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Secret Smiles, the Same 3 Chords and a Few Small Repairs: The Musical Stylings of T.J. Maxx

November 11, 2010

Raymond J explored grocery store musical playlists (in a post you simply must fall in love with all over again) now I’m tackling the musical oeuvre of discount chain department store T.J. Maxx and its constellation of brands (HomeGoods, Marshall’s AJ Wright’s). What better way to walk into a store hell bent on finding a pair of black pumps, but exit with a bench for the entryway and a clearance rack garden gnome (and no shoes) than with a playlist filled with Mom rock friendly, adult alternative hits (Fergie’s about as ‘hood as TJMaxx seems to go) from the the late 90s to now. Though, in most cases, TJ Maxx embarrassingly models my own engagement with popular music, and seems unable to move past 2007. Except in the case of Semisonic, Jewel and Elliott Smith, these are all songs I only know from frequenting TJM. I’ve never heard them on the radio; I don’t listen to the radio, unless it’s NPR or blathering talk radio. It’s not a snob thing. It’s just a habit. On the rare instance I do listen to music radio it’s usually either a Quiet Storm station or a Classic Rock station – can’t resist “China Grove, oh oh, China Grove,”! In any event, it’s unlikely I’d have occasion to hear any of these songs if I didn’t spend a considerable amount of time in discount retailers and such.


“Secret Smile” by Semisonic

Wow, I had no idea this band had framed themselves as hipsters. That must really make the sting of banishment to the Adult Contemporary end of the pop musical landscape extra painful.

“Baby Britain” – Elliott Smith

Granted, it has been seven years since his death, but I’m still not ready to hear Smith’s music – even his more pop friendly fare – while I’m digging through discontinued bottles of cheap bath and body products. Still, I always do jazz hands and grapevine on the lyric, “got a look in your eye like you wanna say bye…” In fact, I kind of act out all the lyrics of this song, so I guess I should be grateful, since it’s probably spared me a fate of bath and body products that make my bits and parts itch like whoa. Not much good can come from discounted bath and body products. At least not the ones sold there.

“Everything She Wants” by Vertical Horizon

If it wasn’t for T.J. Maxx I’m certain I wouldn’t even know this song. It started its relationship with the discount retailer while it was a fresh AC hit and has enjoyed long, loving partnership with the brand. Much to my chagrin. That said, love the “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” script flip in the third verse. Oh snap!

“You and I” by Jason Mraz

Ass, cash or Mraz; nobody rides for free! I love videos where everyone dances in earnest. Also dig his Rocky II go-on-job-interviews or Copland suit. Mraz resembles Sly in a sleepy kind of way.

“Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie

This is symbolic of TJMaxx like foul smelling clogged toilets. I swear I thought she was was saying, “like a baby misses that slanket.” Wow, Fergie really thinks she’s foxy as all get out. Good for her! Fergie has that same terrible disease afflicting Pink and Lady Gaga. Wannabesistaitis.

“It’s All Been Done” – Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies slipped in this Momrock friendly cut back in the day and it’s a staple of TJMaxx radio. One out of every four trips to TJM will provides opportunity to hear this song. I like this song because they talk about The Price is Right. Plus, I like BNL. Their songs are funny.

“Sunny Came Home” by Shawn Colvin

I won’t front. I have often paused during a fruitless bra and panty search to belt out, “Days go by I’m hypnotized. I’m walking on a wire. I close my eyes and fly out of my mind. Into the fire. Light the sky and hold on tight. The world is burning down. She’s out there on her own and she’s alright…”

“1000 Miles” by Michelle Branch…er… Vanessa Carlton

I totally thought this was Tori Amos kicking it old school, which is why I committed every single one of its cheesy lyrics to memory. This feels very much like the official theme song to TJMaxx. I haven’t gone into one recently without hearing snippets of this radio friendly confessional lady song hit. Damn, she is killing that piano!

“No Such Thing” by John Mayer

I used love this song – back when I thought STING or Dave Matthews sang it! It’s the soundtrack of waiting in TJ Maxx’s long and poorly staff register lines. You could make a video of Moms with bargain Willi Wear tapping their toes and bopping their heads. Including my own! Poor racist penisboy. I haven’t heard his music there lately. I think it’s been replaced with cuts from Jason Mraz.

“Down So Long” by Jewel

Jewel seems like an artist I would absolutely hate, but I like her a lot. She’s like the Naomi Watts of Pop Music and we all know I love Naomi Watts! The last time I was in Marshall’s I heard this Jewel cut and I booty popped myself from housewares to Misses clearance. I was a little cheesed the great breakdown part was interrupted by someone paging the jewelry counter associate!

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 2:28 pm

  2. November 11, 2010 4:22 pm

    Nothing to contribute just yet — I’m a bit old for their demographic, I guess, they don’t play nearly as many songs I know as the supermarkets do. But I do hate when a song I like gets turned off for their in-store announcements and pages.

  3. November 11, 2010 4:35 pm

    They play a lot of Dad rock too. You’re in the right age demographic.

  4. November 11, 2010 4:45 pm

    I’ve noticed the abundance of late 90s alt-rock lite in JC Penney’s, too, particularly in the jr, department.

  5. November 11, 2010 4:50 pm

    This post is perfect! I have heard every song listed here at least 5 times at a T.J. Maxx or Marshall’s or Ross.

    I think the music is supposed to be comforting, or at least light and/or bland enough not to interfere with buying deeply discounted clothing, but it has the opposite effect of driving me crazy.

    Also, a lot of those songs (Semisonic, Shawn Colvin, Vertical Horizon, Jason Mraz) remind me of the weirdness that was late 90s pop radio.

  6. November 11, 2010 4:54 pm

    I’ve noticed the abundance of late 90s alt-rock lite in JC Penney’s, too, particularly in the jr, department.

    Yes, what is their obsession with Paula Cole and Del Amitri?

  7. November 11, 2010 4:56 pm

    I think the music is supposed to be comforting, or at least light and/or bland enough not to interfere with buying deeply discounted clothing, but it has the opposite effect of driving me crazy.

    There is some law stipulating that one cannot exit a discount department chain without hearing Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved at least once. *shudders*

  8. November 11, 2010 5:01 pm

    And f’ing Clocks. I don’t even know any lyrics, just that omnipresent freaking piano intro. Usually, I’m saved by the PA bellowing for a manager to the cash wrap.

    Also, TJMaxx plays a lot of Grey’s Anatomy style Adult Orientated Alt Rock Lite…

  9. aliciamaud permalink
    November 11, 2010 8:14 pm

    Oh, that Vanessa Carlton song…it’s featured in a dance routine at my studio that I have completely internalized–I didn’t like it first, but it grew on me and I kind of love it–which has led to several awkward uncontrollable shimmies and box steps in the aisles at CVS. “Wow, that chick looks SUPER excited to buy cotton swabs.” People must assume they do something special that they just haven’t thought of yet.

    It was a few years ago, but I have a fond memory of catching a flannel and workboot wearing, beardy fellow rockin’ out in the frozen food aisle to Lisa Loeb.

  10. November 11, 2010 8:24 pm

  11. November 12, 2010 11:48 am

    I was in a car all day yesterday, feeling tortured because I couldn’t post videos to this!!!
    I’ve heard so many of these (though I tend to get Jewel’s These Hands more often while shopping). I’m pretty sure I’ve ONLY heard this song while shopping at Marshall’s.

    I usually take it as a cue to leave the store.

    This one came up while shopping a couple weeks ago!

    And according to my SoundHound history (the app I use on my phone to name tunes in stores I can’t remember or don’t know), I’ve heard a cover of “Drive” by someone named Katrina Carlson THREE times this past year.

    The TJ Maxx’s in Chicago likes this one, and I think I’ve texted you before when hearing it:

  12. November 12, 2010 12:46 pm

    @raymondj – I thought that Mayer song was either Grayson Hugh, Curtis Stigers or Jack Johnson!!! I think I’m the only person who ever purchased a Curtis Stigers CD.

    And this freaking song, which I only know because La Mommie used to call me and attempt to sing while getting me to tell her what song it was and assuring me all my guesses were wrong! I’m sure she was in TJMaxx when she first heard it.

  13. November 12, 2010 1:19 pm

    omg, the creepy suitcase video! how could I forget you!!

    I’ve always wondered what the sound of trees on the ocean floor is like.

  14. November 15, 2010 1:45 pm

    I just breezed through Ross to see if they had a skullcap for me, and realized I was tapping and humming along to Chaka.

  15. November 15, 2010 2:55 pm

    I have to say that Ross tends to be very cutting edge and often wows me with its musical selections.

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