How Pavement’s “Harness Your Hopes” Unexpectedly Became Their First Gold Record

Pavement is not a singles band—at least not in the U.S. The alternative rock group did have a string of eight chart singles in the UK during the 1990s, but only one of their songs has ever made it onto a Billboard chart. “Cut Your Hair” was all over modern rock radio playlists in 1994, and the track from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain made it to No. 10 on the Alternative Airplay chart.

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If you saw the news about one of Pavement’s singles receiving Gold certification last month—and if you did a double take—you were certainly not alone. This was an especially surprising development, given they hadn’t released any newly written and recorded music since 1999.

For those who haven’t paid much attention to Pavement over the last few years, it would be easy to assume that if any Pavement single were to belatedly go Gold, it would be “Cut Your Hair.” But it wasn’t their biggest radio hit, and it wasn’t any of the tracks from their five studio albums. “Harness Your Hopes” was one of Pavement’s least likely songs to find a path to Gold certification, but it did find and complete that path. Here is how a long-neglected track from a 25-year-old EP became Pavement’s first Gold single.

Humble Beginnings

Pavement recorded “Harness Your Hopes” for their 1997 album Brighten the Corners, but it didn’t make the final cut. In a 2022 interview Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus and guitarist Scott Kannberg conducted with NME, Malkmus recalled he didn’t think the song was good enough to be on the album, in part because he didn’t like his vocal performance—particularly the cadence of the vocal melody.

The track was relegated to the 1999 Spit on a Stranger EP, and was subsequently included on a 2008 reissue of Brighten the Corners. While three of Pavement’s album reissues have reached the Billboard 200 and their Independent Albums chart, the Brighten the Corners reissue containing “Harness Your Hopes” wasn’t one of them.

Boosted by an Algorithm Change?

Sometimes songs will suddenly become popular because they have been used in some other media, like films, television programs, or video games, but that wasn’t the case for “Harness Your Hopes.” A far less obvious factor is likely responsible for the song’s inexplicable rise in popularity. In a 2020 piece for Stereogum, Nate Rogers investigated the possible link between a change in Spotify’s default settings and an increase in streams for “Harness Your Hopes.” He learned Spotify changed the default for their autoplay feature from “off” to “on” in January 2017, which is right around the time “Harness Your Hopes” surged from out of nowhere to become Pavement’s most-streamed song on the platform.

Why would a change in that setting matter? When Spotify’s autoplay feature is on, it queues up a song to be played immediately after the current song is finished, and it chooses one that sounds similar to the song being played. It’s not clear what qualities “Harness Your Hopes” has that makes it similar to other songs, but the timing of its increase in popularity suggests the change in settings is the likely culprit.

As of this writing, “Harness Your Hopes” has been streamed more than 150 million times on Spotify. It has left Pavement’s No. 2 song on the platform in the dust, as “Cut Your Hair” has received a relatively modest 42 million streams.

A New Era for Pavement

The unexpected hit status of “Harness Your Hopes” did not immediately translate into new activity for Pavement. The band officially broke up in 2000, and aside from a reunion tour in 2010, they had remained largely dormant until 2020. Pavement made plans to perform a pair of shows at the Primavera Sound Barcelona 2020 festival to commemorate their 30th anniversary, but the COVID pandemic shelved those performances for two more years. They have been playing live dates steadily since 2022 with the addition of former Minders and Wild Flag multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Cole as their touring keyboardist, percussionist, and backing vocalist.

Pavement also reissued the Spit on a Stranger EP in 2022, and they made a music video for “Harness Your Hopes” to accompany that release. Malkmus told NME the video was a test run for a mock documentary film about Pavement.

According to Cole, the band hadn’t played “Harness Your Hopes” much prior to their recent tours and her arrival to Pavement. However, it has been a staple of their live shows since. In an email exchange with American Songwriter, Cole added, “It’s usually one of the most enthusiastically received songs in any given performance, and my teenage nieces know the words better than I do.” Cole confirmed this latter observation by noting her nieces have corrected her when they have sung the song together.

An Out-of Nowhere Phenomenon

In an alternate universe in which Malkmus agreed to put “Harness Your Hopes” on the original pressing of Brighten the Corners, perhaps it would have gained a following sooner. Or maybe not. In his interview with NME, Malkmus chalked up the belated success of “Harness Your Hopes” to being “a weird cultural thing.” He still gave Pavement credit for making and eventually releasing the song, saying, “By putting yourself out there … you have that opportunity for [going viral] to happen, even if you’re insecure or think your music is crap. You, like, go ahead and do it, and the world sees you.”

It’s not easy to spot a phenomenon before it happens, and “Harness Your Hopes” is a fine example of this. Regardless of which “weird cultural things” conspired to bring the once-ignored song to our ears, a much larger portion of the world is now aware of Pavement.

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