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Stupid Girl (Garbage song)

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"Stupid Girl"
A stylized "G" resembling a branding iron. Above is "Garbage" in neon-like letters, and below "Stupid Girl".
Single by Garbage
from the album Garbage
  • "Driving Lesson"
  • "Alien Sex Fiend"
Released January 22, 1996 (1996-01-22)[1]
Format 7", 12", cassette single, maxi single
Recorded 1994–95; Smart Studios (Madison, Wisconsin)
Length 4:18
Label Almo Sounds
Producer(s) Garbage
Garbage singles chronology
"Stupid Girl"

"Stupid Girl" is a song recorded by alternative rock band Garbage for the band's self-titled debut studio album. The song was composed and produced by bandmembers Duke Erikson, Shirley Manson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig. "Stupid Girl" features lyrics about a young female's ambivalence, and a musical arrangement centered on both a repetitive bassline and a drum sample from The Clash's 1980 hit "Train in Vain".

The song was released by Almo Sounds in North America and Mushroom Records worldwide as the band's fourth international single in 1996. "Stupid Girl" became their biggest hit in United States and the United Kingdom, with its performance on the charts driven by an innovative music video and remixes which gained massive airplay across the world. The success of "Stupid Girl" propelled sales of its parent album Garbage into the top twenty of the Billboard 200 and into the top ten of the UK Albums Chart.

Reviews of the song were positive, with praise to the production. "Stupid Girl" was nominated for two Grammy Awards, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, as well as the Danish Grammy for Best Rock Song, an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist and an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Song.



"Stupid Girl" began as a rough demo around January 1994. It was recorded during informal studio sessions between Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig in Marker's home basement recording studio in Madison, Wisconsin prior to Shirley Manson joining the group.[5] The band had been jamming using an ADAT eight-track, AKAI samplers and a small drum kit.[6] Vig took a loop from the drum introduction from The Clash's "Train In Vain" and added further percussion. Afterwards, Marker created the bassline, under the request of doing something like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Suzie Q", "something that's almost like a Motown feel". Erikson finished off what became the song's core with a jangly guitar riff.[7][8]

After Marker saw Manson's group Angelfish on 120 Minutes, the band invited her to Vig and Marker's Smart Studios to sing on a couple of songs, but after a "dreadful" first audition, she returned to Angelfish.[9] Manson eventually returned to Smart for a successful second time, where she began to work on the then-skeletal "Queer", "Vow" and "Stupid Girl".[10] Working on the lyrics, "Stupid Girl" became an "anthem for a girl who won't settle for less than what she wants".[11] Later she added, "["Stupid Girl" is] really about squandering potential, [it's] our version of Madonna's 'Express Yourself', but a little more subversive".[12] Manson aimed the song as a rebuke towards a friend's foolish behaviour: "A lot of females still find it difficult to find their own voice in society. It's just that women have a different set of problems from men... make the most of your potential."[13] Manson added that "Stupid Girl" was "a song of reproach to a lot of people we know", both male and female,[14] and that "we could have called it 'Stupid Guy,' but we thought another song about a strident female dissing a guy would be tedious."[15]

Garbage wanted to write a song that incorporated a very thumpy and repetitive bass line; this would act as a hook.[16] Continuing to develop the demo throughout the recording process for what would eventually become the band's debut album, the group decided to add textures, guitars, and keys to make "Stupid Girl" dynamic rather than built on complicated chord changes.[6] Marker and Vig then added in elements of ambient sound effects throughout the audio mix; including the "glitchy" sound of a broken DAT player used during the pre-chorus.[6] Marker had been dubbing between audio tracks, resulting in scratchy feedback; he sampled the sound and tuned it to fit the song, unintentionally created by an alternative hook.[16] When Manson recorded her first vocals for "Stupid Girl", the band realised that the key that the song had been arranged in was too low, but instead of re-recording the guitars, Vig re-printed them through a pitch-change patch on an effects unit.[6] Erikson commented that the effects are "just ear candy, but they contribute to the character of the song, make the listener think in a certain way about the song".[8] Additional percussion on "Stupid Girl" was performed by Madison musician Pauli Ryan, while the bass guitar line was played on record by Milwaukee session bassist Mike Kashou, both of whom performed on a number of tracks on the band's debut album.[17]

Reflecting on the success of the song in 2002, Vig admitted: "People still ask us who the 'Stupid Girl' is, and that's impossible to answer. The song is sort of meant to be a wake up call. It could be about an ex-girlfriend. It could be about a rock diva that we all know, it could be about your sister. It could also be called 'Stupid Boy'."[7] Looking back, he also stated, "It's impossible to predict what will be a hit. But subconsciously, I knew the song was good when I kept playing the same rough mix over and over again on my car stereo for months."[7]


Mick Jones, Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon on stage.
The drum intro from The Clash's "Train in Vain" is used throughout "Stupid Girl".

"Stupid Girl" is a moderately fast alternative rock song with touches of electronica, set in common time. It is built on a I-IV change in F, with both chords, F7 and B7.[18]

The tonal function of a "dominant" seventh chord is to resolve up a perfect fourth. In non-classical harmony, the chord is often used similarly, but also, especially in blues, funk, and early rock music, it is used commonly for its color that seems to mesh major and minor together with its major third, minor seventh, and the dissonant interval between the two. When the F7 chord is played, it should traditionally resolve to B, which would expectedly be a B major 7th chord, the M7 being the major 3rd of the tonic.[18]

Instead, on the B note is another dominant seventh. Such chords are the basis of the twelve-bar blues, and are used in this way to give "Stupid Girl" a bluesy, rock-'n'-roll feel, the chord change is manipulated to emphasize the B's flatted seventh (a minor third from the tonic), giving the song a sulky mood. This chord change is used for the intro, verse, chorus and the instrumental sections, with exception to the pre-chorus, which is in the relative key of D minor. Overall, even regardless of the chord progression, the song seems to fall somewhere between major and minor, and the use of four-note seventh chords (as opposed to "three-note" chords) help to form a rich atmosphere. "Stupid Girl" is mainly carried by this arrangement, along with drum beats, sampled from "Train In Vain".[18]

On the intro, four bars set the rhythm, adorned by only a guitar pick-slide and audio effects. The verse adds Manson's vocals and a bass riff which uses flattened blue notes to give "Stupid Girl" an funky, unsettled feel. The eight-bar prechorus abruptly cuts in with minor chords and sampled feedback replaces the bass which drops out. This, coupled with Manson singing high in her range, creates tension and enables the presence of the bass to be felt when it re-enters on the chorus. The guitar figures in the bridge include a phrase played low and rhythmic guitar stabs on the opposite side of the audio mix. On the chorus, Manson's main vocal is answered by an "aah-ah" of voice and guitar together. The word "girl" lands on a flattened bass note (A against the F note, instead of A).[19]

Single release[edit]

Release and promotion[edit]

The first single release of "Stupid Girl" occurred in Australia and New Zealand on January 22, 1996,[1] when White issued on both CD and cassette, backed with "Trip My Wire" (previously released on the "Queer" single in the United Kingdom) and remixes of "Queer" by Adrian Sherwood and Martin Gore.[20] A week later, White issued a second CD featuring a cover version of The Jam's "Butterfly Collector" and a further two "Queer" mixes produced by Danny Saber and Rabbit In the Moon[21] (also previously released in the UK).[22] In July, White released a limited edition EP titled Stupid Girl – The Remixes collecting together the UK b-sides and remixes for the Australian market.[23] BMG released "Stupid Girl" across Europe on February 28.[24] The single was issued as a CD maxi backed with both "Butterfly Collector" and "Trip My Wire".[25] When Garbage returned to tour Europe's rock festivals in August, BMG reissued "Stupid Girl" in France[26] and Germany[27]

Mushroom Records serviced "Stupid Girl" to radio stations in the United Kingdom a month in advance of the release; it was A-listed at Radio One, Virgin and Capital.[28] Mushroom issued "Stupid Girl" on March 11 as a 2×CD single set and limited edition 7" vinyl packaged in two differing colours of fabric.[22] The song was backed with "Driving Lesson", a new version of "Dog New Tricks" and a remix of "Stupid Girl" produced by Red Snapper on the first disc;[29] "Alien Sex Fiend" and two versions of "Stupid Girl" remixed by Dreadzone on the second.[30] The vinyl was backed with the mix of "Dog New Tricks".[31] The single was supported by Garbage's first ever UK tour, which launched on March 19.[32] During the middle of the live shows, Garbage performed the single on Top of the Pops,[33] and a live showcase performance of "Stupid Girl" and "Only Happy When It Rains" on TFI Friday.[34]

In North America, where "Only Happy When It Rains" had been the band's breakthrough single, Almo Sounds planned either "Stupid Girl" or a re-release of their debut single "Vow" to follow it up.[35] On May 25, Almo serviced "Stupid Girl" to alternative radio, simultaneous with Garbage joining The Smashing Pumpkins' North American arena tour as the opening act throughout June and July.[5] The tour was halted after Smashing Pumpkins keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin fatally overdosed – the Pumpkins resumed without Garbage a month later.[36] Almo re-serviced "Stupid Girl" with a remix of the song produced by Todd Terry to Top 40 radio.[37] On July 9, Almo released "Stupid Girl" to record stores on CD and cassette single, backed with "Driving Lesson" and the Todd Terry version.[38] Almo serviced remixes of the song to clubs. On July 11, Garbage performed "Stupid Girl" on the Late Show with David Letterman,[39] and in October performed the song at the VH1 Fashion Awards – which earned attention as Manson had a wardrobe malfunction.[40][41] On August 6, Almo released a 12" vinyl format commercially featuring "Driving Lesson" and remixes of "Stupid Girl" produced by Todd Terry, Danny Saber, Rabbit In the Moon and Jason Bentley,[42]

Chart performance[edit]

"Stupid Girl" first charted on the Australian ARIA Singles Chart dated week ending February 4, 1996, debuting at number 99[43] and peaking at number 47 on March 24, 1996.[44] The single charted for two non-consecutive weeks on the New Zealand Top 40 – peaking at number 32 in February.[45] In Iceland, "Stupid Girl" debuted at 18th at the start of April,[46] and shot up to 4th in the second week,[47] where it remained for three weeks.[48] In Spain, "Stupid Girl" peaked at 40th on the airplay chart.[49] In Ireland, "Stupid Girl" peaked at 16th.[50] In France, "Stupid Girl" peaked at 38th on the French singles chart,[51] and Garbage re-charted to peak at number 16 on the album chart.[52]

At the start of March, "Stupid Girl" debuted at 48th on the UK airplay chart,[53] and the band's debut album re-charted at number 27 on the album chart.[54] Later, "Stupid Girl" debuted as the highest new entry on the UK Singles Chart at 4th,[55] which remains the band's highest charting single.[56] On its second week, "Stupid Girl" dropped to 10th,[57] as Garbage broke into the albums top ten for the first time.[58] On the airplay chart, "Stupid Girl" peaked at 5th,[59] and spent the entire following month within the top ten.[60] "Stupid Girl" clocked up seven weeks in the top 75 and sold 120,000 copies.[61]

In North America, after a week on air in April, "Stupid Girl" debuted on Modern Rock Tracks at 38th.[62] Two weeks later, it broke into the Modern Rock top twenty – with an "Airpower" rating, meaning the song had registered over 900 detections for the first time on alternative radio -[63] and debuted at 66th on the Hot 100 Airplay chart.[64] At the end of the month "Stupid Girl" reached the top ten at Modern Rock -[13] peaking at number 2 in August,[65] and only leaving the top ten in September -[66] as Garbage ascended into the top forty of the Billboard 200 for the first time.[67] The remixes were rated Hot Dance Break-outs[68] as "Stupid Girl" debuted at 46th on the Hot 100.[69]

By August, "Stupid Girl" continued to chart, debuting at 68th on the Hot 100 Singles Sales chart,[70] at 47th on the Top 40 Mainstream chart and at 46th on the Hot Dance/Club Play chart.[71] The success also led the album Garbage to peak at 20th on the Billboard 200,[72] double its sales to shifting around 40,000 units each week,[73] and receive a platinum certification by the RIAA for shipping a million units.[74] The remixes album peaked on 30 on the Maxi-Singles Sales chart.[75] In mid-August, "Stupid Girl" peaked at 26th on the Hot 100 Airplay chart,[76] and picked up enough mainstream rock airplay to spend two weeks at 39th on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.[77] At the start of September, "Stupid Girl" became a crossover hit, having built up at both alternate and contemporary hit radio, where it reached 25th on the Top 40 Mainstream chart.[78] Two weeks later, "Stupid Girl" earned Garbage's highest position on the Hot 100 with a number 24;[79][80] it also peaked at 33rd on the Single Sales chart,[81] and hit 5th on the Club Play chart.[82] "Stupid Girl" continued to gain a larger crossover audience throughout October, debuting on the Adult Top 40.[83] "Stupid Girl" bowed off of the Modern Rock chart in mid-November after twenty-five weeks,[84] and remained on the Hot 100 until the start of December, clocking twenty weeks.[85]


In 1996, Mushroom released a white label to clubs featuring the Red Snapper and Dreadzone mixes in advance of the UK release of "Stupid Girl".[86] The Red Snapper mix was later released in Europe on the b-side to "Only Happy When it Rains",[87] while White Records released this mix along with the Dreadzone mixes on a Stupid Girl – The Remixes extended play.[23] Almo Sounds commissioned additional remixes from Danny Saber, Rabbit In the Moon, Jason Bentley and Todd Terry for the North American release of the single.[42] One of Todd Terry's mixes was also serviced to Top 40 radio.[37] Mushroom later released this version, along with the Danny Saber mix in the UK on the b-side of "Milk",[88] while White included the Todd Terry mix on the bonus disc of the Garbage: Australian Tour Edition.[89] In 1997, Mushroom released four Todd Terry mixes on a set of 12" vinyls (Stupid Girl Remixes) in the UK.[90] An instrumental version of the Red Snapper mix was also included on the compilation album Big Beat Elite.[91] In 2007, Todd Terry's radio mix was remastered and included on the Absolute Garbage bonus disc Garbage Mixes.[92]

Danny Saber's remix brief for his version of "Stupid Girl" was to create a version of the song for radio airplay on K-Rock new wave/alternative rock stations. Garbage's management wanted Saber to retain the original's "Train in Vain" loop, as it had cost the band significantly to license. Saber opted for a Soft Cell/house music combination; incorporating the original vocal line, tempo, key and feedback. Saber created a new bassline for the remix, arranging the mix around that. Saber completed the remix in a single day, with one further day required to mix.[93]


Garbage recorded a number of tracks for the b-side of "Stupid Girl" in January 1996 during rehearsals for their first full-length concert tour.[94] During the rehearsals, Garbage remixed their album track "Dog New Tricks",[95] wrote and recorded "Driving Lesson" and "Alien Sex Fiend" and finally, recorded their own take "Kick My Ass", a Vic Chesnutt cover for inclusion on charity album Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation.[35] Daniel Shulman plays bass on all four tracks.[96] On October 14, 1998, Garbage, Electronic Arts, AT&T and linked up to promote a live webcast from Garbage's headline show at Dallas Bronco Bowl by offering a free .a2b file format digital download of "Driving Lesson",[97] which registered over 6,000 downloads.[98]

Formats and track listings[edit]

Music video[edit]

Shirley Manson in a scratched, bleached image.
The music video's distinctive look was inspired by the title sequence of Se7en, and was achieved by director Samuel Bayer cutting, soaking and scratching the film negative.

The music video for "Stupid Girl" was filmed on January 16, 1996 in Los Angeles by director Samuel Bayer. The video for "Only Happy When It Rains" was shot at the same time,[101] and received a higher budget as Almo Sounds believed that it would be a bigger hit than "Stupid Girl".[102] According to Manson, "Stupid Girl" had the other bandmembers drunk and all of Garbage exhausted after three days shooting the other video.[8]

The video debuted internationally on February 1, 1996,[103] and in North America on May 5.[104] MTV certified "Stupid Girl" a Buzz-clip, the band's third video in a row to be guaranteed heavy airplay on the network,[37] while VH1 added the video at the start of September[105] and incorporated it into a Pop Up Video episode.[102]

The video for "Stupid Girl" is a performance piece, inspired by the title sequence from David Fincher's 1995 movie Se7en.[106] The clip was shot in just four hours[106] entirely within a warehouse decorated with plexiglas sheets on which the song lyrics were written.[101][8] Bayer cut the film into pieces, and soaked it in his bath, applying deliberate fingerprints and abrasions to the footage before putting it back together by hand. He would later shoot Green Day's 2004 "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" video in a similar manor. [95] Vig would compliment the video for mirroring the band's sound: "some of it looked beautiful, some of it looked distorted, and kinda fucked up - and it sorta described some of our music visually".[8] Bayer later re-edited a second version of the video, with alternative footage from the original shoot for a remix version of "Stupid Girl" by Todd Terry.[107]

The "Stupid Girl" video was nominated in the Best New Artist in a Video category at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards,[108] losing to the Stéphane Sednaoui-directed video for Alanis Morissette's "Ironic".[109]

The "Stupid Girl" video was first commercially released on VHS and Video-CD on 1996's Garbage Video, along with "making of" out-take footage.[110] A remastered version was later included on Garbage's 2007 greatest hits DVD Absolute Garbage,[92] and made available as a digital download via online music services the same year.[111]

Critical reception and legacy[edit]

"Stupid Girl" received an overwhelmingly positive response from music critics both upon the release of Garbage and on its eventual single release. Select's Ian Harrison called the song "Duran-like", describing it as "mighty doomy pop neatly tailored to enhance one's natural discontentment".[112] Vox magazine's Craig McLean called it "malignant, dirty, devious, sneering pop",[113] while Metal Hammer's Pippa Lang compared Manson's "ever-so-sexy, sibilant" vocals to Trent Reznor's.[114] Kerrang! described "Stupid Girl" as "a classy piece of predatory pop perfection that wields an iron punch beneath it's [sic] velvet glove".[7]

The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group,[115] but lost to Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason" and Dave Matthews Band's "So Much to Say", respectively.[116] "Stupid Girl" was also up for the Danish Grammy for Best Rock Song,[98] and the MTV Europe Music Award for Best Song.[117] In 1997, Broadcast Music Incorporated awarded "Stupid Girl" a Citation of Achievement for Best Pop Song, meaning it was among the year's most performed songs.[118] Erikson said the song was "a crowd favorite" that improves the setlist's mood whenever it gets played, and Vig added that "we've played 'Stupid Girl' on stage more than a thousand times and I'm still not sick of it."[8]

In 2005, "Stupid Girl" was featured in Curtis Hanson's film In Her Shoes,[119] while later that year, Alexz Johnson recorded a cover version of the track for the soundtrack album Songs from Instant Star.[120] In 2011, it was nominated for a place on the final track listing of STV's Scotland's Greatest Album.[121]



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