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Molly Ringwald on Jazz, Glorifying Teen Pregnancy, and Team Duckie’s Newest Member

Molly Ringwald. Photo: Clint Spaulding/

Molly Ringwald gave us The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink, so when she releases a jazz album (Except Sometimes, out today), everyone had better listen to it. That’s called respect. Also, the music is fun! And she covers “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” Vulture spoke to Ringwald, who started singing as a toddler with her jazz musician father, about recording the Simple Minds classic, watching Pretty in Pink with her 9-year-old daughter, and accidentally glorifying teen pregnancy — first with For Keeps, then with The Secret Life of the American Teenager. (Side note: Ringwald does watch Homeland, and she personally appreciates all the jazz.)

Whose idea was it for you to record “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”?
That was mine.

Really? I’m surprised.

Well, it’s not that you’ve distanced yourself from The Breakfast Club, but I’d just imagine you’d get, I don’t know, tired of being asked about it. And so this would invite that.
When I recorded the album — because I recorded it a couple of years ago and then I got focused on the books [Getting the Pretty Back and When It Happens to You] and I didn’t do anything with it — it was really soon after John Hughes passed away. And he was in my mind a lot. And, I don’t know, I felt like I wanted to sing a tribute to him. And also, I wanted to incorporate who I was into who I am. You know what I mean? Not that I’ve changed, but I feel like I’ve evolved. And I think the song represents that in a way. It’s the same song but imagined in a different way, and more along the lines of stuff that I’m doing now. And I thought it would only be interesting if it was really, really different. And I think it’s pretty different. [Laughs.]

Did you ever try to avoid the song over the years? Did people try to play it for you all the time?
Well, it’s pretty hard not to hear it; it’s a pretty popular song. Luckily, I really like it. It really has fond memories for me. I remember when it was written and recorded, and I remember how exciting that was, and I remember the first time I heard it on the radio the weekend before The Breakfast Club came out. You know, it has a lot of fond memories. I can’t really say that I ever really listened to the lyrics that much. I just remember the sound of it and liking it and associating it with the movie and the experience. So it was really interesting to actually sing the lyrics. A lot of people that have heard it say the same thing: They never knew what the lyrics were until they heard my version of it.

Or they only knew the chorus.
Yeah. Or, [hums the “hey, hey, hey, hey” part].

And then they’d put their fist in the air.

Do you listen to pop music?
My tastes tend to run more alternative. I love Andrew Bird, Magnetic Fields. I was just listening to Ben Lee’s album last night, and I really like it. And all the top 40 stuff I only know because of Matilda, my 9-year-old daughter. It’s really funny how that happens. All of a sudden you’re like, “I don’t know who any of these people are.” And she’s like [in an exasperated teen voice], “Mo-om.”

You tweeted that she watched Pretty in Pink for the first time. What did she think of it?
She loved it.

Did you watch it with her?
Yeah, yeah. I always thought that I would let her discover the movie on her own, like at a slumber party or something. But, I don’t know, I just felt like everything that teenagers went through when I was growing up, I think they’re going through earlier now. They’re just getting into the mean girl phase, and I was just like, I’d really love if there was a movie I could show her with a female protagonist who’s really strong and a little bit different. She doesn’t look like other people, she’s kind of an outlier, she stays true to herself. And I was thinking about this movie that I wanted her to see and I was like, Oh, wait, I made this movie. There’s no other movie really like that that you can show a kid that deals with those issues in such a good way. And I never thought when I was making those movies that I would use them kind of as a teaching moment. But she didn’t know that. She just watched the movie and loved it. She loved Duckie; she’s definitely Team Duckie.

Who isn’t Team Duckie? And is she an Otis Redding fan now?
Well, that’s the only scene that I had ever showed her from the movie. When she was little, I showed her that bit on YouTube, so when that started, she was just howling with laughter. She loved it so much.

You did Secret Life of the American Teenager and For Keeps, both about teen pregnancy, and you also identify as a feminist. So I’m curious what your thoughts are about how teen pregnancy is portrayed in pop culture in general?
It’s funny, last night I did a story for the organization the Moth in Santa Barbara — I got home at 3:30 in the morning, so I’m a little foggy today [laughs] — but I actually talked about the movie that I did, For Keeps, in that, because I feel like it glamorized teen pregnancy. And the original script that I’d agreed to do did not. But whenever you do a movie, whenever you do anything, it’s a collaborative effort, and sometimes the script that you agree to do turns into something else. And I was pretty much a teenager at the time, and it was this runaway train that I didn’t know how to stop. And so I was very unhappy about that, and I felt like the movie was, I won’t say unfairly criticized, because I agreed. I really did feel like it glamorized teen pregnancy. And then I did this series, and in the beginning I didn’t feel like the series glamorized teen pregnancy, but then I felt like it ended up doing the same thing. So I feel like I have yet to be involved in a project that shows what it’s really like. They always seem to end up glamorizing it. And I guess when you have a movie star playing the teenager, it’s a temptation to make them look like a young movie star — I did it, and then Shailene [Woodley]. But, yeah, I feel like, unfortunately, both of them do kind of glamorize teen pregnancy. 

I understand the criticism, but For Keeps is my favorite of your movies. I guess I have to remember that if a kid is watching it —
I haven’t watched it in a while. I just remember the experience of making it and feeling like certain scenes that were important to me were just cut because the director [John G. Avildsen] didn’t feel like they were important. He said that I wanted a 90-minute condom commercial. Which I didn’t! I just wanted something that really, authentically showed how difficult it is and how you don’t necessarily get to do everything that you want to do when you make that choice.

Right. Your character winds up going to college —
And she gets the guy in the end.

We do get to hear you sing in it — “Embraceable You,” in the shower.
Yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that.

Have you seen Spring Breakers?
Spring Breakers. Which one is that?

Oh, it’s with Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens — basically, it has two Disney stars and an ABC Family star, and they’re really bad girls in it. Do you think young stars today feel pressure to show their grown-up side by being rebellious?
Yeah, that really was not the case when I was — I didn’t feel that pressure. I did feel pressure to be a role model at a certain point, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with that, because I thought, I’m growing up and I’m certainly going to make mistakes. But there’s also something that I find now with the kids, which wasn’t the case at all for me, was I really felt like I had to choose between acting and singing. Teen stars weren’t releasing albums; if you were a serious actor, that’s all you did. And now it’s like that golden age of musicals where you’re expected to do everything. You’re expected to dance, act, and sing. Oh, I just looked at Spring Breakers on — oh, yeah, this is the Harmony Korine. I do know about this movie. Jeez. I mean, I know Harmony Korine, and he’s done interesting work. Obviously this is not a movie I want my daughter to see. She’s a huge Selena Gomez fan.

You’ll be performing at the Iridium in New York on May 8 and 9. Do you ever just duck into a dive bar or sing karaoke when you’re in the city?
No. [Laughs.] I’m not a big karaoke fan. I like when my friends get up and do it, but I kind of take it too seriously. I would probably do a Barbra Streisand song or something like that.

Molly Ringwald on Jazz and Team Duckie