Vivek Shraya

So Jealous

On the 10-year anniversary of So Jealous • 10 September 2014

Tegan once told me that her friends’ favourite Tegan and Sara albums are often the records that were released when they first met. This theory stands true in the case of our friendship—partially.

Though we had been corresponding since 2003, I met Tegan and Sara for the first time backstage at their show at the Phoenix six months after the release of So Jealous in 2005. By then, I knew all the words to all fourteen songs (and the B-side “Love Type Thing”), and so did my partner at the time, which resulted in many joyful late night So Jealous sing-alongs. Soon after, I learned to differentiate between a “Sara song” and a “Tegan song.” I may also have developed a small crush on So Jealous drummer Rob Chursinoff. In short, So Jealous made me a diehard fan.

A Polaroid photo of Vivek with her arms around Tegan and Sara, with a handwritten caption: "BFFs!"
So Jealous tour, November 2005

While its predecessor, If It Was You, a bold record in its own right, inarguably hinted at what would become the “Tegan and Sara sound,” with So Jealous, all the components they had previously flirted with united and gelled—the dozens of vocals stacked together, the synth lines and loops, those inescapable background vocal hooks (take meeee…anywhere!) and their supernatural ability to turn gut-wrenching lyrics into songs that are energetic, exuberant and even hopeful. On their own, lyrics like you wouldn’t like me if you met me or look me in the eye and tell me you don’t find me attractive make me feel so overexposed I want to hide under my bed, but within their musical context, the impact of these words softens, the way difficult truths or old secrets do, once said aloud.

The brilliance of So Jealous surpasses the music itself. The felt hearts that featured prominently in the album’s artwork and marketing, then tender, now have an iconic quality and have been re-interpreted repeatedly, perhaps most notably in the artwork for Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak. Also, ten years before we were all hashtagging lyrics from Beyoncé—#iwokeuplikethis #flawlesss #loveyoulikexo—thousands of us around the world made “so jealous” references in conversation; Tegan and Sara had us hashtagging #sojealous before hashtags existed.

The first time I heard So Jealous, it was the title track. I was in the corner of my bachelor apartment in the midst of my daily post-work, mind-numbing online surfing, when I came across the leaked track via a LiveJournal fansite. I frantically clicked play and I listened in awe. My favourite songs are often the ones in which it’s difficult to anticipate what path a melody might take, and “So Jealous” is the epitome of unpredictable genius. It opens with a pulsing synth organ, and Sara’s muted plea: I don’t want to be part of the problem. The song could have stayed on this emotional note and I would have enjoyed it thoroughly, but instead, the synths are replaced by chugging acoustic guitars and a demand—I want the ocean right now—followed by a bursting confession—I get so jealous.

In a capitalist culture, where scarcity is the dominant model and we learn to always want what someone else has because there isn’t enough for all of us, jealousy is unavoidable. Despite this, there is nothing desirable about jealousy, or admitting to being jealous. Instead, the opposite is true: jealousy is associated with immaturity and selfishness—an unjustifiable, unforgivable inability to be happy for your neighbour. I grew up in a home where the word jealous was akin to a swear word. We were never to say the word, and if we needed to say it, then saying the solitary j was sufficient. Jealous was the j-word.

Jealousy most certainly features in pop songs, though is seldom blatantly expressed. Saying the word, placing such an ugly revelation at the heart of their fourth record, and even naming the entire record So Jealous is indicative of Tegan and Sara’s fearlessness—and ultimately of their relatability. This is why I love this record so much and why we love them so much—because unlike many pop stars, they aren’t trying to sell us something better than ourselves. Like us—they wake up exhausted, they are haunted by ghosts, they are full of love and longing, and they get so jealous—but they aren’t afraid to show it.

Ten years after the release of So Jealous, Tegan and Sara are still a reminder that our imperfections, our desperation, and our heartaches are not to be ashamed of. Even better—they are worth singing about.