Tegan and Sara Have Returned to Their Roots in the Most Interesting Way Possible (Album Review: ‘Hey, I’m Just Like You’)

Hey I'm Just Like You
Photo: Sire Records

I would like to believe that even people who say they enjoyed high school would most probably not want to relive it. Insecurities come alive, friendships come and go, and most importantly, nobody knows who they are yet. Just the thought of going through that again makes me shudder. But Tegan and Sara—Canadian indie pop rock duo, twin sisters, and longtime LGBTQ advocates—are reclaiming that narrative and time in their lives as their own and turning the age-old clichés into unique melodies and poetic lyrics on their new studio album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, a collection of songs they originally wrote and recorded as teenagers that were purposely lost for years until the twins started digging through the past while writing their new memoir, High School.

At the time, Tegan and Sara had no confidence in the songs and remained convinced for decades thereafter that they would never see the light of day. That all changed earlier this year. Last spring, they began reworking and rewriting each track, keeping the “essence” of each song, and soon decided that these remastered recordings from their high school days would become their ninth studio album. As the duo put it, “This is the record we never could have made as teenagers, full of songs we never could have written as adults.” And that’s what makes it so wonderful.

In high school, the twins were not the queer icons we know and love today. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Sara, they were “dirtbags” who were “stoned on acid, sneaking out, skipping school, lying to our parents,” and still very deep in the closet. It was their experimentation with drugs that led to a newfound understanding amongst the sisters that they had previously lost. As young kids, and as with most siblings, Tegan and Sara were inseparably close: they cried when they weren’t in the same elementary school class and their experiences and memories often felt interchangeable—in other words, there was no Tegan without Sara, and no Sara without Tegan.

That all changed by the time they were teenagers in high school, when battle lines were drawn in the name of hormones, emotions, and the ever-present conflict of individual identity. But when they were on acid, they found a new type of love and admiration for each other, and it was this love and admiration that led to some of these songs being written—namely the title track “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” in which they realized many of their struggles were shared, and that together they could face the fact that they were both a little messed up and blue. It’s been over twenty years since Tegan and Sara were teenagers, but these emotions and feelings appear more poignant, heart wrenching, and relevant than ever on these songs which, in the words of Britney Spears, are remixed, reimagined, and still iconic—even though this is the first time they’ve been released.

Tegan and Sara began their career as indie rockers before venturing into synth-pop on their largely celebrated seventh studio album Heartthrob (2013). Their last studio album, 2016’s Love You to Death, was completely pop-focused and was described by The Guardian as a “commercial flop, a box-ticking exercise, with the band’s spirit lost under the sheen.” Other critics have also suggested that the duo was selling out during that era, despite the fact that they were merely exploring their penchant for different sounds and production values. Whatever the case, the twins have returned to their roots on Hey, I’m Just Like You in the most interesting way possible. They haven’t abandoned their newfound tendency for pop production, but they’ve also returned to the indie pop rock vibes found on their earlier records such as So JealousThe Con, or Sainthood.

The new album’s lead single, “I’ll Be Back Someday,” contains the production that embodies this throwback while also containing the catchy lyrics and melodies found in any other successful pop single. The duo are also exploring their sexuality in their lyrics in ways they never have before, in the form of the repressed feelings of closeted teenagers. “Hold My Breath Until I Die,” “Hello, I’m Right Here,” and “I Don’t Owe You Anything” all express the choked-down emotions of a teenager who has been knocked down by their desires and are not yet sure how to get back up. Hey, I’m Just Like You’s song titles are just melodramatic enough to work—since they are about high school, after all. “Don’t Believe the Things They Tell You (They Lie)” and “We Don’t Have Fun When We’re Together Anymore” are achingly reminiscent of all the awkwardness required in being a teenager, but also evoke such strong imagery that is scarcely found in other records of the same nature. “I Know I’m Not the Only One” functions as both an ode to knowing you’re not alone in your queer desires but also as an ode to merely being different—to not fitting in, to not wanting to fit in, and knowing deep in the cloud of self-doubt that other people who feel like you exist. Finally, the album’s closing track, “All I Have to Give the World is Me,” functions as the necessary dismissal of these youthful insecurities. It possesses the same relevant message that Judy Garland sang sixty years ago on “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”—that we are all enough as we are, and you’re going to have to take it or leave it.

Perhaps the strength in Hey, I’m Just Like You comes from the fact that the emotions expressed in these songs only come into focus later on in life—once we’ve gained perspective on the fact that we are all just like you: we all tend to struggle, we all tend to have our hearts broken, we all tend to feel too much. But as teenagers, we think we are in fact the only ones and that everything is the end of the world. And only by reworking and reimagining these songs all these years later have Tegan and Sara been able to chip away at the true meaning of the age-old anxieties of youth: that, on one level or another, we are all just like each other. But we will only figure this out later. Indeed, the twins were right to assume that this is an album they never could have made as teenagers, full of songs they never could have written as adults. Hey, I’m Just Like You emphasizes the importance of time capsules—of capturing our feelings during a specific period and locking them away for later. We never think they will become of any value, but we’re wrong. Or at least Tegan and Sara were wrong, because I can only hope these songs will bring strength and understanding to teenagers who aren’t strong enough yet, and to adults who haven’t confronted the past in a while. It’s worth it, and you’re worth it.

Rating: 9/10

Jeffrey’s favorites from Hey, I’m Just Like You: “Hold My Breath Until I Die,” “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” “I’ll Be Back Someday,” “I Don’t Owe You Anything,” “I Know I’m Not the Only One,” “Please Help Me,” and “All I Have to Give the World is Me”

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