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My Favourite Soundtrack: 'Clueless'

Clueless is a shiny, coming of age film as ingrained in teen culture as The Breakfast Club, Clearasil and regrettable fumbles at the end of term party.

Clueless is, at its heart, just a classic love story about a 15-year-old girl falling in love with someone who has basically been raised as her brother. A shiny, coming of age film as ingrained in teen culture as The Breakfast Club, Clearasil and regrettable fumbles at the end of term party, it ticks all the boxes that your 15-year-old self could need (love; heartache; school; shopping), while having enough pithy one-liners to ensure you’ll stay true to Cher Horowitz and her gang long after the age when it’s socially legit to use the term “ralphing”.


Clueless’ soundtrack, however, is a whole different, credible ball game – both because it’s so unbelievably, unashamedly 90s it may as well start wearing its hair in those weird little Gwen Stefani top knots and crying over Kurt Cobain, and because – like our totally misunderstood heroine – it may seem bubbly and fun on the outside, but it’s actually like, way smart.

It pretty much seals up the best soundtrack ever nod within the first 90 seconds. We get a panorama shot of the whole Clueless gang looking amazing, wearing outfits from a 90s bubblegum dream world and generally being desirable and fabulous played out to "Kids In America" – not the Kim Wilde version (which FYI is fucking amazing), but to The Muffs’ cover.

The Muffs were fronted by total indie babe Kim Shattuck, who recently had a stint playing bass in the Pixies. Before Shattuck was ordained by rock reverend Frank Black, however, The Muffs sounded a bit like Hole without the drug-fuelled, angry insanity. They were briefly on a major label, likely because the gargantuan success stories of Nirvana and anyone who then professed to have vaguely been influenced a tiny bit by "Lithium" meant that grunge was now a major label concern, but they were still a pretty leftfield choice for a big budget, mainstream teen flick.

Still only 60 seconds into the running time, the film then segues into one of the film’s most iconic scenes – Cher’s pre-iPhone wardrobe app that turns you into a human dress up doll – soundtracked by David Bowie’s "Fashion", a song the mocked banality of style-obsessed hipsters. It’s a delicious juxtaposition, immediately proving Clueless was a lot smarter than the airheads it was portraying.


The film is full of clever moments like this. When Cher’s BBF Dionne, who’s like Cher but sassier, with weirder hats and who goes out with future Turk from Scrubs, first drives into view, No Doubt’s ballsy anthem “Just A Girl” is playing, as Cher informs us that Dionne is her friend “because we both know what’s it’s like to have people be jealous of us”. Just a girl, with a limitless checkbook and a wardrobe the size of a small Caribbean island.

Later, when they are giving Tai the makeover of all teen coming of age film makeovers, set to Jill Sobule’s "Supermodel", an ironic rift on the pressure girls put on their own body’s for beauty, with lyrics like “"I didn't eat yesterday… and I'm not gonna eat today… and I'm not gonna eat tomorrow… 'Cause I'm gonna be a supermodel."

The choice of No Doubt and Jill Sobule might not seem out there today, when every Michael Cera film is soundtracked by 27 Finnish post-folk bands that only released albums on Betamax, but back in the 90s, big Hollywood films tended to be more conservative (Empire Records aside). Consider – in 1995, the year of the film’s release, the following songs were also movie hits: "Breakfast At Tiffany’s", "Kiss From A Rose", Mariah Carey’s "Fantasy", Cher’s "Walking In Memphis". Choosing Gwen Stefani, the weird-dressing frontwoman of an ex-ska band to soundtrack your righteous feminist moment seems pretty cool in comparison.


The most obvious examples of Clueless’ surprisingly tasteful leanings are the scenes involving brother/ love interest Josh. These scenes are almost always soundtracked by Radiohead songs, the embodiment of serious, depressive college music. There are at least four instances during Clueless when Thom Yorke and the boys pop up and, against the backdrop of shiny Beverley Hills and coats with fluffy cuffs, their repeated mentions are even more subversively brilliant.

And there are so many more snapshot moments throughout the film where the moneyed, carefree, brightly-coloured idyll of Cher’s world are juxtaposed against tracks more suited to High Fidelity: Supergrass’ "Alright" when the gang are larking about taking selfies. Coolio’s "Rollin’ With My Homies" at a Christmas house party (spoiler alert – this one’s pretty integral). Fuck, there’s even a point when they make a Lightning Seeds song sound good.

Clueless is a total classic because it’s an unapologetically shiny and shallow slice of hyper-reality that actually has heart and humour and originality. And its soundtrack is the perfect foil that provides the same surprising depth, while still, on the surface, just being catchy and familiar and fun. The two are a match made in 90s heaven. Just like Cher. And her stepbrother.

Follow Lisa on Twitter: @LisaAnneWright

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