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Can't Relate But Will Replay



American University


Can't Relate But Will Replay

Those songs that just transport you, no frame of reference required

K Kohn


Over and over again, I question my emotional capacity for love. This isn’t me saying Oh, no, I don’t have any feelings, I’m a lone wolf made of ice, sadness, and the boxset of Friday Night Lights. No, I’m saying I have a lot of emotional energy but lack the tools to release it.

Since the dawn of time, people have used music to express themselves, finding an audience who can relate, or at least an audience who can dance. I’m not in tune with my inner Tchaikovsky, so I can’t say I am in the creative class when it comes to song. Instead, I listen to the dirges of pop princesses and croons of twenty-something straight men with guitars, and I feel. Sometimes I dance (alone in my room), but I mostly feeeeel.

Listening to Top 40, or at least anything that can reasonably be classified as pop music, is an exercise in reading the lyrics, nodding to myself, and saying “can’t relate.” Or, at least, minimally relate. It’s getting ridiculous the amount of love songs I have cried to, not because they remind of anyone--they truly do not--but because the explosions of feelings. There is something so special about music that it can move you even while you are completely alienated from its themes, its root causes, its circumstances.

I listen to Lorde and cry in the dark of my room on a Saturday night; I was a friendless hermit in high school, not one of those alcohol-drinking, white teeth teens she’s always describing. When I heard “Green Light,” I burst into tears. Mostly because I love Lorde, but also because the way she expresses her pain is intoxicating. The details she writes are sparse, but evocative.

“Somebody else’s car” a car that isn’t hers? Or a car that isn’t her former lover’s? If anyone is free this weekend, we can debate it for hours, but the point is, Lorde has a lot to say about love, and heartbreak, and I can feel it in her growling voice.

“We order different drinks at the same bars.” Is Lorde even 21? I’m barely 21, and only know a solid two bars in D.C. There is something so film noir about this. I am sitting on a backless stool, eleven-at-night, shoulders hunched, hair spilling over my left cheek, all romantic like. You, dear reader, were here a few nights ago. You had the DC Brau. I had whatever was the cheapest thing on tap.

Well, kidding. Can’t relate.

I experience the same phenomena with anyone churning out mid-to-high tempo music that is made to be accessible and fun.

These past few weeks, I have listened to Boy Pablo’s “Losing You” on an absurd binge. Once it’s over, I loop it back around, let it play out, let the rest of my playlist play out, play that song again, get one more song in my playlist, and then head to YouTube to watch the music video. It is a very efficient process, I think.

“Losing You” is another upbeat, jangly post-break-up jam that it meant to get you dancing like a dad at a bar mitzvah. “How would you feel if I walked up to you one day/And ripped your heart out?” I don’t know, man, but if it feels like how this song makes me do--flush with the urge to fall in love, break up after a huge, personal, impassioned argument over something trivial--then I’d love it.

I promise I don’t only listen to songs about break-ups,kids. I sometimes listen to songs about people swaying close on the dance floor (can’t relate), gyrating to the beat of some electronic ditty punctuated by twirls (can’t relate), getting weirdly sweaty (can relate, but not in this scenario), falling in love with a stranger and/or acquaintance with which I have unresolved sexual tension between songs (can’t relate), until ultimately someone drinks enough cheap vodka to suggest they rendezvous back at chez whoever and… well, you get the picture.

The songs, and, yes, many others of various and sundry genres, activate some nascent emotional cortex within me. I mean, I’m thoroughly convinced I’ll never fall in love, but that’s because I’m not one of those tall girls who gets cast in music videos to be chased by a guy with an electric banjo and a red-and-white ringer tee. But for every crush that peters in and out, for every friend having a down day, I have a playlist filled with feelings turned into condensed soundwaves. The amount of effort put into making a playlist is extraordinary, and occasionally comparable to the amount of effort put into a song.

I have way too many feelings, all the time, about everything. I process emotions at an intensified rate, which is why I have been known to sob while telling my friends I love them while playing drunken Trivial Pursuit. It’s a thing, for sure. But, dang, if songs don’t just get at me sometimes. Like, real bad. With all the lyrically, symbolically, and emotionally rich pop songs coming out these days, I don’t think I’ll ever have to relate. The artists do enough to make the rhythm and beat accessible, that it doesn’t matter if I can’t relate to Janelle Monae falling in love with Tessa Thompson. I’m still dancing. I’m still grooving.

Plenty of people can relate to the lyrics of Top 40 songs, and that’s awesome. These songs can hold deep, personal meaning for them that they don’t for me. This is what it means when couples say “our song,” I presume. But my recluse ass cannot relate to the late nights, the drunken misadventures (again, Trivial Pursuit… in my own dorm room…), the heartbreak and rebirth. But it just doesn’t matter, because I’m singing along anyway.