The Deeper Meaning Behind Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’

“I don’t give a damn about my reputation,” shrieks rocker Joan Jett on her hit single “Bad Reputation.” On first listen, the song comes off as your typical explosion of teenage angst, but on a deeper level, Jett’s contribution to rock ‘n’ roll history is actually a stern critique of the male-dominated world of the popular music industry and the musician’s refusal to fit into such a mold. “And I don’t really care if you think I’m strange,” she sang to the 26 record companies that rejected her after the dissolution of her first band, The Runaways, “I ain’t gonna change.”

Historian Kathleen Kennedy wrote that “Joan Jett penned these lyrics as a defiant reply to what she understood as the different codes of conduct applied to male and female rock performers.” But the song wasn’t meant to correct people’s incorrect assumptions of who she was, it was Jett’s assertion that she wasn’t going away, no matter how tough a wall the predominately male industry built in front of her. “She brazenly asserted her right to do what the boys did, a decision she justified by rejecting middle-class economic values,” said Kennedy.

The critics labeled Jett a feminist, but she just wanted to rock

The success of the song (it came in at number 29 on VH1’s Top 100 hard rock songs of all time) not only shot Jett to the top of the charts, it also set her on the front lines of the mainstream gender debate. As Kennedy notes, she was labeled an “inadvertent feminist, but to fans, colleagues and eventually music insiders, Jett epitomized, embodied and set the standards for the ‘rock ‘n’ roll girl.'”

It wasn’t Jett’s plan to be a gender pioneer. In fact, as she told People in 1982, she intentionally did not want her second band to be an all-girl affair. “It would have been sacrilegious to have another all-girl band,” she said. By forcing the rock world to notice her on both her own terms and those of the industry, Jett claimed her place in the annals of music history. Although Rolling Stone would chide the album Bad Reputation for what it saw as technical shortcomings, it did recognize the deeper meaning behind Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation: “Jett’s first solo album is a determined retelling of what sometimes seems like the truest rock story there is.”

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