Jane Austen dance party
17 power-pop numbers your favorite Jane Austen character would totally say. And we need to hear it.
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We’re celebrating October, celebrating the weekend, celebrating the JASNA AGM, ignoring anything not worth celebrating, and turning up the volume.
Let’s embrace this weekend, and also embrace all our favorite Austen heroes, heroines, Power Girls, and Bad Boys, and let’s revisit them through the pop songs we’re hearing over the airwaves this season.
Because we can’t help but notice that the music on the top 40 radio waves has been exuberant, emo, and galvanizing this season - and we have been struck by the way you can, if you insist, accommodate just about any pop song you hear to a Jane Austen character.
So file this post under the category of random things that have nothing to do with Jane Austen but nevertheless remind us of Jane Austen characters because what she wrote 200 years ago created the foundations for our stories about navigating life and love and connection and survival.
Because sometimes you just need to roll down the windows, or clear a path through your living room or kitchen, turn up the tunes, and celebrate. And it’s nice to consider the love stories, power dynamics, regrets and pining, that is happening in Jane Austen while we do it.
Let’s go! Our rules of engagement for this playlist? Our method was to take an otherwise random pop song and apply it to an Austen character - but the song only works if there are at least a few solid lines from the lyrics that we can absolutely imagine the Austen character totally saying. That’s our only rule!
So: Roll down the windows, turn up the volume, slip on your dance shoes, and, wherever you are this weekend, join in and enjoy: the Jane Austen power-pop playlist.
Catherine Morland: ‘Teenage Dream’, by Katy Perry
Dear Henry, you make me feel like I’m living a teenage dream.
Yes, this song is a fantastic reminder of Catherine Morland’s pure, unabashed, joy and love not to mention her imagination and her actual post-midnight-insomniac-dreaming which is one of the most erotic fevers-dreams in 18th and 19th century literature. (Are there other erotic fever-dreams in 18th and 19th century literature?!) Catherine is exuberantly looking ahead to it all, with Henry Tilney.
I know you get me, so I let my walls come down, down
Before you met me
I was alright, but things were kinda heavy
You brought me to life, …
Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance, until we die
You and I, will be young forever“
Lydia Bennet: ‘I feel good’, Pitbull ft. Anthony Watts, DJWS
Alright, let’s get this party started, says Lydia Bennet, 24/7.
And when you channel Lydia Bennet, this song is just a crack-up. It seems a really good idea to listen to it ironically, and to also think of Lydia Bennet while doing so.
Let’s not overthink it, friends - but I don’t think we need Jane Austen’s permission to celebrate Lydia if we feel like it.
Our lyric? Let’s just leave it at this:
“I’d hate me too if I were you …
You down, I’m down, baby let’s go …
There’s only one life, you don’t get two
So live your life, don’t let it live you.”
Henry Tilney: ‘Sunroof’, by Nicky Youre
OK, thank you, Lydia, for that interlude, and now let’s get right back to Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. While Catherine’s got that teenage dreaming going on, you’ll remember that when things start heating up in Northanger Abbey, we’ve got Henry taking those reins and driving Catherine out to the countryside. And because they are not properly chaperoned by any reasonable human and they are young, clever, lively people, this is the Regency equivalent of going cruising.
And Henry takes full advantage - testing Catherine out on her level of knowledge, experience, and basking in the glow of her innocent admiration of him - not to mention her wholehearted acceptance of the ghost stories he’s feeding her, amusing himself fully.
Take it away, Henry, she likes the way you drive:
You’ve got those pretty eyes in your head
You know it …
You are exactly what I want, kinda cool
And kinda not …
Got one thing on my mind
I’ve been feeling like this might be my time to shine with you
Emma: ‘I’m a Mess’, Bebe Rexha
This song is ironic, funny, instructive in so many ways we feel Jane Austen would appreciate.
Bebe Rexha revels in her message, crooning, “You don’t love me, but I love myself anyway” - and in the video she vamps it up to show us she’s in on the joke.
Emma may not find it funny, but it’s not much of a stretch to imagine Miss Woodhouse, following the Box Hill disaster, belting it out with:
I'm a mess, I'm a loser
I'm a hater, I'm a user
I'm a mess for your love, it ain't new
I'm obsessed, I'm embarrassed
I don't trust no one around us
I'm a mess for your love, it ain't new
Jane Fairfax cuts loose: ‘Hey Mama’, David Guetta, Bebe Rexha, Nicky Minaj, Afrojack
The villagers of Highbury are hitting the dance floor on behalf of Jane Fairfax. Jane is available and ready - she is following the conduct book literature to the letter and it’s getting her in trouble - Austen’s own irony, but nevertheless Jane’s here’s and available for anything and everything and mostly for love. It’s precisely because this song is so raunchy that we think it’s perfect for behind-closed-doors Jane.
Because whatever else is going on for Jane Fairfax, behind all that reserve she’s down. And she’s certainly saying something to keep Frank Churchill on the line. It might go something like this:
Yes I be your woman
Yes I be your baby
Yes I be whatever that you tell me when you ready
Yes I be your girl, forever your lady
You ain't never gotta worry, I'm down for you baby
Wentworth: ‘Save your tears’, The Weeknd
Alright, a confession: The Weeknd is often a soundtrack to our actual weekend. Their lyrics are hyper-intimate and always involve storytelling mixed with sexy, moody synthesizers and vocals that take you right back to the 90s and evoke a major mood.
Really this song seems to be made for what we really want Captain Wentworth to be saying to Anne Elliot. It’s vintage Bath, where these two are spying each other across rooms, feeling all kinds of emotions, and not able to connect.
We’ll just start with the beginning of the song - take it away, Wentworth:
I saw you dancing in a crowded room
You look so happy when I'm not with you
But then you saw me, caught you by surprise
A single teardrop falling from your eye
I don't know why I run away
I'll make you cry when I run away
Fanny to Henry: ‘Don’t Start Now’, Dua Lipa
Raise up that volume a little higher, friends: We’re getting into Fanny Price territory now. And we love thinking about this song coming from our besieged heroine once she goes into Full Fanny mode in Portsmouth. And here comes Henry Crawford - elegant, rich, handsome, and obsessed. Henry finds her in the most terrible circumstances, in a chaotic family house with a depressed, dysfunctional mother and an abusive, course father, and yet she still says this to him, and it doesn’t get any ballsier than this:
Don’t show up
Don’t come out
Don’t start caring about me now
You know how
Don’t start caring about me now.
Wuh Wuh. …
I’m not where you left me at all …
Knightley: ‘Leave the door open’, Bruno Mars
Ready for some Swoon, friends? The Bruno Mars vibe here is just so Knightley, are we wrong?
Think about it: Knightley’s not playing no games, every word that he says is coming straight from the heart.
And this song is strong and gentle, bold and inviting, sweet and sexy, just like a certain someone. And it reminds us of one of the coolest things about the novel Emma, which is that Emma and Knightley live in nearly adjoining mansions, and are always in and out of each other’s houses and families. But both are somehow psychologically untethered to family or home or a life, until they put their homes, their family, their lives together, and it turns into abundance. Check it:
I'm sipping wine (sip, sip) in a robe (drip, drip)
I look too good (look too good) to be alone (woo-woo)
My house clean (house clean), my pool warm (pool warm)
Just shaved (smooth like a newborn)
We should be dancing, romancing
In the east wing and the west wing
Of this mansion, what's happening? …
I ain't playing no games
Every word that I say is coming straight from the heart
William Elliot: ‘Late Night Talking’, Harry Styles
For some reason the Harry vibe and the talking vibe just makes me think of William Elliot. Let’s not forget - Cousin William is charming, and that charm and attention turned her way is a catalyst for getting Anne Elliot to feel seen and admired and turned around, and meanwhile he’s doing a lot of late-night talking, as in:
We’ve been doing all this late-night talking
About anything you want until the mornin’
Now you’re in my life
I can’t get you off my mind
Wentworth: ‘Out of Time’, The Weeknd
Yes, again with The Weeknd to channel Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot. Maybe it’s partly because The Weeknd is so good at these first-person viewpoint, confessional lyrics where he pours out his heart, and this song is a great example of that.
Maybe the vibe here isn’t so far removed from “you pierce my soul,” and in the spirit of Persuasion, the lyrics evoke time, regret, return, and future hope that pervades Persuasion. So we envision Wentworth just before Anne accepts him, channeling all that regret, return, memory, and a second chance, and perhaps saying this:
I look back now and I realize
Remember when I held you …
Say I love you, girl,
But I’m out of time
Say that I’m there for you
But I’m out of time
Say that I care for you
But I’m out of time
Say I’m too late to make you mine
Out of time …
And I love you
Like I should’ve loved you
All the time
Anne Elliot: ‘So Good’, Halsey
Friends, if we are going to dare - dare! - to put words in the mouth of Anne Elliot of Kellynch Hall, they better be a downright gorgeous, voice full of soul, heart, intelligence, and passion.
Because Anne has all of that on the inside - and she doesn’t let anyone see it.
Is Halsey worthy? No one is, but this song will do nicely for now. It’s about regret, jealousy, pain, and a frank admission to oneself that we are thinking about this person who got away.
This song is perfect for the time when Anne Elliot misunderstands and believes that Captain Wentworth has proposed to Louisa, and is forced finally to reckon with her own feelings, which up to now she has not even admitted to herself. And she does that, talking to herself and acknowledging to herself her sadness and regret - and resolving to love, even if that love is not returned. This song evokes, again, memory, return, regret, and most of all: Anne Elliot’s resolve. We imagine her saying something like this:
When you left
I bet you held a body closer
And I was hoping you would tell her it was over
You’re all I think about and everywhere I look
I know it’s bad
But we could be so good
Marianne to Willoughby: ‘Easy Lover’, Ellie Goulding.
You knew Marianne was going to be a downer, and this song is basically a plea, and from what may be Austen’s most pleading female character. But I like to think of Marianne finding her voice, acknowledging her feelings and also Willoughby’s weakness, and rising up from her sick bed to shout at Willoughby, before he heads out to wistfully look over the English landscape on his big expensive horse.
And maybe this is what she’d say:
We are only young
And I’ll be walking in a straight line …
Keep it cool for me
Don’t be cruel to me
Cause I know you’ve done it before …
I’m still foolishly in love with you
Just like all the other girls, before …
Cause I know you’ve done it before
Henry Crawford to Fanny: ‘Stay’, The Kid LAROI, Justin Bieber
This song is a plea, a need, a lie. Henry is also all of those things.
In the moment, Henry is full of longing, but he wears it lightly, and it will fade - just like this song.
I’ll do the same, though I told you that I never would
I told you I’d change even though I knew I never could
You know that I can’t
Find nobody else as good as you
I need you to stay
Darcy: ‘Just the Way you Are’, Bruno Mars
Let’s just revel in some outright love and adoration, from none other than Mr. Darcy, courtesy of Bruno Mars. Alright, maybe it takes a few minutes for Darcy to go from “barely tolerable” to “fine eyes,” but he gets there - and our favorite thing about Darcy’s journey is that we readers know he’s arrived before Elizabeth herself knows. And we can’t help but feel he’s perfectly capable of saying this thing that Bruno Mars is singing, from the moment he sees Elizabeth traipse across the countryside in muddy skirts to Netherfield. And we agree - she’s pretty amazing, Elizabeth, like all us. Just like you. You are amazing, just the way you are.
This song goes a ways back, to 2010, but is a must on this playlist for channeling Darcy because it begins with a lyric about her eyes, and builds from there. Ardent admiration indeed:
When I see your face
There’s not a thing that I would change
Cause you’re amazing, just the way you are
Fanny: ‘Break my Soul’, Beyoncé
Let’s let Fanny have some power, and a voice, and let’s imagine her using that voice to say this, offsetting hundreds of pages of the hellcape that is Mansfield Park. This song is relentlessly repetitive, it’s strong, it’s confessional, it’s a story, and it might help us conjure, after all, that internal strength of Fanny Price. She’s finding a new foundation, one more stable than that zombie apocalypse that is Mansfield, and taking a new salvation, and hopefully finding it in herself rather than any place or person around her. Best pay attention, Edmund:
I'm lookin' for motivation
I'm lookin' for a new foundation, yeah
And I'm on that new vibration
I'm buildin' my own foundation, yeah …
You can have the stress and not take less
I'll justify love
We go 'round in circles, 'round in circles
Searchin' for love ('round in circles)
We go up and down, lost and found ('round in circles)
Searchin' for love (yeah, yeah)
Looking for something that lives inside me
Looking for something that lives inside me …
Highbury dance party: ‘Levitating’, Dua Lipa ft. DaBaby
Friends, if you aren’t on your feet yet, get the hell up. This one is coming from Miss Emma Woodhouse, and she will not take kindly to your lack of enthusiasm for her plans.
And in fact her plans have caused all kinds of problems, as we know, but yet we love to think of that moment when all the confusions (nearly, not completely) dissolve into some sincerity and understanding by the two most sincere and smart people in Highbury - and that would of course be Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley.
Here they are, dancing with the villagers, who all deserve to let loose:
I’ve got you, moonlight
You’re my … starlight
Come dance with me
And all of Highbury:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Elizabeth and Lizzo, ‘It’s About Damn Time’
Let’s celebrate. We’ve been “so down and under pressure!” This song is about finding your voice, your groove, and standing up to the world, and then celebrating who you are.
At the end of Pride and Prejudice, after showdowns not only with Mr. Darcy but with his aunt Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins, and all the family crap we put up with, we all want to stand up and celebrate - just like this song.
And it’s about damn time!
I’ve so down and under pressure
I’m wait too fine to be distressed, yeah
Oh, I’m not the girl I was or used to be
Ugh - and I might be better!
… I’m comin’ out tonight,
I’m comin’ out tonight!
OK, alright: It’s about damn time!
Thanks for playing along, friends.
If you want to take this Playlist and dance party with you wherever you are - Victoria, BC, or just driving around or on your commute, here’s the Spotify playlist for a groovy, exuberant soundtrack to whatever you have going on.
And: Who did we miss? What pop songs do you have in your head that evoke a Jane Austen story or character? Let’s crowd-source this baby and call it a work in progress - let us know your picks in the comments, here, and also let us know how or where you’re listening, reading, and/or engaging with this playlist and post:
Meanwhile, hope your autumn is bright, beautiful, and has all the sugar and spice and carbs of a power-pop ballad.
Celebrate yourself this week.
And if you’re one of the many of our community at the JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) AGM this weekend, hope you have a roaring good time - and feel free to plug in this playlist on your journey to and fro, as you stomp around Victoria, or at the after-hours party.
So much more to come, friends. Thank you for being here. Stay well and stay in touch.
Links, community, coming up!
The Austen Connection podcast is currently rolling out season 3, and we’ll be back very soon with episodes 4 and 5 of this season, with University of Maryland Arts and Humanities Dean Stephanie Shonekan and author and professor John Mullan coming up. Those episodes will drop right into your inbox if you’re a subscriber, and you can also find them wherever you get your podcasts, including on Spotify and Apple.
And, stay tuned for a special live edition of the Austen Connection podcast, with Devoney Looser at the marvelous AustenCon. More info to come - but we’ll be engaging in a live conversation about her new book Sister Novelists that drops this month. You can preorder that book here.
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