I was 10 when Josie and the Pussycats came out. Based on a cartoon from the early 1970s, the 2001 movie starred Rachel Leigh Cook (Josie), Rosario Dawson (Valerie), and Tara Reid (Melody). It was a critical flop, but I loved it immediately. And when discussing pop culture nostalgia with my peers, I am always surprised to hear that many either haven't seen, or haven't really considered, this movie for the — dare I say — millennial masterpiece that it is.
Josie and the Pussycats centers on an endearing, fun, and quirky female rock trio who get signed by a record label, but manipulative record executives are using subliminal messages in their music to sell things to teenage fans (sounds kind of ridiculous, I know). The band, after almost being torn apart by their new fame, ultimately realizes this. They come together to defeat the label and its evil executives, and their friendship (and their music) ultimately prevails. Other than the critical look at some heavy topics that it offers, this film presents a realistic and beautiful look at female friendship — and has an amazing soundtrack. Despite initial poor feedback (I'm looking at you, Roger Ebert), it's now a cult classic for some. I wouldn't really define this as a "kids'" movie by any means, but it is worth a rewatch. It's packed with a ton of satirical commentary on consumer culture, the music industry (particularly for female artists), boy band culture, and teenagers in general. And it still hits hard... and maybe even harder in 2023.
I've loved music, and particularly rock music, since I was a child. And so, from the first time I saw the movie, I was completely obsessed. I idolized each of the three distinct, yet very cool, members of the Pussycats band with their awesome instruments and kitty cat ears, killer style, spunky personalities, and loyalty to one another.
And boy, did it resonate with me. I had the CD soundtrack and played it incessantly on my boombox, which was an important part of my identity as a preteen. I'd dance around my room to it, playing air guitar and singing to an imaginary audience while jumping on my bed. As not too much of a full-on "girly girl" myself, to use early aughts lingo, I saw myself, or what I aspired to be, in these women who could rock out, wear cute outfits, and have fun with their friends. They were pseudo-superheroes in their own modern "adventures."
And even now, I stand by the quality of the music. The essential songs from the soundtrack are: "3 Small Words," "Pretend to be Nice," and "Spin Around." These three are objectively great, catchy pop-rock songs. If I had to choose, "3 Small Words" is my favorite. The lyrics are so smart (listen for the use of numbers!), and it is earworm-y in the best, most non-annoying way. Kay Hanley of rock band Letters to Cleo sings the vocals for lead singer Josie (played by Cook), so the voice in these songs is that of a real rock legend. It's not a silly throwaway song for just another teen movie. "You Don't See Me" and "I Wish You Well" are other songs that get honorable mentions.
The movie certainly presents each of the band members as different from one another, and gets into the common '90s and 2000s "typecasting" that was present in so many corners of culture marketed to young women. From American Girl dolls to The Spice Girls to the Powerpuff Girls, we all knew "which one is your favorite?" really meant "which one are you?" And to give the movie credit: while I, of course, had a favorite (Valerie, obviously), the movie presents each of them as special and compelling in their own unique way. They're not just types.
But perhaps the best thing about this movie is how it portrays female friendship. While each girl has her own distinct personality, they allow each other to be themselves. They're not afraid to speak up to one another and be honest, either. When Val feels the record label is just focusing on Josie instead of the band as a whole, thus going against promises they made to one another, she expresses it. The film shows that friends can love each other, and fight, and make up, and move on, just like real friends do. While they have a ton of fun together and dream of getting out of their small town and hitting it big, the film avoids making this trio overly cliched or depicting their friendship as surface-y or shallow. They are a taste of a modern female friendship, way ahead of its time in 2001 pop culture.
My boombox is long gone, and I've traded the CD for a Spotify playlist, but I still listen to the original songs from Josie and the Pussycats more frequently than most people would imagine. I think there's a part of me who wants to be like these women: strong, loyal, quirky, and passionate about what they love. And this is one piece of nostalgic pop culture from my childhood that I can't wait to share with my daughter — who already loves the soundtrack.
Taylor Siering is a mom of two from New York City, currently living in the Midwest. She is a Ph.D. student who studies the intersection of professional work and gender, with a specific focus on the experiences of mothers and motherhood. She spends a lot of time thinking about mom content, pop culture, social media trends, and her other random, hyper-specific interests.