Having a hit song that millions of people know and love is both a dream and a nightmare. That’s certainly true for The Verve Pipe frontman Brian Vander Ark, whose 1996 single “The Freshmen” touched on topics that many would rather avoid discussing such as abortion and suicide. The song resonated deeply with audiences and catapulted the Michigan-based band into mainstream success, becoming their highest-charting single and helping Villains to become a platinum album. Over the years, the song has continued to connect with listeners who can relate to its universal themes of love, guilt, and loss.
The song begins with a haunting melody played on an acoustic guitar that’s quickly joined by other instrumentation. The narrator and their love interest appear to be young and cocky, but their naivety soon gives way to reality as they face their share of hardships. The line “We were merely freshmen” is repeated throughout the song, hinting at a sense of youthful inexperience and vulnerability that the narrator is feeling.
The lyrics to the song describe a tragic love triangle that ultimately ends in tragedy. The first verse depicts the vocalist’s relationship with an attractive, yet hardheaded girl who gets pregnant by one of his homeys. This results in not only an abortion, but the prompt dissolution of what was previously a promising romance. The second verse focuses on another of his relationships and climaxes with that woman’s suicide. Despite the dark content of these verses, Vander Ark has been quick to point out that this was not based on a real-life event and he wished everyone involved in the story the best of luck.