"At Seventeen" is a song by Janis Ian, released in 1975 on Between the Lines (her seventh studio album) and as a single. Ian's most successful recording, the song is a commentary on society's beauty standards, adolescent cruelty, the illusion of popularity, and teenage angst, as reflected upon from the maturity of adulthood. It is told from the point of view of a woman who was an "ugly duckling" as a girl and ignored in high school while the popular girls got all the attention.
Janis Ian, then 22, wrote "At Seventeen" in 1973 at her mother's house over the course of three months. In her autobiography Society's Child, Ian says that the song was inspired by a newspaper article about a former teenage debutante who learned the hard way that being popular did not solve all her problems. The article included the quote, "I learned the truth at eighteen"; Ian found that the word "seventeen" worked better than "eighteen" when she tried to put this lyric with the bossa nova-style melody she had been composing on guitar. She also says she initially did not want to record or perform the song because she felt it was far too personal to share, but eventually changed her mind after adding the song's final verse ("To those of us who knew the pain/Of Valentines that never came...").
Promoting the song was challenging, as it was longer than most radio hits and packed with lyrics. Along with the promotions team at her record company, Ian decided that their best chance to market the song was to promote it to women, which was no easy task. Ian did a grueling series of daytime talk shows for six months before she was granted an appearance on The Tonight Show where she performed the song and it took off.
The song's parent album, Between the Lines, also hit #1 and earned a platinum certification for sales of one million copies. Another measure of her success is anecdotal -- on Valentine's Day 1977, Ian received 461 Valentine cards, having indicated in the lyrics to "At Seventeen" that she never received any as a teenager.
Danish singer songwriter Pia Raug recorded a Danish language version of the song, titled "Seksten år" (16 years), on her 1978 album Hej lille drøm. She wrote the Danish language lyrics herself.
German musician, DJ and producer Justus Köhncke covered the song in his 1999 debut album Spiralen Der Erinnerung.
Japanese electropop singer Chocolat covered it on her 1999 album, Hamster. (? Chocolat Hamusutaa ?).
Taiwan singer Chyi Yu covered it on her 1999 album, C'est la vie.
Filipino bossa nova singer Sitti Navarro covered it on her 2006 debut album Café Bossa.
Anita Kerr covered the song on her 1975 RCA album, The Anita Kerr Singers. It was also released as a single. Anita multi-tracked her own voice on the second and third bridges of the song to create harmony vocals.
Canadian singer Celine Dion covered the song on her 2013 studio album Loved Me Back to Life. The cover was produced by musician Babyface. Steve Morse of the Boston Globe claimed the cover to be the best song on Dion's album, stating "Dion gives it a light Brazilian feel and sends shudders through your heart."Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic called the cover "thoroughly colorless adult contemporary." Eric Henderson of Slant Magazine stated the cover "comes off less like a lament for childhood dreams that didn't come to pass and more like a lilting word of advice from someone old enough to know better, which is precisely the zone where the album excels: when Dion drops the act and embraces her manic, Hallmark card-brandishing guru of schmaltz." Caroline Sullivan of The Guardian stated, "Dion navigates with heartfelt sensitivity" on the cover.
British band Whistler covered the song in a light rock style, with some lyrics rotated, on their 1999 EP Intermission.
Ingrid James (Australian jazz singer) and The Global Collective covered the song on their 2011 album Pangaea released by Newmarket Music (Australia)
French-Canadian singer Céline Dion covered the song for the first time live for the tribute to Janis Ian on the 2008 Grammy Nominations TV special. In 2011, Dion included the song as part of her Las Vegas residency show, Céline. Later the song was featured in as part of a medley in the 2018 tour. The song is also included in her Loved Me Back to Life album.