“I’m not like other girls,” comes the mocking cry from my little sister across the kitchen table – a phrase I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually used, and she knows it. But, in a faded My Chemical Romance t-shirt from c.2014 and garish tie-dye jeans from heaven only knows what source (Hot Topic wys xx), I am a walking, cringing time capsule of my teenage self. Except with essays. And access to a student newspaper.
Anyway – if, like me, you’ve abandoned the majority of your clothes from 2017 onwards in an overpriced student house hundreds of miles away, you’ve probably been scrabbling around your childhood bedroom trying to find things to get you through to the next laundry load. Many of us are now back in our childhood homes and hometowns, often in similar situations to those of our schooldays. For some, this experience will inevitably be more bearable than for others; either way, if you’re currently staring at the same four walls and walking down the same streets as you were five years ago, listening to the same music is the logical (and tempting) next step. Maybe we’re regressing. Get me outta this town.
Seriously, though – lockdown presents the perfect opportunity to engage with the music we used to (and secretly still do) love in a shame-free way. There are bigger issues, sure – especially in the middle of a pandemic – but in a culture dominated by the elusive search for individuality, music enjoyed by teenagers (particularly girls) is frequently belittled and made fun of. Think small-town Smiths fans, emo kids and Beliebers, jibes about pop-punk stereotypes and 1D not making ‘real music’. At the same time, especially now we’re plastered to the Internet 24/7, there can be a pressure to ensure your favourite band is so niche no one else has ever heard of them, or that your Spotify page secures you maximum indie points. Really, what a lot of us need right now is a little musical TLC.
Detached from some of the more performative aspects of everyday music snobbery, in the confines of your bedroom, shower or neighbourhood, now is the time to crack out those cringey, cherished classics. Maybe this isn’t the place to start a debate on separating the art from the artist, but if you’re into it – being back in the provincial towns you jog round and all that – lockdown also allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the environments and emotions which inspired some of our favourite music (location permitting).
Whatever your hometown tastes and findings, now is the perfect time to rediscover old musical paramours (and maybe their new stuff, too – Hayley Williams’ debut solo LP Petals for Armor came out last week) and enjoy what you like, on your terms. That old MP3 player full of JLS’ greatest hits, the oh-so-unique Smiths-Cure playlist you thought was so intellectual back in 2016, The Black Parade seven times a day, whatever. Subject your family to the Twilight soundtrack for the fifteenth time this week. Embrace your inner emo kid – you know you want to. You’re probably cutting your own hair by now anyway. And do it without shame – teens and tweens across the globe find comfort in these artists for a reason, and we should respect that, rather than looking down on people for liking stuff that’s popular.
Nearly two months in, many of us feel like we’re stagnating, as the pause button is pressed on a period of our lives brimming with change and growth. At the same time, by now we’re all familiar with the argument lockdown gives us more time to ‘really appreciate’ media and consume it in its pure, untainted form – whatever that’s supposed to be. However, the way we experience music in our everyday lives is often messy, unscripted and in-the-moment – and this isn’t a bad thing! In fact, it may be this which holds the key to the comfort it can give us right now: providing gateways back to better, brighter times.
Music is often central to our most cherished memories of being *out there* in the world – sing-shouting along to your new favourite album on midnight drives with old friends, throwing shapes to your song with the partner who’s now a grounded plane ride away, that sort of thing. Y’know. The moments which make the slog through our monstrous workloads worth it. When a lot of us are separated from communities and spaces providing us with a sense of identity, security and belonging at Oxford and beyond, the comfort and solidarity music provides in this way can be invaluable.
After all, I’m sure many of us are living an age-old pop punk cliché back in towns we spent our teenage years dreaming of leaving. Oxford was our ticket out, and now it’s been jarringly transplanted into the same childhood bedrooms we once colonised with dreams of bigger things. So stick on that old mix CD, raid your brother’s record collection – even whack on that secret cheese floor playlist from when you were still a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed fresher. Things will get easier, but in the meantime – if music be the food of love, play on, in the way you love best. No one’s watching.
The playlist for all your recurring teenage/early-twenties angst needs: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4YsL6tntGN8CnYU0a53Oiv?si=XEf6SfXkRtyoXeVYo8DJuQ