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This edition of Songs in the Key of Life begins with a confession: I’d completely forgotten about this song for over a decade. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a student DJ played it on WIUP that I reacquainted myself with the New Radicals’ 1998 hit, “You Get What You Give.”

The music video emphasizes youthful mischief-making in the face of authority and impending adulthood, and sure enough, a portion of the song’s lyrics reflect a similar sentiment. But pulling back, the remainder of the song’s lyrics (matched perfectly with an upbeat rhythm and a catchy melody) offer and empathetic and motivational statement, even if through the framework of raising a middle finger in the face of authority and responsibility. The core of the song’s lyrical appeal is its chorus and accompanying bridge:

New Radicals You Get What You GiveBut when the night is falling
You cannot find the light
You feel your dreams are dying
Hold tight

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
You’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget
We only get what we give

It’s a song about hope eclipsing desperation, about perseverance triumphing over defeatism, and ultimately, about the reciprocity of relationships and attitudes. Anger, disappointment, sadness, and resentment are very human emotions, and in some respect, we’re entitled to them. But when we let those attitudes take over, they can be powerfully deceptive. They become our framework for viewing the world, can severely skew our perceptions of others and ourselves, and in turn, affect our actions and behaviors. Although there are plenty of exceptions, the tendency is for negativity to beget negativity. I don’t advocate donning rose-tinted glasses to mask life’s challenges and disappointments, but we only get what we give – and we can’t pull through those challenges and disappointments without concerted effort.

This whole damn world, could fall apart
You’ll be ok, follow your heart

I think what most strikes me about this song is the simple refrain of “You’ve got the music in you.” It’s a fantastic turn of phrase usually reserved for some variation of a religious element. I love the notion of “the music” as a sort of guiding force, or as a symbol of our energy and potential. For those of us who are unabashed music geeks, this sentiment carries a great deal of weight.

You’ve got the music in you.

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