Michelle Branch at Jingle Jam 5

High school popularity hierarchies have nothing on the recent wave of adolescent pop queens. If Avril Lavigne is the alternateen swigging beer at lunchtime in the parking lot, and Vanessa Carlton is the prissy, talent-show-winning teacher’s pet, then Michelle Branch is the starry-eyed aspiring rocker with a few years of guitar lessons and a notebook filled with daydreams scrawled during geometry class. The twenty-year-old’s 2001 debut, The Spirit Room, showcased her dewy sentimentality with little pretension and a whole lotta glimmering rock gems. Although her latest, Hotel Paper, was roundly slagged in the press (Rolling Stone‘s two-star review noted, “Since every song plods to the same midtempo rhythm, nothing stands out”), its first single, “Are You Happy Now?” is classic riot grrl lite. Branch pitches a feminist-empowered fit (I’ve had all that I can take/I’m not about to break/Cause I’m happy now) above rabble-rousing electric riffs tailor-made for blasting at high volumes on the freeway. It’s an ode in honor of any scumbag ex-boyfriend who dumped his girl two days before senior prom.

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