Quit Calling the Linda Lindas Cute

All photos by Martin Wong

Forty years ago when I was thirteen, I started angling to start a punk band, and I started my first one just a couple of years later–an all girl band of course. As a girl growing up in one-block town, a punk band was not the sort of thing I was expected to do. People expected me to drop out of high school and get pregnant, or to just go unnoticed and to accept it, to keep my big mouth shut which is why I need to tell you this:

Quit calling the Linda Lindas cute.

They are not trinkets or cartoon characters. They are four young Asian and Latinx girls making a place for themselves, being heard through songs that express what it’s like being a teenager today, right now and you should be listening.

Maybe you haven’t called them cute, but some of my own friends have a number of times, maybe not quite aware how it comes off. It is true that the Linda Lindas are cute, especially Mila, the eleven-year old drummer, but

making their cuteness the primary focus of your praise, almost completely ignores and underestimates them and how significant they are for young musicians, and for old ones like me who blazed trails and got a little burned along the way.

Like the song “Growing Up” for example, it’s both a song that invites young people in and informs the rest of us how young people feel and what they need:

Growing up isn’t something we can make happen when we want it to

But since we’re all growing up together

I guess I’ll grow up with you

We can take turns taking the reins

Lean on each other when we need some extra strength

We’ll never cave or we’ll never waver

And we’ll always become braver and braver

Under the table, we’ll whisper in each other’s ears

We’ll share our hopes and dreams, and all our other

Greatest fears

And when we get burned from

Jumping in the fire

We’ll never tire, cause we’ll

Always find ways to fly higher

We’ll dance like nobody’s there

We’ll dance without any cares

We’ll talk ’bout problems we share

We’ll talk ’bout things that ain’t fair

We’ll sing ’bout things we don’t know

We’ll sing to people and show

What it means to be young and growing up

Take these words seriously: “We’ll sing to people and show what it means to be young and growing up.” In the song the band acknowledges at least, two audiences, young people their age and the rest of us who are much older who still love punk rock. In the song, they admit they might not yet know everything, that they are young and trying to figure it out and taking up space with abandon, ganas, and joy. 

In a recent interview in Elle, the Linda Linda’s spoke about being so young and breaking out with their album Growing Up: “‘I hope that people have fun listening to it or they can dance to it,’” Eloise says of the album. Lucia hopes it makes people realize “they can do whatever they want at any age.” It’s also a reminder, if you couldn’t guess from the title, “that we’re still growing as musicians,” she adds. “This is only our first album. We wanna keep making music, we wanna keep writing and releasing songs, but we’re still really proud of this.” 

From their lyrics and interviews, it’s clear that the Linda Lindas are quite aware that what they are doing at their age is rather remarkable, and they are humble about where they are as musicians and clear that they want to continue playing at any age. Still, if you Google the Linda Lindas you’ll find people on Reddit asking if they’re a real band (my guess, from experience is that they are bitter dudes), and clearly these are people who have never seen them play live. When they played, Oakland’s Mosswood Meltdown, the 11 year old drummer, Mila, didn’t miss a beat. I started playing drums at like 14 or 15 and I couldn’t play like Mila until I was like 17 or 18. My friend Nancy, who rushed the stage with me to see them play, asked me about Mila’s musicianship and what I thought. While I could hear that her sound will fill out with more experience, she plays every song with precision and heart. She sings and plays on some songs too! Other Reddit commenters cynically mentioned that the band has well-connected parents, and while it’s true, the Linda Lindas parents weren’t on the stage playing their instruments for them though Mila and Lucia’s dad was working as their roadie, fixing drum mics that moved out of place.

“Hi, Papí,” Mila said when he was in view of the audience. Lucia chimed in, “Yeah, that’s our dad,” and pointed to where he knelt in front of the drum set. All of that was pretty fucking cute.

And that’s the other thing going on with the Linda Lindas that I admire: how their parents support them. The girls are not left to handlers who might not have their best interests at heart, but their families travel with the band, work behind the scenes, stand at the front of the stage and cheer, and hoist younger siblings into their arms so they can cheer too. As the mother of a professional musician, I know how important my experience, advice, and guidance has mattered to my son, and sometimes that advice has been about the business end of music and sometimes it’s been about the music itself. He seeks my advice fairly often, but he also rejects some of it because he, like the Linda Lindas, has his own sound and his own vision. Unlike what many might think, musicians parenting musicians can and must be more than just about money or fame. For parents of the Linda Lindas, I can imagine that one of the most meaningful rewards must be learning, through their songs, some of their daughters’ deepest, inner most thoughts as in the song “Fine”:

You hear us shouting but you don’t feel a word

You know we’re dying but you say that we’re cured

You keep on going, you think it’s fine

And there’s another song that I love for its nuanced take on wishing, a song called “Magic.” The song opens on a lament about feeling invisible, something we’ve all felt, something I felt acutely as a teen, and sometimes feel again in middle age:

If I was invisible

no one would judge me for wanting to be by myself

But I’m already invisible enough

without anybody else’s help

As it moves to the chorus, the song calls on magic to save the narrator from the feeling of being invisible for being herself by herself. Then in the chorus, there’s a turn, and the narrator decides being themselves is better: 

If I could go back in time

And just change that one thing

Maybe now would be different

But part of me would always be missing

What if magic was real

What if magic revealed

Something nobody would ever

Wish upon themselves

Or anybody else

Maybe reality is better

This song, and so many of the Linda Linda songs, is a portal into the minds of young people, and we should really be listening and learning about what they feel, what they need, and how we can continue to lift them up. As an educator of young adults, I can help but see who The Linda Lindas are, what they represent, and what they have to say at this time in America right now feels terribly important and healing. For me personally, forty years since I cut my hair short and starting planning my first band, it feels like the The Linda Lindas are crafting songs specially written for my ever-present, bullied inner punk girl.

Soy diferente

no como lo demas

Y no todo el mundo

Va a entender

Todos somos perfectos

En todas formas y hechos

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