When Netflix announced that every season Dawson's Creek would be available for nostalgic binge-watching beginning November 2020, fans of angsty turn-of-the-millennium teen dramas everywhere rejoiced. CreekHeads (is that a thing?) settled in to be once again completely emotionally invested in Jen and Grams's roller-coaster relationship, in Jack's then-groundbreaking coming out story, and, of course, in the Dawson-Joey-Pacey love triangle. There's just one crucial thing missing from our jaunt down memory lane to Capeside: that iconic theme song.
Yes, it's true—now, when you smash the play button on Dawson's Creek, you'll no longer be greeted by the timeless earworm that is Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait." Instead, you'll have "Run Like Mad" by Jann Arden running like mad (oops) through your head on an endless loop. And while the latter does admittedly slap, nobody would blame you if you opted to use the "skip intro" feature in protest, or if you muted the theme song each episode to play "I Don't Want to Wait" loudly from your preferred music streaming platform instead.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though! According to a few very excited fans, Netflix reportedly splurged and put the "I Don't Want to Wait" theme song on some of the last episodes of the series. Cue the Dawson crying GIF!
So, yes, Netflix may be attempting to make this up to the show's very nostalgic fans. But if you're curious, we've explained the reasoning behind the theme song switcheroo, below.
Why did Netflix change the Dawson's Creek theme song?
"I Don't Want to Wait" has actually been missing from streamable versions of the series for years, including during the show's first stint on Netflix in 2012 and even on the DVD versions of later seasons. According to executive producer Paul Stupin, rather than purchasing the rights to Cole's 1997 smash hit in perpetuity, Sony paid only for on-air rights, then extended its coverage to the DVD editions of the first two seasons. However, after DVD sales underperformed, Sony cut the budget for subsequent home video releases, starting with song licensing fees.
"I ended up swapping out a good chunk of unclearable music for the later DVD releases," Stupin told Huffington Post in 2012. "And then there came to be a point where the studio said, 'Listen, we can't afford the Paula Cole song.'"
Fortunately, when Sony released a special DVD version of the two-part series finale in 2003, they coughed up the funding to keep "I Don't Want to Wait" playing over the opening credits across all media, so there is a light at the end of the six-season-long tunnel.
Where did the new theme song come from?
In a reassuring twist, "Run Like Mad" was not only one of the original choices for the Dawson's Creek opening theme, but was also written specifically for the show. Stupin told HuffPost that after they were unable to acquire the rights to Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket," their first choice for the theme song, the WB suggested they commission an original tune to open the show.
Canadian folk musician Jann Arden wrote and recorded "Run Like Mad," which was all set to be the official theme song until the very last minute, when the WB put out a series of Dawson's Creek teasers set to then-current pop songs. One of the songs used was "I Don't Want to Wait," which caught the attention of WB executives, who asked the producers if they had considered using the song as the show's opener.
"Honestly, we hadn't," Stupin confessed. "Now it seems so iconic. But at the time, it was really just another option worth exploring. But when we looked at it and really assessed it, we thought, 'This could be great.' So the network ended up making a deal with Paula Cole."
In a way, then, swapping in "Run Like Mad" is something of a full-circle moment—even if Arden seems immune to the hype surrounding her song. "I've been inundated by thousands of people asking where they can find the full version of the song. And I have to explain to them, 'That is the full version.' I was so naive that I only wrote 32 seconds of song," she told HuffPost in 2012, noting that she probably couldn't even expand on it if she tried: "I couldn't sing it to you with a gun to my head," she quipped.
How does Paula Cole feel about all of this?
She's not exactly pleased. In a 2018 interview with HuffPost, Cole described how she's bothered by the fact that many people only know her as the singer of the Dawson's Creek theme song. "And, not only do I have to deal with that association—with my name being both married to and usurped by the success of that show—but, even worse, I'm now being erased from the association with Dawson's Creek due to [what feels to me like] corporate greed," she said.
Cole said the decision to swap her song with Arden's "surprised me just as much as it did everyone else." She explained, "There was no discussion—it happened because of a technicality at Sony Pictures. There was a Canadian executive there who wanted to save money. That's all that was—money, not artistic integrity or continuity for a beloved show."
And though she expressed her support for Arden and "Run Like Mad," Cole added that she'd be willing to work with Sony to get "I Don't Want to Wait" back in the show. "All in all, everything that's happening right now is definitely bittersweet for me. It hits that painful chord—they stopped using my song and at this point, part of me would like for them to use my song again because there's cachet to having your song used on a TV show. My 16-year-old daughter would probably smile upon it!" she said. "Everyone keeps asking me, 'Why won't you let them have the song?' Of course I would consider it! I'm right here! Come talk to me, Sony. Let's negotiate! I'm an independent artist open for business!"
One very staunch member of the pro-song swap team is Dawson himself, aka James Van Der Beek. In 2017, he semi-jokingly revealed "I Don't Want to Wait" has become a haunting reminder of his time as a teenage heartthrob. "I have a complicated relationship with that song," he told The Guardian. "If I was at karaoke and it started playing, there's a part of me—and I'm a fucking grown-ass man with four kids—that still wants to go hide under the table. I was at a pharmacy in Philadelphia and it came on and I immediately went into a weird panic."
He added, "I think it's tied to the pandemonium that accompanied that, for which there was no off button. Walking around at that time was very tricky because one autograph could turn into a mob scene. So I walked around in fear of teenage girls."
Maybe we should stick to "Run Like Mad" after all—for Dawson's sake.