An Ode to Jolene

An Ode to Jolene

By Bronte Wilson

There’s no denying that jealousy is a fickle beast. On one hand, it sucks. It can make you feel like an insecure, petty weirdo, hellbent on measuring your success against strangers on the internet. (I’m looking at you, Instagram.) On the other hand, where would we be creatively without it?

I have a complicated relationship with jealousy, both personally and as a creative—but would I flick the switch and banish it forever? Nope.

And I’ll explain why—with a little help from Dolly Parton. And Jolene. One instance of jealousy in Dolly’s life led her down a creative path that arguably propelled her further in her career than many of her other songs. I’m talking about her 1970s ~banger~ Jolene.

Lyrically, Jolene is simple and direct. You’re probably already singing it under your breath, but for good measure:

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I'm begging of you please don't take my man
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don't take him just because you can

Your beauty is beyond compare
With flaming locks of auburn hair
With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green
Your smile is like a breath of spring
Your voice is soft like summer rain
And I cannot compete with you
Jolene

He talks about you in his sleep
And there's nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name
Jolene


It’s this simple yet searing honesty that registers something in us we’ve all felt. Dolly manages to turn her jealousy into something universally meaningful in such a way that it’s hard not to form an emotional response to it. She makes jealousy bend to her will and uses it as creative fuel.

This teaches us two things. One, that while jealousy is a notoriously complex and confusing emotion, we can’t deny the power it holds in provoking action. As creatives, it’s up to us whether this action is positive or negative.

The other thing it shows is that maybe to create successful work that has enduring appeal and builds an emotional bridge to our audience, we need to be a little more open and a little less afraid about being our real, weird selves.

This probably rings true for a lot of us working in advertising, which can be especially fertile ground for jealousy. Working intensely close in a high stakes environment, often with crazy hours and literally pitching your ideas against others can be pretty stressful. But let’s be real. No matter what industry you work in or where you are in life - jealousy is unavoidable. What that auburned-haired and ivory-skinned Jolene shows us is that really, it’s all about what you do with it.

Without jealousy (as subject matter or motivator), we’d not only be missing out on Jolene, but countless other ideas or works of art, literature and music. Shakespeare? See ya. Lolita? Laters. Reality TV? Gone. Okay, maybe that one wouldn’t be so bad for the world.

So next time you feel that familiar sting, who knows—maybe you can channel it into the next Jolene. Or at least a great commercial for toothpaste.

Bronte Wilson is an Art Director at AnalogFolk Sydney. Find her here.

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