MTV’s grunge poet laureate

Maggie Estep

I was browsing my own website and I ran across this short spoken word piece by Maggie Estep that aired on MTV back in 1993 as part of a series called “Free Your Mind”, presumably named after the En Vogue song of the same name. It inspired me to write out some thoughts I had about it and the era it came from.

February 12, 2014

The 30-second spot

“What’s the matter, baby? You got somethin’ against men? No, I say. I don’t have anything against men. Just stupid men.”

Quick Take

If you grew up watching MTV about 20 years ago, you would’ve seen various spots like this one. Maggie Estep, through her unique and memorable pieces, was known for a time as the “poet laureate” of ’90s MTV, Generation X, and grunge.

I’m not sure if this shorter interpretation or her full song version “Hey Baby” came first. Either way, I was drawn to write about it because it’s such a great window into the grunge-based pop culture and style that was the height of fashion at the time. The visual imagery is bold and gritty; it’s shot in black-and-white. Maggie’s delivery is satirical, direct, aggressive, and uncompromising; her spoken word piece in the spot is darkly comedic, third-wave feminist, and subversive.

Of course, pop culture has long since moved on from the more abrasive, sardonic, cynical style of expression that defined the early to mid-’90s, when alternative was mainstream. You clearly wouldn’t see anything like it on a channel like MTV today. Still, I love this piece. I love it that avant-garde artists like Maggie Estep as well as comedians like Jon Stewart, Denis Leary, and Janeane Garofalo were once fully embraced by MTV, as crucial to the era as the music that defined it.

I responded to the spot with an appreciation both for the culture and generation that it represents, that it would’ve been fascinating to have been truly part of it; and for the piece itself, that its strikingly forward, absurd, boundary-pushing content and its in-your-face presentation is simply brilliant.

R.I.P. Maggie Estep

I was shocked and heartbroken to learn on February 12, 2014, that Maggie Estep has died of a heart attack at the age of 50. The A.V. Club remembers her and everything she brought to our culture as the “spoken-word star of the Gen-X age” and beyond. I’m so sad — Maggie Estep was one of a kind. [Medium | Tumblr]

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