As a teenager in the late 1990s, I learned a hard truth about music: Your album collection couldn’t, and shouldn’t, be taken seriously without a copy of Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits. That’s why I went to the Tower Records on 4th Avenue in New York City one afternoon in ninth grade to cop the album, with its maroon cover and purple CD. Of all the records in Petty’s discography it’s by far his best selling, a perfect record for road trips, cookouts, and everything in between.
Throughout his career, Petty’s songs cut to the core of human emotion. His catalogue expressed an everyman bent, one that was shared by anyone who came in contact with his music, which was everyone. Petty and his Heartbreakers were a classic rock mainstay from the moment the first album dropped in 1976. His singles ran the gamut from love to heartbreak, depression to longing. “American Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “You Got Lucky,” “Free Fallin‘,” these were songs meant to be sung off pitch and in unison. How else could you know the classics if you didn’t own the one album that had them all?
The company is meticulous when it comes to product development, particularly for the BeForever line. “It takes about three years to launch a new character because you do a lot of research,” explains Opland. The BeForever books tackle a range of difficult issues—Addy Walker is an escaped slave, Samantha speaks out against child labor—and so American Girl enlists historians, museum curators, and linguists to carefully craft each character’s narrative. Research trips are taken (to Santa Fe for Josefina, New York’s Lower East Side for Rebecca) and advisory committees are formed.
In the case of Kaya, a nine-year-old Native American girl in the Northwest, American Girl worked with the Nez Perce tribe to ensure that her story, as well as her appearance, were as authentic as possible. As a result, she’s the only American Girl doll without her two front teeth showing; the tribe explained that Kaya would have never shown her teeth like that, as it’s considered a sign of aggression in the Nez Perce culture. They ensured that everything from the positioning of her braids to the patterns on her “pow-wow outfit” were historically accurate. A visit to the Rocky Mountains’ Lolo Trail also contributed to the development process.