Fast forward to 1982. I’m entering sixth grade. While I idolized Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy as a wee one, especially the cigarette-smoking, crimp-haired, tight leather pants-wearing goddess of the funhouse, I was too young to project my interior life onto her: I just thought she was incredibly cool.
When I first found out that Grease 2 wouldn’t follow up on Sandy and Danny’s story, I had a tween-style hissy fit. I wanted to know what happened to them after they floated off into the sky. But the moment Michelle Pfeiffer entered the frame with her blonde bangs and kick-ass confidence, I was smitten: I committed to hanging out at Rydell High again.
Grease and Grease 2 are polar opposites. The original is all about a girl pining for a boy to save her (“Hopelessly Devoted To You“) as he lies to his friends about having sex with her and then attempts to date rape her until she slams the car door on his balls. The world of Grease 2 is practically a feminist paradise in comparison. It’s also endearingly sex-positive.
The second film is not without its flaws—seriously cornball dialogue, wooden acting, a few terrible, horrible songs. It’s clear that the screenwriter and director knew that they could coast on the success of the original—hordes of fans would pay to see it no matter what.
Yet film analysis was beyond me as I gazed upon the leader of the latter-day Pink Ladies. Pfeiffer’s flawless face was not rendered less exquisite by her character’s gum-snapping and vaguely Brooklynesque accent. Something resonated with me immediately—and then someone called her Stephanie. Stephanie Zinone. Even though we used different spellings for our names, I knew I was meant to be her in a million and one ways. We shared far more than merely our appellations.
I loved that Stephanie was more than slightly detached from the goings-on at her school—she was meant for a world of more. Utterly unfazed by the politics of popularity, she could give or take the T-Birds—and she’d prefer to give them all away. (The movie opens right after she’s broken up with the head T-Bird, and she’s not even a little bit sorry for dumping him.)
Stephanie’s love interest is the Batman-like Michael, played by Maxwell Caulfield, posing as nerd-by-day and super hot mysterious motorcycle guy by night. (Please gaze upon his beauty.)
Stephanie practically oozes with power, and she knows how to put on red lipstick like it’s her job. Her early ’60s cum punk rock style—black jeans and boots with a V-neck sweater and a simple, low-slung necklace—was almost too iconic for me to take. (I started wearing all black the following year.)
And then came “Cool Rider“:
If you really want to know
What I want in a guy…
Well, I’m lookin’ for a dream on a mean machine
With hell in his eyes.
I want a devil in skin tight leather,
And he’s gonna be wild as the wind.
And one fine night, I’ll be holdin’ on tight…
To a coooool rider, a coooool rider.
If he’s cool enough,
He can burn me through and through.
If it takes forever,
Then I’ll wait forever.
No ordinary boy,
No ordinary boy is gonna do.
This song, and Stephanie’s entire arc, is built on her unabashed, shame-free sexual agency. Her desires are barely veiled: “And one fine night, I’ll be holdin’ on tight….” I wouldn’t even kiss my first boy until I was 14, but this spoke to both my loins and my soul.
At its heart, her headline song is about more than sex—it’s about not settling. Why date someone just for the sake of having arm-candy for the prom/luau? Like more recent on-screen blonde icon SJP once said, “Some people are settling down, some people are settling, and some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”
I would go on to wait for my great high school love to ask me to the prom, saying no to three very sweet boys, and ending up without a date until the very last minute. So not all of Stephanie’s lessons turned out well for me. But as an adult, even though I’ve had multiple stints as a single gal between long-term relationships, I have not for one moment regretted not settling. I’d rather have an empty spot next to me in the bed than one filled with someone I’m not absurdly, ridiculously besotted with.
After a recent breakup, I again await my cool rider, one who brings the butterflies.
Motorcycle not required.