Semi-Charmed Life

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"Semi-Charmed Life"
Semi-Charmed Life.jpg
Single by Third Eye Blind
from the album Third Eye Blind
B-side
  • "Tattoo of the Sun"
  • "London"
  • "God of Wine"
ReleasedFebruary 18, 1997 (1997-02-18)[1]
Studio
Genre
Length
LabelElektra
Songwriter(s)Stephan Jenkins
Producer(s)Eric Valentine
Third Eye Blind singles chronology
"Semi-Charmed Life"
(1997)
"Graduate"
(1997)
Music video
"Semi-Charmed Life" on YouTube

"Semi-Charmed Life" is a song by American rock band Third Eye Blind from their eponymous debut studio album (1997). It was released to radio as the lead single from the album on February 18, 1997, by Elektra Records. According to frontman Stephan Jenkins, the song is about crystal meth addiction and the feeling that "your life is always about to change and never be reliable".

The song was recorded and mixed in and around San Francisco at Toast Studios, Skywalker Ranch, H.O.S., and The Site by Eric Valentine. An alternative rock song with a rap-influenced singing style, the song's "doo, doo, doot" refrain was directly inspired by Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side". The instrumentation used in the song includes guitars, brushes, and a drum machine. The concept of the song was developed through Jenkins's observations of friends using crystal meth at a Primus concert.

"Semi-Charmed Life" received positive reviews from music critics, who called it a quintessential Nineties track and complimented the radio-friendly nature of the song. Some reviewers, however, felt that the hook was crafted in a manner that would quickly become tiresome. The song peaked at number four on the US Billboard Hot 100, giving Third Eye Blind their first charting song. It remains Third Eye Blind's most successful song, peaking at number 53 on Billboards all-time US Mainstream Top 40 chart.

Writing and inspiration[edit]

"In terms of the dark lyrics and the catchy tune, I was just messing with whatever the paradigm was – I’ve always had a mischievous nature in that way. I’m not a formulaic writer – I don’t have some cookie-cutter method. It’s whatever is provoking me at the moment."[2]

—Stephan Jenkins talking to Kerrang! about the writing process.

"Semi-Charmed Life" was written solely by frontman Stephan Jenkins. Jenkins intended to write a song that acted as a San Francisco response to Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side", with the "doo, doo, doot" chants present throughout the song being directly inspired by Reed's song.[3] In regards to the style of the song, Jenkins explained that it is meant to reflect changes that were occurring in the San Francisco music scene, particularly a growing interest in hip-hop. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jenkins said that the concept of the song was developed through his observations of friends using crystal meth at a Primus concert.[4] The juxtaposition of the music and lyrical content was intentional, as Jenkins intended to illustrate the "bright, shiny feeling" one gets when using crystal meth.[5] However, Jenkins maintains that the meaning of the song more broadly relates to changing periods in one's life.[2] He further explained the meaning of the song:

It’s about living in the Lower Haight [in San Francisco] and all the machinations that were going on at a time where my friend group was finally out of the [educational] institutions that we’d been in our whole lives – because we’d all been in school since kindergarten and everybody now was in their early 20s and out of college. And then probably underneath that, also the weight of coming to terms with the kind of agony that your life is always about to change and never be reliable.[2]

Jenkins was initially against the decision to release "Semi-Charmed Life" as the lead single from Third Eye Blind, as he did not believe that it was representative of the work as a whole.[6] Guitarist Kevin Cadogan was concerned with the explicit lyrical content of the song, as he had fears that radio stations would refuse to play the song.[7] Elektra Records suggested that the band release "Semi-Charmed Life" as their debut single as opposed to "Losing a Whole Year", then prompting the release of several radio edits of the song.[8] Upon the song's success, Jenkins explained that he felt most listeners misinterpreted the song to simply be a "happy summertime jam".[5]

Songwriting claims[edit]

Prior to the formation of Third Eye Blind, Jenkins was part of the rap duo Puck and Zen, alongside Detroit rapper Herman Anthony Chunn. With the assistance of manager Eric Godtland, Jenkins and Chunn made a $10,000 deal for the former to acquire the rights to guitar riffs that the latter wrote, which would later be incorporated into "Semi-Charmed Life".[9] This deal gave Jenkins sole authorship of the song, with Jenkins commenting "I kept going until it was my song. I had no idea where that song was going, but I bought [Chunn] out".[9] When reached for comment by the San Francisco Chronicle, producer Eric Valentine claimed that "Semi-Charmed Life" has "been around for many years. There are a lot of people who contributed to that tune and didn't get credit".[9]

In October 2018, one year following the 2017 reissue of Third Eye Blind, Cadogan filed a lawsuit for infringement of copyright against Third Eye Blind and Jenkins.[10] Despite being uncredited, Cadogan alleges that he was responsible for co-writing four songs on the album, including "Semi-Charmed Life", and thus is entitled to 25 percent of their profits, for which he has not been compensated.[10]

Recording and mixing[edit]

"Semi-Charmed Life" was one of six demos first recorded for Third Eye Blind. Jenkins recorded five iterations of the song before settling on the final version, as he faced difficulty in getting the "groove" right.[8] These recording sessions for "Semi-Charmed Life" took place in and around San Francisco, California at Toast Studios, Skywalker Ranch, and H.O.S.[11] Production on the song was helmed by Jenkins and Eric Valentine.[11] According Valentine, the song was recorded without assistance from computers, rather being recorded directly on to tape machines.[8] Valentine would then cut and edit the tape, with "no fixing or changing anything".[8] The song features multi-layered guitar textures using an Epiphone Casino, Hamer electric, Gibson J-200 acoustic, and a Gretsch Country Gentleman, all of which were centrally provided by Kevin Cadogan.[12] An assortment of amps were also used in the recording process, including a Matchless 30 into a Mesa/Boogie 4x12 cabinet, a Mesa/Boogie Heartbreaker head, a Vox AC30 and a 69 Marshall plexi Super Lead head into a Marshall 4x12 loaded with 25-watt Greenback speakers.[12] Brad Hargreaves used a Pearl Export snare drum in the composition of the track.[12] Reverb, wah-wah, tremolo and flange are also employed throughout the song in order to add "extra texture and sonic diversity".[12]

Valentine was also responsible for the mixing of the track, which was made at The Site, H.O.S, and Toast Studios.[11] Ted Jensen mastered the track at Sterling Sound Studios in New York City.[11]

Composition[edit]

"Semi-Charmed Life" is an alternative rock song,[13] composed with a rap-influenced singing style.[14] It incorporates "shoegazer and big guitar-chord soundscape musicality", as described by Gil Kaufman from Billboard.[8] Other musical instruments used are brushes and a drum machine.[8] The refrain present throughout the song was heavily inspired by Lou Reed's 1972 single "Walk on the Wild Side".[3]

According to the sheet music published at Musicnotes.com by Alfred Publishing, the song is written in the key of G major and is set in time signature of common time with a tempo of 104 beats per minute.[15] Jenkins’s vocal range spans three octaves, from G3 to C6.[15] The song has a sequence of G–D–C in both the verses and chorus and G–D–C–G/B–Am in the bridge, as its chord progression.[15] The lyrics of "Semi-Charmed Life" carry a message of crystal meth addiction, inspired by the drug addictions that Jenkins witnessed from several of his friends. Jenkins explained in Billboard magazine that the juxtaposition between the instrumental and lyrics were intentional, as it was meant to represent "the seductiveness of speed".[16] Regarding the title, Jenkins explained, "[it] refers to a life that's all propped up. You know, the beautiful people who lead bright and shiny lives that on the inside are all fucked up."[17] Regarding the line "She comes around, and she goes down on me", Jenkins explained, "[it's] just really what it reports to be ... It's not cryptic".[4]

Critical reception[edit]

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic cited "Semi-Charmed Life" as evidence that Third Eye Blind can "craft a naggingly memorable hook".[18] David Grad of Entertainment Weekly praised the radio friendly sound of the song, calling it a "nice taste of Third Eye Blind's formula".[19] James Sullivan of Rolling Stone referred to the song as "One of the most relentlessly sunshine-y songs of the Nineties".[20] Justin Joffe of Observer praised "Semi-Charmed Life", commenting that the song is "both poppy and addressed some heavy shit", which gave the band "an edge over their radio-ready contemporaries that many would later imitate with less sincerity".[14] Glamour reviewer and senior editor Anna Moeslein cited "Semi-Charmed Life" as the best song of the 1990s, commenting that the "easy-breezy guitar and "do do do!" intro still spark joy".[21] Andrew Chow of Time designated "Semi-Charmed Life" as a classic karaoke song.[22] Aidin Vaziri of the San Francisco Chronicle referred to "Semi-Charmed Life" as "possibly the catchiest song about casual sex and meth addiction ever".[23]

At the 1997 Billboard Music Awards, "Semi-Charmed Life" garnered Third Eye Blind a win in the Modern Rock Track category.[24]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United States, "Semi-Charmed Life" debuted at number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the issue dated July 5, 1997.[25] The song spent a total of 43 weeks on the chart, peaking at number four for the issue dated August 9, 1997.[25] On both the Modern Rock Tracks and Mainstream Top 40 charts, the song reached a peak of number one.[26][27] Almost four months after its release, "Semi-Charmed Life" was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sales of five hundred thousand.[28] On the all-time Mainstream Top 40 chart, the song held a position of number 53.[29]

In Canada, "Semi-Charmed Life" peaked at number two on the Canada Top Singles chart for the issue dated August 4, 1997.[30] The song placed at number 12 on the year-end chart while re-entering the chart at number 59 in 1998.[31][32] On the Canada Rock/Alternative chart, "Semi-Charmed Life" peaked at number 3.[33] The song also received considerable airplay in the country, with Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems (BDS) confirming that "Semi-Charmed Life" peaked at number 13 on the Canada Adult Contemporary chart.[34]

"Semi-Charmed Life" was also a success in Australia and the United Kingdom. The song debuted at number 49 on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart, and ascended to the number eight position nine weeks later.[35] The song spent a total of 22 weeks on the chart in the country.[35] "Semi-Charmed Life" was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) for the shipment of 35,000 copies.[36] In the United Kingdom, "Semi-Charmed Life" spent five weeks on the UK Singles Chart, peaking at number 33 for the issue dated September 27, 1997.[37]

Music video[edit]

Background[edit]

The music video was directed by Jamie Morgan in the South of Market district of San Francisco, California.[38] Third Eye Blind recruited Morgan to direct the music video after being impressed with his work on Bush's "Swallowed" music video.[8] Jenkins and Cadogan provided the production costs for the music video, with Jenkins commenting that "DIY's [are] very important to us".[38] A radio edit was also used in the video, in which the majority of the bridge is omitted in addition to the phrase "crystal meth" being removed through backmasking.[39] Regarding the idea behind the music video, the band strived to capture an idealistic visual of San Francisco. In order to accomplish this task, Morgan recruited San Francisco residents to appear in the video.[8] Morgan also explained that the ending shot of a moon landing was a reference to the MTV moonman logo.[8] Morgan further expanded on the video's concept in an interview with Billboard, stating:

I found the scooter kids [for the video] driving around San Fran, and the same with the studio shots. [The band] told me they had friends, but when I arrived from London they didn't really have any, so I had to find them from the streets of San Francisco. They loved my first video [for Bush's "Swallowed,"] so that was the starting point for the two-day shoot. They just wanted me to come and shoot the San Francisco vibe, so I just made it up as we went along, and responded to the cast I found on the streets.[8]

Synopsis[edit]

The video starts with a satellite in outer space before quickly transitioning to an American Flag patch on a man's leather jacket. With the refrain playing, the band members and a dog are shown driving a car on a highway. As the first verse begins, Jenkins walks down the sidewalk of a neighborhood in San Francisco while singing. He passes through an outdoor cafe as the video intercuts with scenes of people riding motorcycles. Once the first chorus begins, the video focuses on the band performing in a dimly lit room with a large spinning clock hanging behind them. As the refrain begins again, the video intercuts between scenes of the band performing and of them riding motorcycles throughout the city. Following these shots, Jenkins is shown to now be singing in front of a car parked alongside a strip, as intercuts play that focus on the faces of strangers surrounding Jenkins. The video also briefly focuses on two women kissing while walking on the sidewalk, before abruptly arguing. Once the second chorus begins, Jenkins begins to run through an alleyway while shots are also shown of the band continuing to perform. As the bridge ends, various people on scooters are shown to drive around the city. The band continues to perform while a group of young adults dance, argue, and kiss around them. The video ends with a shot of one of the women watching a moon landing on television, noticing that the American Flag being planted is reminiscent of the patch in the beginning of the video.

Live performances[edit]

The song was performed at the Billboard Music Awards on December 8, 1997.[40] Due to the success of "Semi-Charmed Life" and the follow-up single "Graduate", Third Eye Blind were offered the role of being an opening act for The Rolling Stones and U2 on their respective tours.[41] The song was performed on the Summer Gods Tour (2017-2019), with a recording of the performance subsequently included on the live album Summer Gods Tour Live 2017.[42]

Cultural impact[edit]

Usage in media[edit]

"Semi-Charmed Life" has been used in various media including film, television shows, and video games. The song had prominent appearances in Contact (1997), Excess Baggage (1997), Wild Things (1998), Dirty Work (1998), Gigli (2003), Game Night (2018), and The Lovebirds (2020). Despite not appearing on the film's soundtrack, "Semi-Charmed Life" was praised for its appearance in the 1999 teen sex comedy film American Pie.[43] The song was also featured on the soundtrack for the 2005 film A Lot Like Love. The song is featured in the 2019 episode "Story Tank" of Henry Danger. A mash-up video of "Semi-Charmed Life" and "Call Me Maybe" circulated on the Internet in the middle of 2012.[44] A cover version of the song was featured in the video game Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007).[45] "Semi-Charmed Life" also appears as a playable track in the music rhythm video game Guitar Hero: Van Halen (2009)[46] in addition to being downloadable content in Rock Band 4 (2015)[47] and Rocksmith 2014 (2014). The song was also used in the trailer for Disney's The Tigger Movie (2000). The song was also used in the sitcom The Neighbours. Jackie indicating many times this is her favorite song.

Cover versions[edit]

Singers and bands of various genres have covered the song in their own style. American pop-rap duo Timeflies heavily sampled "Semi-Charmed Life" in their song "Semi-Charmed", which was released in November 2017.[48] American rock band XEB, which consists of three of the founding members of Third Eye Blind, performed "Semi-Charmed Life" while touring in 2017.[49] In October 2017, Mokita and Maty Noyes collaborated on the song "Goodbye", which repurposes the chorus of "Semi-Charmed Life".[50] In 2018, American singer-songwriter Cassadee Pope referenced "Semi-Charmed Life" in her song "How I Feel Right Now".[51] Dance Gavin Dance released a cover of the song on Hopeless Records' compilation album Songs That Saved My Life (2018).[52] In 1999, Chuck E. Cheese released a commercial featuring a jingle loosely based on "Semi-Charmed Life". The "Doo, doo, doot" chorus is replaced by "New, Now, Wow."[53]

Track listings and formats[edit]

Credits and personnel[edit]

Credits and personnel adapted from "Semi-Charmed Life" CD single liner notes.[54]

Charts[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[36] Gold 35,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[72] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[73] Gold 600,000[28]

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

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