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Music as my time capsule

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MARCH 13, 2023

Lorde once said, “All the music you loved at 16 you’ll grow out of.” I, for one, don’t think that’s true. 

Maybe it’s embarrassing that I still listen to “When He Sees Me from Waitress — yes, the musical — the way I did when I was in high school and had a crush on the captain of the varsity basketball team. Maybe some people would think that it makes me vapid and incapable of maturing past my 16-year-old self. But I disagree. 

The music I loved during my formative years of high school will probably stick with me forever. This isn’t because I haven’t experienced any personal character development since then, but because I think that if you truly love a song, you never really do stop loving it. Music is one of those things that sticks with you forever, whether you like it or not.

Take my middle school music taste. Today, I would never in a million years tell the world, “oh, I absolutely love Panic! at the Disco.” After the recent slew of dreadful albums  Brendon Urie has produced, I would not confess to listening to them. Even so, I have to admit some days, in the safe space of my dorm room, I occasionally queue a song from its early albums. My 11-year-old self was definitely not the smartest, but she was on to something when she would exclusively listen to “Pretty. Odd.” on repeat. 

Besides my secret attestation that a select few pop-punk albums of the early 2000s are actually musical masterpieces, they hold a dear place in my heart for another reason. When I listen to them, the experiences and feelings of middle school come flooding back to me.

Without context, this sentence is probably terrifying. Does anyone really want to relive the cringe-filled routine of being dropped off at the mall with your friends and $10 in your pocket? I wouldn’t, and I’m sure you would rather not either. But, one of my favorite quotes, scrawled on the first page of every diary I’ve had, reads: “A joy it will be one day, perhaps, to remember even this.” Music has the power to transport us to moments we can never get back with the touch of a play button, whether good or bad. 

Despite the embarrassment I feel every time I think about my middle school mall trips where I would loiter outside of Hot Topic, the memory also brings a smile to my face. With a quick Spotify search and thirty minutes of Twenty One Pilots on shuffle, I am transported back to a time when all I had to stress over was not being placed on the same bus as my friends on the way to our field trip. I think of the good old days where I  got one homework assignment per week. I think of learning to use a locker for the first time, and I think of my middle school best friend, who introduced me to this wannabe pop-punk era of my life. 

One of my favorite things about music is the way I so easily associate it with people. If making Spotify playlists for all of my friends counted as an officially recognized love language, it would be mine. I associate almost every song I have ever listened to with someone. Of course, this isn’t always easy because I don’t really want to be thinking about the friend that I awkwardly drifted apart from every time I listen to the Strokes. 

Regardless, I think there’s something magical about hearing the first few seconds of a song and immediately being struck by a crashing wave of nostalgia. There’s a handful of people who once knew everything about me that I no longer even wish happy birthday to. And when I listen to the songs that they introduced to me or put on playlists I constantly played with them, I get the chance to look back on our friendship with a smile. Whenever Brazil by Declan McKenna comes on, I think of middle school free periods spent watching Sims gameplays. Whenever any Black Eyed Peas song comes on, I look back on fond memories of shelling out $3 on a subpar smoothie at the McDonald’s right next to my high school with my best friend. 

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say that they don’t like music. As one of the biggest introverts ever, I’ve found music is always what helps me break the awkward silence between me and a stranger the question “What music are you into?” has saved a failing conversation countless times. The entire reason music is so special is because it can mean so many different things to so many different people. Everyone associates each song with different people, emotions and places, and that’s the beauty of it all. So, as much as I swear that Lorde encapsulates the experience of teenage girlhood in her lyrics, I disagree with her on this one. We never really grow out of the music we love. The music just grows up with us.

Naomi Lam writes the Monday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

MARCH 13, 2023