Jenny Lewis Was a Twee Teen’s Dream

A twee queen and her minions.
A twee queen and her minions. Photo: Wendy Redfern/Getty Images

Lifestyle coverage is all about aspiration, which is code for making people envy you and shop accordingly. In our series I Like This Bitch’s Life, the Cut bitterly admits that it’s working.

In high school, I had dyed red hair and wore ill-fitting vintage dresses from a flea market I heard the Olsens went to once, and I sneaked Parliament Lights on work breaks from my after-school job at a paint-your-own-pottery studio. I was — even by teen standards — intolerable. But the quirks that weren’t consciously inherited from studying Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State were transmitted to me through Jenny Lewis, then the front woman of the indie band Rilo Kiley and a bitch whose life I really liked.

A soul-voiced sprite who managed to shed her child-star image and emerge an indie queen, Jenny was a manic pixie dream girl before being a manic pixie dream girl became passé or anti-feminist. For a particular brand of suburban girl who fancied herself cooler than her peers, Jenny was a fire-haired figure of worship. With her endless supply of cool sunglasses, vintage dresses, and hats (fedoras had not yet been claimed by the Redditors), she was a beacon of hope for introspective teens whose weird cowlicks prevented their bangs from lying prone. How was her hair so shiny and voluminous at the same time? How did her lyrics, about depression and heartbreak and a state I had only been to once, speak to me so deeply? I don’t know, but blasting “Does He Love You?” with the windows down on Lincoln Drive felt like peering momentarily into a life I could someday have. The version of adulthood that she represented had the veneer of complexity, but was also one-dimensional enough for a not-exactly-worldly high-school sophomore to grasp. Boys had Holden Caulfield, Conor Oberst, probably some rando skateboarder with a cool T-shirt line; girls had Jenny Lewis.

As a microgenerational sad-girl touchstone, many of us have our own Jenny Lewis Anecdote, our lives touched by her magnificent tweeness in different ways. Here are some I collected from Cut staffers:

• “A girl I went to high school with has a Jenny Lewis lyric tattooed to her wrist.”

• “I was a junior in high school the year that Rilo Kiley was like squatting in Omaha, and so many girls would get flustered seeing her out in the wild. She was always surrounded by the hot Saddle Creek guys.”

• “I took a class on music writing in college, and someone did a massive final thesis project that was basically, ‘Why Is Saddle Creek So Cool?’”

• “Cool, hip guy in my tenth-grade Spanish class had a Jenny Lewis shirt. I wanted to tell him I got it. It took WEEKS to muster up the courage to say, ‘Nice shirt.’ And he was just like, ‘Oh, thanks.’”

This year it’ll have been ten years since the release of Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny’s solo album (with the Watson Twins), and she’s doing a reunion tour to celebrate the anniversary. A high-school friend and I are going in the hopes of recapturing the angst-twinged joy we felt blasting her music with the windows down. It’ll be fun! But thank God I grew out my bangs.

Jenny Lewis Was a Twee Teen’s Dream