’s watching you!”
Perhaps this animus toward “My Boo” is hyper-specific. I imagine that if I were to start a Fuck “My Boo” support group, I’d have fewer than 20 members, and even they’d mostly just be people confused by the title. But I know that most of us have memories that trigger similar feelings.
One of the cruelest ironies of experiencing that sort of thing as a young person and soaking in the stew of self-consciousness and self-loathing it cultivates is that it convinces you that you’re alone. That no one—not the person you want and not even the people you don’t want—is checking for or thinking about you. And also that you are the only one experiencing it—that everyone else is out going to movies and holding hands and having sex in station wagon back seats with the girl or boy of their dreams while you’re the only one stuck at home watching Martin reruns.
I’m seeing some of this now in the most recent round of “No one wanted to date me in high school because I was too nerdy/awkward/shy” bingo: conversations spawned this time after a cascade of projections about Donald Glover’s relationship with black women.
Of course, the perspective gained after maturing and distancing yourself from those high school years teaches you the fallacy of those beliefs. While there are the few who actually lived that fantasy back then—which, depending on your sensibilities, was either The Notebook or Caligula—most of us didn’t. Most of us have experienced heartbreak and have been paralyzed with anxiety at the thought of romantic disappointment. Most of us have pined for a person who didn’t want us and perhaps didn’t even consider us a viable romantic option. Most of us have slightly embellished or even outright lied to keep pace with what we believed then was the prevailing reality, when in reality we were all just telling competing lies.
That said, I do understand and even sympathize with the people who’ve carried this to adulthood and have allowed those experiences—and the belief that their nerdiness/awkwardness/shyness, etc., made them invisible—to shape their relationship lives today.
(Also, a common response to people expressing this sort of feeling is that they were probably just checking for the cool and popular kids and not the nerdy/awkward/shy kids who might have actually been interested in them. This response fails to consider how humans—particularly young humans—operate and how the social economy of high school works. The kids who experience that sort of invisibility can be so deep into their own heads that they believe no one—not the cool kids, not the uncool kids—gives a shit about them in that way. And to be fair, they’re often right. On TV, Steve Urkel pined for the popular Laura but had the equally nerdy Myra checking for him. In real life, both Urkel and Myra probably would have been too deep in their own neuroses to even realize the other existed, let alone make themselves vulnerable enough to pursue and be pursued.)
But the problem—well, one of the problems—of lugging these types of common and relatively mundane traumas with you deep into adulthood, and perhaps even using them to dismiss entire swaths of people today just because some girls you liked in 11th grade thought you possessed the sex appeal of a mailbox, is that it reinforces the idea that you’re some singular entity. Because, well, you’re not the only person who wasn’t considered as cool or popular or attractive as you wished to be. You’re just not that special—at least not in this context—and that’s fine! It’s actually great, because it means that your experience was much more common than you believed it was.
(And just to be clear, I’m only talking about these very specific types of experiences. There are other, much more serious traumas that people may have gone through in high school and still carry with them, and those need to be treated with an appropriate level of care and sensitivity.)
Also (and I’m speaking from experience here), perhaps you assisted in making yourself invisible. If you were the type of nerdy/awkward/shy teen who had all of this personality but hid your attractive qualities beneath a cloak of self-consciousness—as nerdy/awkward/shy teens are wont to do—how would anyone actually see them? Of course, there are myriad valid reasons to erect such a wall, but you also can’t be too surprised (or sore) if people just chose not to break it.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that we’re all fucked up. We all have memories that trigger those pangs of invisibility, the way “My Boo” still does for me when I hear it. And if I happen to be at a party when it comes on, while everyone else is singing and dancing, you’ll can find me at the bar or on a couch, checking my texts and crunching the fuck out of some ice.
But then I remember that “My Boo” is a dumb, 22-year-old song with a corny hook and a video that doesn’t include anyone singing but prominently features two women in daisy dukes splashing each other with soap suds while washing a Range Rover in the middle of the woods.
And then the song ends.