Trudging through Kmart yesterday, my sister and I both had the same disorienting experience at the exact same time: we both caught a whiff of Electric Youth perfume. Here’s what that moment looked like:
MARY: “Dude. I just smelled Electric Youth.”
NAN: “Dude. Me too.”
Electric Youth was a perfume (never a “parfum”) unleashed on the marketplace in 1989. The target demographic was the tween, though that term had not yet been coined. Back then, it was the mighty “teeny-bopper” dollar that the fragrance was trying to capture, and capture it it did. Those out to profit were the record executives who ran the career of pop sensation Debbie Gibson. Electric Youth was the first in a long, long line of celebrity-inspired fragrances and I, for one, had to have it. I loved Debbie Gibson and had a cassette of her album. I believe that album was called “Electric Youth.”
There were two dueling pop stars when I was in fourth grade: Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, whose last name was withheld in hopes Barbara and Judy would more quickly recognize her as one of their own. I was on the fence as to who I liked more and my neutrality came at great peril: it was expected by one’s elementary school peers in those days to choose sides. Debbie Gibson was the good girl. She was blonde, blue-eyed; kind of a white-tube-socks-with-white-Ked’s girl. She wore scrunchies and boxy vests printed with geometric shapes. Tiffany, on the other hand, was understood to have weaker moral fiber. Tiffany was a redhead, for one thing. Nothing but trouble there. And her first (only?) hit was a cover of the Shondell’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which contained the lyrics:
“We’re runnin’ just as fast as we can/holdin’ on to one another’s hands/tryin’ to get away/into the night/and then you put your arms around me and we tumble to the ground and then you say: “I think we’re alone now…”
Tiffany had a little curl to her lip when she sang her song and she put a little stank on the “into the niiiiight” part, which clearly meant she was having sex. She also wore acid washed denim jackets, so… Mothers did not like Tiffany.
They dug Debbie, though. Debbie’s first single was the docile, sweet “Only In My Dreams,” which pleased these mothers. With Debbie, their daughters’ sexual fantasies were happening exactly where and when they should be happening: while they were fast asleep, alone, locked in the house.
If Tiffany had had a perfume, it would’ve smelled musky, with notes of Aqua Net and a car dashboard. But Tiffany never had a fragrance; only Debbie signed that deal. Electric Youth perfume was a deeply synthetic, fruity floral with no “notes” of anything, no “low end” of wood or caille lily or moss. This was candy in a spritzer. The fluid itself was colored pink — an easy decision for the executives, I suspect. And inside the clear bottle was a pink plastic spring, clearly showing the exuberance — nay, the electricity — of youth. And we loved it. We sprayed it on with wild abandon and our parents’ headaches meant nothing. Nothing!
Electric Youth is not made anymore. You can find it on eBay and Amazon, but these are bottles of old perfume; as you can see by the picture above, the pink has faded and reviews are mixed as to whether the scent is still any good (or there at all, for that matter.) But in its prime, Electric Youth left its pink, sticky fingerprints all over the limbic systems of young American girls across the nation and when Nan and I smelled whatever we smelled in Kmart yesterday, it transported us back to a simpler, cheaper time.