The lights dimmed at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles and the crowd began chanting the name “Josie” in hopes of summoning the band that was about the play. It mirrored the final scene of 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats, a restless crowd starts calling out for the band they had yet to see. In the film, it was the debut performance of a fictional band. In real life, it was the debut performance of these songs. Finally, Kay Hanley and her band emerged to play songs from the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack to an audience for the first time.
Hanley donned cat ears and a t-shirt that read “Girl Power” as she plowed through five songs from the cult classic film. Starting off the way the movie does with “3 Small Words,” she transitioned into Josie and the Pussycats’ pseudo Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 song “Pretend to Be Nice,” for which she brought out Fountain of Wayne‘s Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the track.
Shifting from the high power energy of pure rock songs, Hanley teared up during ballad “You Don’t See Me,” a song that she later revealed in the Q&A after her set was almost omitted from the set. Hanley, who fronts the ’90s alt-rock act Letters to Cleo and has been “doing this for a long time,” told the crowd that she had never experienced that type of reaction before — a reaction that pure, authentic and incredibly sincere.
In April 2001, at the height of Total Request Live pop, co-writers and directors Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont unleashed their version of Josie and the Pussycats onto the world. Though the movie would be considered a box office failure, over the past 16 years it and its soundtrack have developed a cult following that descended upon the theater to celebrate the soundtrack’s vinyl release and everything Pussycat.
During the Q&A before a screening of the movie, Kaplan wanted to shout out one specific person: Mondo Music label manager Mo Shafeek, who was the brains behind the entire evening, spearheading the soundtrack’s reissue that eventually snowballed into this once-in-a-lifetime event.
“No piece of art really captured what it was like to be a fan of music [during] basically the end of rock and roll into the mainstream era of pop that we’re in today,” Shafeek told Billboard backstage before the show. “That period of time is really undocumented and this movie is an artifact of that time period.”
The theme of the night seemed to be authenticity. It was a word used frequently on stage and with Shafeek to describe the intent of the movie, which was to showcase these “authentic” musicians who get thrown into this extremely manufactured world of the music industry. The film was able to capture that authenticity via its lead actors Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid and Rosario Dawson — all of who showed up for the reunion — and its soundtrack. In fact, you could call Josie and the Pussycats the most real fake band of all time.
“If this movie was trying to warn us about what the future of the music industry is — we’re already in it,” Shafeek said. “[It was saying] in a couple of years, we won’t be able to tell difference between a commercial and music and sure enough it happened.” Both Shafeek and the panel at the Q&A mentioned Taylor Swift‘s partnership with UPS that has her forthcoming album, Reputation, plastered on the side of delivery trucks — something that was definitely foreshadowed in Josie. “The over-commercialization and commodification now make the music a product instead of a statement of art,” said Shafeek.
While the movie was a satire on the music industry and consumerism that ultimately fell flat with initial audiences, the soundtrack was the most successful thing about Josie. Under the supervision of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds producing, the album became a collaboration of a bunch of different artists creating the perfect pop song several times over. The moment Hanley stepped out on stage and the first notes of “3 Small Words” filled the air, the crowd immediately shouted every single lyric back. It was all the proof anyone needed that these songs have made an impact over the last 16 years. Reid mentioned that there were more people in the Ace Hotel that night than extras brought in during that final concert scene in the movie. Cook echoed that sentiment saying they even had to bribe people for a chance to win a free car just in order to see them play. 16 years later, more than a thousand people lined up to enter the venue and none of them needed the allure of a free car to do so either. The music alone was enough.
“The most wonderful thing to come out of this is that people who are fans can finally be proud to say they’re fans,” Shafeek said. With everyone at the theater proudly calling themselves fan of the best fake band ever, everyone in that room knew that DuJour means family.
3 Small Words
Pretend to Be Nice
You Don’t See Me