The Anti-Nostalgia Message Behind Sleater-Kinney’s “Entertain”

Sleater-Kinney is known for their ability to deliver biting commentary, and few of their songs deliver a harder punch than “Entertain” does. The anger in Carrie Brownstein’s vocal delivery is palpable, and the lyrics themselves are brutally direct. It’s clear she has disdain for musicians that rely on nostalgia for their appeal—something she saw happening frequently around the time Sleater-Kinney were working on “Entertain” and their 2005 album The Woods. Though the anger behind the lyrics couldn’t be clearer, the words themselves leave the specific targets of Brownstein’s disapproval to the listener’s imagination.

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When probed about the more granular meaning behind the lyrics for “Entertain,” Brownstein hasn’t gone as far as to name the musicians she is critiquing. She has, however, left us with some pretty strong clues. Brownstein has also discussed the song’s broader meaning. “Entertain” is not a diss track—at least not exclusively so. Its message serves a much bigger purpose.

A Bigger Bone to Pick

Brownstein was miffed by much of the music that was being marketed as “indie rock” in the 2000s, but she was even more concerned about the increasing role of entertainment in society around that time. In a 2005 interview for Verbicide, she explained she was distressed that “things that are usually supposed to be serious, or complicated, or even dynamic are all funneled into this reductive entertainment category.” Brownstein recognized that she, too, was susceptible to wanting art to be simpler and more accessible. She said the broader purpose of “Entertain” was “calling into question any of our (including my own) sense of entitlement in terms of wanting to be entertained, wanting everything out there to be repackaged in a way that is easy to swallow.”

Maybe that’s why Brownstein sounds conflicted in the song’s first verse.

So you want to be entertained?
Please look away, don’t look away
We’re not here cause we want to entertain
Go away, don’t go away

It is also why, later on in the song, Brownstein sings They are lying, and I am lying, too. By the end of the first verse, though, she finds clarity in her own feelings about the commodification of music and art in general. Brownstein’s words and tone leave no doubt about how she feels, as she commands If you’re here ‘cause you want to be entertained / Go away, please go away.

Drowning in Mediocrity

While Brownstein is concerned about the broader trend of seemingly everything being reduced to entertainment, she doesn’t hesitate to call out specific forms of fakery. In the second verse, she questions the authenticity of musicians who mimic the sounds of earlier artists without bringing anything of their own to the table.

You come around looking 1984
You’re such a bore, 1984
Nostalgia, you’re using it like a whore
It’s better than before
It’s better than before
You come around sounding 1972
You did nothing new, 1972
Where’s the “f–k you”?
Where’s the black and blue?

Brownstein doesn’t just lambaste bands that traffic in nostalgia. In the bridge, she takes aim at fans (perhaps including herself) who want to revel in the past.

One, two, three!
We can drown in mediocrity, it feels sublime
One, two, three!
Yeah, It sounds like someone pushed rewind
One, two, three!
Give it to me easily, my feeble mind needs time
One, two, three!
Make it sweet and syrupy with rhyme

Irritated by Interpol?

In her interview with Verbicide, Brownstein made note of a couple of musical trends she found particularly irksome. She was tired of hearing “Gang of Four after Gang of Four rip-off band.” As a fan of the English post-punk group, Brownstein objected to hearing bands that copied their sound but seemed to miss the point of the politics that informed their music and messages.

Brownstein wasn’t having an issue with musicians showing their influences. She herself has copped to emulating Gang of Four. On a 2024 episode of the Kyle Meredith With… podcast, Brownstein said, “I hope everyone knows this is a Gang of Four song,” when talking about the guitar riff she wrote for one of Sleater-Kinney’s most popular songs, “One More Hour.” The difference is that “One More Hour” doesn’t literally sound like a Gang of Four song. It merely has a riff that was influenced by the band.

Brownstein’s beef was with musicians who sound as if they are doing nothing other than copying an established artist. For example, she said to Verbicide, “To me, some of it is so derivative, it’s almost laughable. Bands that I feel should be paying Ian Curtis from Joy Division royalties—literally! Like, ‘Oh my god, how can you sound that much like Ian Curtis and be singing about nothing?’” While Brownstein didn’t name names, countless reviewers have noted how much Interpol’s Paul Banks sounds like Curtis did. It may not be a coincidence that Interpol’s album Antics was on the charts when Sleater-Kinney was recording The Woods.

The Impact of “Entertain”

As the leadoff single from The Woods, “Entertain” did not chart in the U.S., but it likely helped the album become Sleater-Kinney’s first to crack the upper half of the Billboard 200. The album peaked at No. 80, one month after “Entertain” was released as a single. The Woods also reached No. 2 on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart. “Entertain” did make the singles chart in the UK, going as high as No. 112. The song has become a staple of Sleater-Kinney’s live shows, as the only song they have performed in concert more often is “Dig Me Out,” per

It feels appropriate that “Entertain” has endured as one of Sleater-Kinney’s signature songs. Entertainment media has only grown in its influence since the mid-2000s, so “Entertain” is even more relevant today than it was when it was first released. The song is now old enough that it could legitimately be a source of nostalgia. It is even better to appreciate it for what it can teach us about our current cultural climate than for remembering how it made us feel back then.

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Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage

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