If there’s anything I learned over the past decade, it’s that 1) I drown in my feelings too much, and 2) I’m not good at expressing at them. Ten years may have gone, but I am still plagued by my emotional instability that has rendered me incapable of relating to my well-adjusted peers. At 15, I held on to any piece of culture that could make me feel connected to this world I didn’t feel welcome in. At 25, three therapists and thousands of breakdowns later, nothing changed. The only difference, I guess, is that I now have a full-blown internet addiction and breakdowns punctuated by an indiscernible mess of bomb-ass music.
Let’s go back to the early 2010’s. Armed with a tiny green iPod Shuffle gifted by an aunt, my proto-indie self-scoured obsessively through the internet for songs that can serve as a soundtrack for my teenage troubles and insecurities. I remember my infatuation with bands like Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; my nostalgic longing for Avril Lavigne, Britney, and the Beatles; my fangirl worship of the Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes; and my foray into pop-punk and emo fueled by the angsty-yet-fun music of All Time Low, Paramore, and of course, My Chemical Romance. K-pop was just starting to boom in the Philippines, and the girls I knew liked Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, 2NE1, and Big Bang. BTS wasn’t a thing yet. Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber were at their peak. Smartphones were a bit less ubiquitous, and the people who had them were at the height of privilege in my eyes.
I was just starting college at that time, because K to 12 education wasn’t implemented in my country yet. Spotify wasn’t in the Philippines yet either, so I was stuck with iTunes and any other way of transferring music to my tiny iPod so I can have something to daydream to during 7-hour trips to the place I first called “college”.
At 16, I created a Tumblr where I posted the songs I liked—mostly from movies and shows like Scott Pilgrim, Skins, and My Mad Fat Diary. I began cultivating playlists so I can be like Norah from Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I was in a passive search for my own Nick: a musical soulmate; someone who knows all the cool bands and would write songs about me. Preferably, someone who also owns a cool jacket and a phone with The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” as its ringtone. I put Broken Social Scene’s sentimental and dreamy “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” on loop the night before I turned 18.
I went from class to class with a playlist that expressed the nuances of growing up, from MGMT’s triumphant-yet-melancholic “Time to Pretend” to indie goddess Sky Ferreira’s entire “Night Time, My Time” album and Marina and the Diamonds’ deceptively cheerful “Teen Idle”. I discovered the 90’s alt scene and cried myself to sleep over grades, heartbreaks, family fights, and eventually failed j¬ob interviews to Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Elliott Smith. Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift were just starting out, and even my wannabe-alt grrrllll self-had “Bad Romance” and “Teardrops on my Guitar” on loop. Donnie Darko introduced me to Echo and the Bunnymen and Tears for Fears beyond “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. I was comforted by Oasis’ “What’s the Story, Morning Glory?” album when I went on my first flight alone. Pink Floyd taught me how to be comfortably numb, and Morrissey encouraged me to embrace the fact that I’m human and needed to be loved.
Years passed, and I found myself both fascinated and disappointed with the rapidly changing world. Social media had wrapped its claws around me, and the rise of problematic figures exacerbated my deteriorating mental health. But despite this sociopolitical climate that can turn the most hopeful people into cynical depressives, people started experimenting more and we were blessed with art both weird and wonderful.
I discovered the beauty of mashups, and how “ironic” genres like Vaporwave have their own aesthetic quality. I learned how the underdogs can weaponize Internet culture such as meme music to stay authentic and criticize an increasingly commercialized world. I saw the rise of music that didn’t fit in any genre, making me realize that one type of music doesn’t have to superior to another. I discovered Death Grips, Kero Kero Bonito, Brockhampton, and legions of independent artists from my Spotify algorithm and “24/7 lofi/chillhop/hiphop beats to relax/study to” videos. The world was just starting to know Billie Eilish. David Bowie died, and that hit me so hard that I played “Space Oddity” and “Starman” on repeat for weeks.
I learned how difficult it can be to write about music, but so easy to fall for people who like the same stuff I do. I used social media and songs to telepathically communicate with crushes I can’t talk to. Eventually, I became braver and more comfortable with vulnerability. I danced and cried alone in my room to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”, let out silent screams to Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde, Lana Del Rey, Charli XCX, and Mitski. I learned not to judge people based on their music tastes, because in the end we’re all just looking to make things a little more magical in our mundane world – be it through Cardi B or Debussy. I learned that we tend to go back to the same old songs as easily as we outgrow them, especially when we’re drunk, doing laundry, or smoking alone at 2 AM and thinking about our dead-end jobs. I learned that the songs we share can mean something, or nothing at all.
Bob Dylan once said that songs can’t save the world. I agree, but they can inspire us to make it a little more bearable. At the beginning of the decade, my taste in music was a tangled mesh of black and white. By the decade’s end, it’s still a tangled mesh – but with more color. I was lucky to come of age during a time when music went through a rapid transformation, because I transformed along with it. As I say goodbye to the 2010’s, a wild period of uncertainty and cautious optimism, I can only hope for more good music that encapsulates the beauty and ugliness of being human. Because if there’s anything else this decade taught me, it’s that things aren’t going to get better. But that doesn’t mean we should stop listening to the songs that make us believe that maybe, just maybe, they can.