Music/Features

The Return of Aly and AJ

November 15, 2017

Almost a decade after the duo left Disney behind, the sisters are on a mission to join the pop zeitgeist.

A friend of mine recently asked me if I was ever a fan of Aly & AJ. I racked my brain to conjure up memories of their music videos interspersed between kids’ shows on the Family Channel and came to the conclusion that yes, I had been a fan, albeit around a decade ago.

I’m not sure that Aly & AJ stood out much from other Disney channel darlings like Vanessa Hudgens or Ashley Tisdale. Personally, I’ve got a huge sweet spot for Hilary Duff. If I’m certain about anything though, it’s that “Potential Breakup Song” was an absolute banger. Chances are if you were a pre-teen girl in 2007, you and your best friend sang “Potential Breakup Song” to your completely non-existent boyfriends. Absurdity set aside, this was empowering as fuck. And hey, if it took two Disney stars to teach young women how to set some standards and not take any crap from their romantic partners, then so be it.

This year, the duo are set to release their first new music in a decade with the aptly titled EP Ten Years. If the singles are any indication, it will be a pretty big departure from their last album, Insomniac.

For those of you who need a refresher, Aly & AJ are a California-based pop-rock duo comprised of sisters Alyson Michalka and Amanda Joy Michalka. You probably remember them as blonde-haired teenaged Disney musicians, known for songs like “Rush”, and their cover of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic.” You would also likely remember Alyson, the eldest Michalka sister, as the quirky female lead Keely Teslow in Disney’s Phil of the Future. Since then, both sisters have turned their attention towards acting: Aly stars in the CW show iZombie and AJ plays Lainey Lewis in The Goldbergs 

Given the lengthy amount of time between releases, it certainly begs the question: “what have they been doing for the past ten years?”

So I took it upon myself to find out:

1. In 2013, they released one a single, “Hothouse”, after having left Hollywood Records and renaming their duo 78violet. Did anyone even know that happened? I didn’t. Then again, there’s a huge difference between being twelve and being seventeen. I had (temporarily) shed my love for girly pop music for an obsession with New Order and the Velvet Underground, and my attention was certainly diverted from Aly & AJ, to say the least.

2. Aly got married in June of 2015. I feel old now.

3.  The sisters cut ties with the label Hollywood records in 2010. They’re releasing their new EP on their own label, Aly & AJ Music LLC.

Fast-forward to today and they’ve got two new singles out on their own record label. This summer, they hinted at the release of new music by posting a number of photos on their Instagram that fit together to form their EP artwork. The first single, Take Me Out,” was released at the end of August; the music video followed shortly afterwards.

I was actually pretty hyped listening to it. Admittedly, searching up Aly & AJ’s music on YouTube did a number on my recommendations, but their new single (if not the nostalgia evoked by their oldies) was worth it.

Take Me Out” opens up with a 1980s-style synth, which quickly bleeds into the duo’s dreamy vocals. Referencing the line “if I could sink my teeth into you,” the pair don fangs and dried blood for the music video.  My immediate impression? It’s definitely not bad. If someone threw this on at a party, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it. Their Disney sound has been shed completely and replaced by more mature, clean-sounding pop. The second single off the EP, “I Know,” is similar in its nostalgic musical theme, and while both songs are lyrically pretty sparse, the minimalist style works well with the cool, air-y vibe of the music.

While the sound of their new songs definitely aligns with contemporary pop music, their lyrics are more adolescent than ever. “Take Me Out,” which pleads for a romantic interest to make the first move, is a far cry from the assertiveness of “Potential Breakup Song.” Does the nervousness and longing that accompany pursuing someone romantically ever really go away? Maybe not, but at a time where it’s normal to flirt over dating apps and arrange casual dates or sexual encounters, and where more women are confidently making the first move, the lyrics feels a little out of touch. Somehow, threatening to dump your boyfriend feels more current, even if “Potential Breakup Song” oozes fake angst, the sentiment remained: you’re always in control of the direction of your relationships. 

After revisiting what Aly & AJ were doing ten years ago, I started to reflect on that time in my life. I was twelve years old, I shared a locker with my best friend, and I layered ugly lace tank tops to fit in with other girls. I never thought I’d compare my own evolution as a person to that of Aly & AJ’s musical career, but I think we’ve both come a long way since then.

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