Behind the Inspiring Meaning of “You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals

The New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” is the sonic equal of walking down the street with a pep in your step on a sunny day. It’s hard not to have a “can do it attitude” when frontman Gregg Alexander is urging you to follow your dreams.

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Moreover, the song’s commentary on fame and power made this song an inevitable success in the late ’90s. Rock stars were fighting oppression at the front lines. Like-minded fans were soaking up their anti-establishment attitudes and running wild with it.

While songs with similar messaging often tend to be dark and brooding, “You Get What You Give” is the opposite. The New Radicals fight the power with an assurance that what they are putting out will come back to them.

[RELATED: 9 Quintessential ’90s Songs You Should Be Listening to Again Right Now]

Behind the Meaning

According to Alexander, the song is a reminder to “fly high and be completely off your head in a world where you can’t control all elements.” In the opening line, Alexander aligns himself with the rebellious youth–smashing expensive cars and dreaming with reckless abandon.

In the bridge, he gets a little more specific about which “oppressive forces” he is singing about. Namely fame, big business, and government agencies.

Alexander, famously against the celebrity way of life, calls out fellow famous musicians by name. He chides them for being fake. Elsewhere he calls health insurance a rip-off and rallies against the banking industry.

In the chorus, he gives the listener a cure for falling into the “rat race”: music. You’ve got the music in you / Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you / One dance left, this world is gonna pull through, he sings.

With this song, the band is reminding the listener of their karmic scales. Essentially he is saying, “These forces will get what’s coming to them. All you have to do is live fully and freely.”

The song had a rebirth after the 2021 election. President Biden tapped the New Radicals to perform at their virtual inauguration concert. “You Get What You Give” was a source of inspiration while his son, Beau, battled brain cancer.

“During breakfast, Beau would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals,” President Biden wrote in his autobiography. “Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most — I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: ‘This whole damn world can fall apart. You’ll be OK, follow your heart.'”

Clearly, the uplifting–if rebellious–tune is as relevant today as it was in ’98. Revisit the track below

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you
One dance left, this world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up, you’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget, we only get what we give

(Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

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Maren Morris

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