“I was obsessed with Kittie.” Alt. pop star Caroline Polachek reveals the musical awakenings which led up to her new “straight-up grunge” single Starburned and Unkissed

Caroline Polachek
(Image credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

That the title of Caroline Polachek's new single, Starburned and Unkissed, sounds like a track name you might find on a late '90s Smashing Pumpkins album is no coincidence, as the song - described by the New York-born alt. pop star as “straight-up grunge” - features in the new A24 movie I Saw The TV Glow, set in... the late '90s.

Polachek actually wrote the song in 2022, before writer/director Jane Schoenbrun got in touch with her about contributing to the soundtrack, but when she heard the outline of the plot, which concerns two teenagers in the mid'90s obsessing over The Pink Opaque, a fictional TV drama in which two psychically connected girls battle against evil, she realised that her 'misfit' song might finally have a home. 

In a new interview with Vulture, Polachek reveals that she worked on the song, themed around “solitude in the digital age, but through a very surrealist but teenage kind of lyrical bent”, with PC Music supremo A. G. Cook while he was experimenting with 'guitar era' sounds. Asked if she was channelling Alanis Morissette with the song, Polachek points out that she was only 10 years old when Morissette was taking over the world's airwaves with her debut album Jagged Little Pill, and reveals that her influences came from the music she was listening to in her mid-teens.

“I was too young to participate in actual grunge - I was 10 years old when Nirvana, when Alanis were peaking, and I think I experienced it in a very kid way,” she says. “I experienced it through MTV. I experienced it through bands like Silverchair, which were late-generation, glossy major-label teen grunge. And then I watched it sort of have multiple levels of revival in things like Sky Ferreira, in kind of nü-metal incarnations like Kittie. I was obsessed with Kittie.” 

Polachek goes on to talk about how, around the same time, hearing Radiohead's Kid A rocked her world.

“I think maybe I never felt more alone and more seen at the same time, in that album,” she says. “The feeling of alienation, the feeling of coming up against the systems of reality, whether it’s the work system, the education system, the digital world — it was all just done with so much sophistication and dreaminess and sexiness. And I was just like, Oh my God, I didn’t know that art could do this.”

Watch the trailer for I Saw The TV Glow below:

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.