“Can’t Fight the Moonlight” is an essential piece of ‘00s trash; an endlessly fascinating work of art that is tremendously important to my personal canon! I love it because 1) it’s a deceptively weird song from an obviously deranged movie and 2) it’s a perfect example of how I overanalyze my bad tweenage taste to justify never developing a more sophisticated cultural palette. Chic!!!
I first encountered “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”—and the Piper Perabo vehicle it was attached to—at my friend Kelsey’s house as a tween. Kelsey was beautiful, blonde, and worldly in the way only girls with older sisters and lax, borderline inattentive parents can be: Trendy, confident, and a little destructive. I felt special, golden when she invited me to her house for the first time. I remember sitting on the floor of her bedroom—deep purple, covered in plastic stars, and draped in fabric—marveling at her ability to know things as I flipped through the jewel-case of an up-and-coming alternative artist I had never heard of (Avril Lavigne). She seemed like the living embodiment of the girl all those teen magazines I read were written for. The girl I thought I wanted to be. So, at 11 or 12, I situated myself in her orbit and absorbed everything I could: Hair and make-up tips (add streaks to your hair with crayola markers!), a firm understanding of The Bases (second base encompasses both over- and under-the-shirt groping), Coyote Ugly.
(Of course, the first time we tried to watch Coyote Ugly, her dad came home early and asked if we had gotten permission from my parents to watch a PG-13 movie and I, a hopeless narc from the jump, admitted we had not. Rules! I just wanted to follow them! Adults! I just wanted to please them! We were more successful the second time, when we took the DVD into her basement.)
I have basically no memory of the film itself. Piper Perabo tries to become a pop star... by go-go dancing at a downtown club? Tyra Banks gyrates on a bar? John Goodman is disappointed in his daughter’s raunchy bartending? An Adrian Grenier-type… exists? What I remember is insisting on watching all the DVD extras about the music and then leaving Kelsey’s house to download the whole soundtrack on KaZaA. Something about the movie’s hilariously unsexy, private-label Britney Spears songs set off an absolutely wild chemical reaction in my adolescent brain—a flood of dopamine so intense I’m still wading around in its aftermath nearly 20 years later.
Which, of course, begs the question: Lol, why??????? Because, again, “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” sound like every song released in the post-“...Baby One More Time” teen pop gold rush: All of Max Martin’s world-conquering spiky synths, lush strings, and melodic longing—and none of his attitude; Glossy, but desaturated; “Oops!...I Did It Again” after a game of telephone. So, whyyyyyy?? Why this stupid knock-off and not any of the hundreds of identical knock-offs that came out at the same time?
And the answer, as far as I can tell, is that “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” isn’t actually a pop anthem—it’s a maudlin mid-tempo ballad gussied up with some synths. Written by Dianne Warren (the undisputed queen of blockbuster ballads!), “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” has as much in common with mawkish mega-hits like “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing,” “Because You Loved Me,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” as it does early-millenium uber-pop. It’s just so… chaste. And sweet. And earnest.
What happens “deep in the dark”? Your surrender your heart. Passion is abstracted to a “gentle breeze” the “weaves its spell upon your heart.” It’s Spearsian rauch in soft focus; sex with training wheels.
How could I resist? How could LeAnn Rimes, who signed on to Coyote Ugly so she should sing “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”? It was the song she wanted—needed!—to launch her pop crossover. No other song would do for the 18-year-old country ingenue: “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” was the right amount of sexy (not very), written by the right person (Warren also penned Rimes’ biggest hit, “How Do I Live?”). We were good girls who wanted to grow up… but not too fast.