On May 23 of this year, Broken Social Scene played a show in Manchester, UK, a mere 24 hours after a terror attack struck an Ariana Grande concert in the city. Metric singer Emily Haines, touring with BSS at the time, tells Exclaim! that she was originally uncomfortable singing "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" that night, but was convinced when former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr agreed to appear on stage with them.
The Toronto band were already in Manchester preparing to start their tour the night 23 people were murdered by a suicide bomber. Many of the victims were teenage girls. And one could see why Haines would be hesitant to sing the hit from BSS's 2002 album You Forgot It in People, which contains lyrics like "Now you're all gone, got your makeup on and you're not coming back."
"On the night of the show, [once] it was determined that we would play, we had a meeting backstage and Kevin [Drew] said, 'I want to start the show with "Anthems."' I was really uncomfortable with that," Haines tells Exclaim! "It's just so strange to have words that you never could have anticipated turn out to be that poignant. There were 17-year-old girls who were at this concert, who were targeted. That's what it felt like. That was really brutal, brutal, to be there. And that song, like how fucking weird to sing those lines? It was like 'No, this is not what I meant!'"
The appearance of Marr, a Manchester native, drew headlines, and also provided Haines the context needed to confidently perform the song.
"Johnny Marr came through at the last minute," she recalls. "After Kevin said it's going to be 'Anthems' he said, 'OK, I'll do it.' And that changed it for me. He's from Manchester. That made a huge difference. We could just say, 'This is about your city, this is about you.' Everybody, band together, we will overcome this. It was more about civic pride and I was able to just use the song to shine that light."
Haines' new solo album, Choir of the Mind, comes out on September 15 on Last Gang/eOne.