For every month of the year, I make a music playlist. It’s an ongoing project, a way of capturing the particulars and preserving exactly how I felt during a given season of my life. Some people save movie ticket stubs to tape inside scrapbook pages, others are always ready with a camera and a sharp eye. It’s amazing what you can store in a metaphorical time capsule, whatever yours may be.
Mine has always been music. It’s such transcendent magic, having the power to resurrect particular places and people. Occasionally I’ll listen to an older playlist, let’s say, from August 2018, and all of a sudden I’m a nervous freshman again, standing outside of Main Campbell Hall, wondering how I was possibly going to survive my first year away from home, my parents, and everything I associated with safety. Or sometimes I’ll play June 2018 and remember exactly how euphoric it felt to walk across the stage to receive my high school diploma, squeezing my closest friends goodbye as we parted ways on home turf. Even now, “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and The Heart immediately comes to mind; I remember playing that song on loop as I packed up my childhood room for college, not knowing how to cram everything I loved into boxes, much less how to feel about it. This is how I practice the art of time travel. I can still go back there, to that time, from the safety of my new apartment bedroom, a bus seat on my morning commute to campus, or a leisurely stroll through the duck pond. I’m not there anymore but I can visit.
It’s hard to believe September is over. October has finally reared its head, though the 90 degree Blacksburg weather doesn’t quite yet reflect that. Oh, September: the last month of summer, when everything feels simultaneously stagnant but unraveling. It’s 30 days of adjustment and angst and stress and chaos-- the tail end of a season but the beginning of a school year. This year, though, September brought some of the best music to my growing collection. I’m not sure what’s in the air, or what sort of wave my favorite artists have caught, but my September Spotify playlist, titled “09,” is bursting with songs I know I’ll play years from now. Songs that feel timeless and brand new, ones with lyrics I already memorized. I know one day I’ll play 09 and the details of this past month will come breathing back to life.
For now, I’ll let the music do the talking. Here are 3 songs-- essential ones! --out of the 70 that comprise my playlist. 3 songs that scream summer, sophomore year Michelle, and all the moments that make now… now.
“Lover” by Taylor Swift
Let’s be real. This is one I can vividly imagine as a first dance wedding song (it certainly made my own list of potentials!) It’s a promise of forever, a perfect moment-- clutching your loved one close and feeling wordlessly in love with the reality of forever with them. Taylor’s entire latest album, Lover, is one of her most emotional. You can hear her embracing her roots and writing with a confessional pen, pouring out her soul for us as if she had granted us access to her personal diary.
“Lover” is a song about falling, and more importantly, staying in love. It’s full of hidden vows and gentle promises: “Have I known you twenty seconds or twenty years?” she asks, and it’s so perfect. Even the lyric video she released on Vevo is a romantic reverie. Cast onto a bedsheet-- a makeshift projector--are the words to the song, overlayed with home videos of a happy, head-over-heels in love Taylor. In the footage she is smiling with squinty eyes and it all feels so authentic, intimate, and cozy. This one was a staple for September. I walked around campus just playing it on repeat, feeling as dizzily in love with life as she seems, too.
“The greatest” by Lana Del Rey
I’m not gonna lie; when I found out Lana was going to release Norman F******* Rockwell! at midnight on August 30th, I stayed up just to listen to the entire album with no distractions or interruptions. I was drawn in by the title track, and by the very last (“Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have -- but I Have It”), I was in tears. And no, I’m not talking just a few solitary drops; I’m talking ugly-crying the day’s mascara off until I resembled a glorified raccoon. This woman is a poet, an old soul, a visionary, an artist, and a hopeless romantic. Her work is storytelling at its finest, capturing the complexity of what it means to play all of those roles at once.
I can’t pick a favorite album, in fact, I refuse to. Each piece within NFR! is liquid gold, narrative witchcraft. But “The greatest” claims a special corner of my heart.
Within this psychedelic, slow burn of a song, Lana reminisces about the dog days of her youth, and the golden days of America. Laced with pop culture references from different decades, it’s smooth-sailing, apocalyptic, and nostalgic all at once. She finds a strange sense of freedom in the burnt-out wreckage of it all: throwing her hands up into the California air as an attempt to “ride the wave” of everything falling apart.
“Those nights were on fire / We couldn't get higher / We didn't know that we had it all,” she reflects, dreaming of summer nights with her friends, dancing to rock and roll without a care in the world. This was before everything fell out of orbit, her own life and the world she lives in. A time that felt more pure, less corrupt, more in control-- they could just live without inhibitions and everything was beautiful in a way that she, presently, can’t figure out how to replicate.
I understand this, and that’s why I love it. A moment’s only really there while it’s still happening. There’s no way to go back to that exact one, which is why I make playlists, because it’s the closest I’ll ever get.
“Don’t Call Me Angel” by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey (again, but… we can’t get enough of her)
I always feel the need to balance every sappy love song with an absolute power anthem, and this one is just that. Honestly, that’s an understatement, because this trio of powerhouses is electric, to say the least. The combination of these three powerful women is something lethal. It’s potent in the kind of way that compels you to lace up those leather combat boots and conquer the world. Whenever I play it, I feel the urge to walk a little faster, refuse to be anyone’s doormat (or angel, as they put it), and take initiative towards whatever needs to get done. They all have such distinct musical styles, but somehow, the song showcases each of their voices independently. One can only dream of a girl gang that powerful!