Netflix answered Dawson’s Creek fans’ social media prayers Friday (Sept. 3), announcing that Paula Cole‘s iconic hit “I Don’t Want to Wait” has regained its rightful place as the show’s theme song on the streaming service. The track has been conspicuously missing since Netflix began streaming the ’90s classic last November, prompting Twitter outcry.
For fans, the song’s return is a moment of joyful nostalgia. But for Cole, it’s a milestone in her years-long battle to take back control of her artistry. After the show’s production company, Sony Pictures, allegedly nixed Cole’s song on the Netflix version to save money, the company has made a new licensing deal with Cole for her re-recorded master, circumventing Cole’s record deal with Warner Records.
“This is a result of fans’ protestations, and I’m very touched and very humbled by that,” Cole tells Billboard. “Sony finally listened and contacted me and we made a deal using my new re-recorded master. It supports me, the artist.”
“I Don’t Want to Wait” served as the theme song for the six seasons that Dawson’s Creek was on air, helping catapult the cathartic track Cole wrote about her relationship with her aging grandfather to a No. 11 peak on the Hot 100 in 1998. But upon preparing the series for DVD and streaming services, Sony Pictures reportedly decided to lose the track to save some cash.
“Sony came to me and said, ‘Listen, we’re trying to save some money. We want to change that main title song,'” Dawson’s Creek executive producer Paul Stupin told Billboard in 2018. Instead, Sony Pictures went with the catchy “Run Like Mad” by Jann Arden, which had been written as an option for the theme song back when the series was in development.
Fans complained on social media to Cole, only making her more frustrated since “I couldn’t do anything about it,” she says. But earlier this spring, she says Sony Pictures finally reached out to her to license her re-recorded version, one of several hits she re-recorded in 2015 under her own label Missing Piece Records. “I realized I couldn’t negotiate with my label, so I decided to re-record my hits,” she says. “I tried to use those versions whenever possible.”
Cole declined to detail any specifics of the deal, but says that “it’s a good deal” and allows her to pay for her daughter’s college tuition.
Cole says that she has been trying unsuccessfully for years to exit her recording contract, which she calls “corrupt.” Cole was originally signed to the now-defunct Imago Records, an imprint of Warner Bros. Records, which is now Warner Records. “I haven’t seen royalties for my hit songs for years and years and years,” she says. A representative for Warner Records did not respond to Billboard‘s request for comment at press time, nor did Sony Pictures or Netflix.
The singer and songwriter has been outspoken about the truth behind “I Don’t Want to Wait” for years, penning an op-ed for Huffington Post in 2018 and also divulging her experiences with sexism and ageism in the industry. “When I was pregnant in 2001, a lot of music business folks just kind of wrote me off, and I didn’t have the career that I always envisioned which was a long-lasting career creating a great catalog and leaving great art,” she says. “It’s been heartbreaking at times, and I’ve wanted to leave many times.”
She hopes that the return of “I Don’t Want to Wait” will help bring attention to the rest of her 11-album catalog, which includes hits like “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and “Feelin’ Love,” as well as her upcoming 12th album and current national tour. She also hopes it will shed continued light on corruption and inequality in the music business.
“Even with the corruption, even with the patriarchal attitudes, even with ageism or sexism, my work will stand the test of time,” Cole says. “This is a beautiful testament to that — having patience and letting the fans have a voice. It’s beautiful and I’m very humbled by it.”