Released: 22nd November 1999
Writers: Dufflebag Boys
Peak position: #10
Chart run: 10-13-15-27-26-22-28-44-60
Having scored two top ten singles with her irrepressible brand of hyperactive pop music, Lolly had defied expectations. But there was a further surprise to come with Big Boys Don’t Cry; could she pull off a Christmassy ballad? Well, yes. Yes, she could. But few would have anticipated that it would transpire to be one of the most chillingly haunting songs of the ‘90s.
This is Lolly’s magnum opus; it is her Everytime; it is her Someone Like You; it is her Nothing Compares 2 U. It was a statement of fearlessness from Lolly, for not only was she releasing a ballad, but she was also packaging it with a cover of Rockin’ Robin. Yes, the very same as popularised by Michael Jackson, No act – and no song – was considered too sacred for Lolly to cover, as she demonstrated time and time again. Cyndi Lauper? Donny Osmond? The Beatles? Yes, she went there. Nothing was out of bounds and for that she will always have our respect. But Big Boys Don’t Cry was a Lolly original and markedly different to anything else she released. Quite how it came to exist in the way that it does is, to this day, a bit of a mystery (and one we probably should have asked a bit more about during our recent interview). It’s not so much the fact it’s a ballad which puts it so completely off-brand, but that it’s almost the complete antithesis to Lolly’s otherwise cheery, effervescent material.
It’s a rather unassuming start; the ‘90s digital music box-esque production has a wintry enough feel to it. Lolly approaches the track with her distinctive high-pitched voice. And that’s perhaps the point at which it becomes evident that things are not going to play out as you expect. The vocal tone has an almost other-worldly disconnection to it; there’s a crisp fragility to it, and the performance is beautifully theatrical. As the song concludes its first chorus, you expect it to get a bit more involved and start warming up. But it doesn’t. There’s a little extra production (the finger clicks!), but otherwise, Big Boys Don’t Cry remains distanced and gently tender. Lyrically, the track sounds inherently sad and mournful; whether that’s the intention, we’re not entirely sure, but certainly, that’s how it comes off. It’s compounded by the fact that the chorus consists of: “Big boys don’t cry” repeated ad nauseum; if you’re looking for comfort and reassurance, Lolly isn’t giving it here. Instead, she stoically repeats the same line over and over again as though completely aloof and detached. It’s a fascinatingly striking performance that evokes a lot of feelings as a listener, even if perhaps they are not the ones intended.
The instrumental section in the middle of the song is stunningly bleak. It’s a soaring cacophony of distorted wails, like pop music’s ghostly version of relaxing whale sounds (a genre of music that spiked in popularity during the early ‘90s around the time that Free Willy was released). It’s simultaneously stirring and haunting. Perhaps appropriately for a festive effort, it’s utterly spine-chilling in the best way and not what you expect to be included in a bubblegum pop song, least of all one by Lolly. But above all else, it’s an incredibly absorbing composition, which brings commendable depth to a song that is already pushing the boundaries of expectation.
The music video for Big Boys Don’t Cry is – at least – a bit more in-keeping with the notion of a Christmas Lolly single. It features here trapped inside what looks very much like a smartphone, which is impressively forward-thinking considering we were in the era of the Nokia 3210. But that’s not the only design element that is ahead of its time either, because we also see Lolly using motion gestures to swipe and manipulate her surroundings some two years before Minority Report famously came to represent that concept. She’s being watched by a young boy who appears fairly perplexed by what he sees, which in fairness would be any of us the ‘90s if we’d been handed a smartphone. Now, we don’t want to punctuate every sentence with: ‘considering this was a Lolly single…’, but considering this was a Lolly single, there is some decent CGI employed here as she walks through her digital world while bopping cannons pump out snow. Of course, it doesn’t take long before Lolly’s curious onlooker is dragged into the device and the pair explore Lollyworld together. And although the video is a much warmer affair than the song, there is still something a little lonely about it. The freeze-frame sequence feels juxtaposed against the otherwise fluid movement within the visual. And then there’s the fact that the video closes with the device left lying in the snow, presumably never to be found again. At least, not until Steve Jobs happened across it and conceived the idea of the iPhone some years later.
Big Boys Don’t Cry / Rockin’ Robin duly became Lolly’s third (and final) top ten single. Although her lowest peaking hit at that point, we would argue it as perhaps a greater achievement than any other. Turn the clock back just two singles to Viva La Radio; you’d have had a very tough job convincing anyone that Lolly would crack the top ten with a ballad just a few weeks before Christmas. Yet here she was, and deservedly so. Big Boys Don’t Cry deserves recognition for not taking the “obvious” route and