For many of us, it feels like disaster has struck. School is cancelled, we can’t see our friends and professors keep popping up in our Zoom breakout groups. It’s hard. In times of stress and uncertainty, people have always sought solace in music, and this crisis is no different. In this piece, North by Northwestern contributors and staff share the songs that have become their anthems and what these songs mean to them as they learn how to adjust to the new normal.
“This Year” - The Mountain Goats
By Jayna Kurlender
“I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.” The most famous song by The Mountain Goats isn’t a positive one. It’s not chipper, jovial, joyous or any other synonym for happy you can think of. But right now, I don’t think we necessarily need happy songs. Instead, it’s something else. It’s reassuring. “I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.” John Darnielle sings about a lot of disheartening things, and this song is no exception. He talks about his childhood in an abusive home and trying to escape it as a teenager with alcohol. He bonds with his girlfriend over her similar trauma. Yet, with all of this, there is still the hope for the future — even if the best you can hope for is survival. “I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.”
Many of us are not in the situation Darnielle was referencing in “This Year,” but his message rings true. On every single news station there are signs of impending doom. No one knows what’s going to happen or when we’ll get back to normal. Some say that there is no more “normal.” When you don’t know what the next day (let alone the next week) will bring, it’s easy to fall headfirst into fatalism. The Mountain Goats helps me to resist that. “This Year” is the epitome of resistance — resisting fatalism, resisting doom, resisting expectations. The world is a complete shitshow right now; there’s no mincing words. But you just have to get through it. “There will be singing and dancing in Jerusalem next year / I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.”
“Always Remember Us This Way” - Lady Gaga
By Bailey Richards
Regardless of whether or not you’ve seen the 2018 film “A Star is Born,” you have likely heard the song “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. Although I love this song and will never be able to resist singing along when I hear it, it is simply not the best song on the film’s incredible soundtrack. That spot is taken by Lady Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way,” through which her character recalls the moment she fell in love with Bradley Cooper’s. The song is an incredibly romantic ballad, but that is not why I love it or why I have dubbed it my “quarantine anthem.” Rather, it has become one of my favorite songs because it represents and reminds me of a handful of the strongest women in my life who are also some of my best friends. It is my anthem not only in quarantine but in life because each time I hear Gaga sing the lines, “When the sun goes down / and the band won't play / I'll always remember us this way,” I remember singing them around the piano, swimming in the dark and laughing so hard it hurt with my best friends. I remember the summer I had with them before we went our separate ways and the way it felt to be surrounded by their physical forms. This song has been getting me through isolation and will continue to do so until I can stop remembering and see my friends again.
“On The Radio” - Regina Spektor
By Mia Mamone
“A million ancient bees
Began to sting our knees
While we were on our knees
Praying that disease
Would leave the ones we love
And never come again.”
I was singing this song in the shower a few weeks ago at the beginning of quarantine. It had gotten stuck in my head after I heard the haunting Chip Taylor cover that played at the end of the Sex Education Season 2 finale. When I came to the verse seen above, I couldn’t help but think it was so on the nose for the literal pandemic wrecking the world around me that I just laughed and laughed.
Throughout winter quarter I’d made my way through the new Sex Education season with my friend Jake, just as we had last year with Season 1. The night we finished the finale — when I heard “On The Radio” for the first time in forever — was the last time I saw Jake before he went home to Los Angeles. We didn’t know it then, but ruined were our spring quarter plans to watch Eurovision and continue our weekly hangouts, which often featured simple pies from Blaze Pizza (sea salt and oregano for me, neither for Jake) and Alexa Jeopardy! with my roommate Anna (who is now home in New York, another half country away). I don’t know when we’ll be reunited. I’ve found myself repeating another set of lines that comes a little later in the song:
“And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else's heart
Pumping someone else's blood
And walking arm in arm
You hope it don't get harmed
But even if it does
You'll just do it all again.”
I’ve put pieces of myself into my friends’ hearts, and pieces of them into mine. We’ll stay that way until we see each other again.
“Reborn” - Kids See Ghosts
By David Deloso
It’s been nearly two years since Kanye West and Kid Cudi dropped their collaborative project Kids See Ghosts. While the album is an explosive fusion of hip-hop, psychedelic rock and countless other influences, the track that comprises its emotional core is a somber, introspective meditation on mental health and forward progress. Kanye’s emotionally-charged verse is among the best of his career, but Cudi’s contributions to this track have resonated with me the most as I practice social distancing. He expresses confusion, doubt and uncertainty in his lyrics, yet punctuates these feelings with the mantra “keep moving forward.” The repetition of this phrase turns it into an almost hypnotic affirmation that things will be okay. When I was setting up a work space for Spring Quarter, I made sure to hang up my Kids See Ghosts poster – partially because Tekashi Murakami’s art is beautiful, but mostly as a reminder to myself to always keep moving forward.
“停停停” - Gao Kaiwei
By Linda Shi
The title of this song is simply the Chinese character “stop” being repeated three times in a roll. (Ain’t that a mood?) Accompanied by a moody yet powerful piano melody, Gao Kaiwei retells his frustrations with being trapped inside his house during vacation by the never-ending rain. He wishes for sunny weather so he can wander the streets for a new restaurant with delicious food. But until then, he is trapped in a “wet, cold, hungry vacation.” With sorrowful strings and repetitive verses, the song stretches indefinitely like the gray sky outside the singer’s windows, so you can put the track on repeat without noticing its ending. This is truly the sad bop of the century for me. This song is what I put on when I want to host a pity party for myself since Gao offers enough sweet falsettos and vocals for me to switch between dizzying bouts of hope and sadness. While I want to see my friends, I also miss wandering about the familiar streets and shops of my city and listening to chatter of the outside world. But until then, the rain drums on.
“400 Lux” - Lorde
By Quan Pham
Released in 2013 (god, how has it been seven years already?), the entirety of Pure Heroine by Lorde is still on my most-played list. However, during this time of a global crisis, “400 Lux,” the second track in the album, stands out to me specifically. Lux is a unit of measurement for illumination, and 400 lux is right around the intensity of a sunrise or sunset. From the title itself, the tone for the track is set to be one of nostalgia — of remembering the simple joy you can have with your friends while driving around the streets “where the houses won’t change” and talking “like there’s something to say.” Indeed, listening to it during this time of quarantine gives me a sincere longing for those moments with my friends during what could have been a fun Spring Quarter.
But the song doesn’t just signify time lost — it can also stand for time to come. I’ve been listening to “400 Lux” quite consistently on my daily run, and it has helped to take my mind away from this pandemic and the loneliness of isolation. It keeps me looking forward to a better, brighter future and one where I’ve “got a lot to not do” and where I can never be “done with killing time.” Lorde has a knack for evoking emotions you don’t even know you have. Pure Heroine has plenty of those moments, most notably “Ribs,” a year-round anthem for 1 a.m. feelings and conversations. But “400 Lux” is seasonal. It is the soundtrack for those intimate summer nights Lorde so often muses about. And for now, it is also my quarantine anthem.
“Motion Sickness” - Phoebe Bridgers
By Emily Sakai
“Motion Sickness” has some of the best lyrics of any song I have ever heard. When I discovered this song a little over a year and a half ago, it immediately became one of the songs I will always sing along to (badly) and never skip. It comes off Bridgers’s 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps, and it’s my favorite out of the very strong group. “Motion Sickness” is about the end of a difficult relationship, specifically Bridgers’s emotionally abusive relationship with singer Ryan Adams. Though all of the lyrics are amazing, the chorus is special in that it identifies a feeling that I have felt before and never been able to describe. Bridgers sings, “I have emotional motion sickness / somebody roll the windows down / There are no words in the English language / I could scream to drown you out.” “Emotional motion sickness” describes a mind in conflict, so much so that emotional pain becomes physical. It’s a really striking and clever metaphor, one that takes on new meanings as I continue to listen to the song. I think that’s the beauty of “Motion Sickness;” it’s so specific to Bridgers’s experience and yet, the feelings are universal. Now more than ever, we all know what it feels like to be trapped by something we don’t have control of. It’s definitely how I’ve been feeling in quarantine, so I’ve had this song on repeat.
“The Quarantine Anthem” - Jack Maynard
By Elizabeth Yoon
Yes, you are reading that correctly, someone (more specifically, a certain Jack Maynard) took the liberty to write a song literally called “The Quarantine Anthem.” The first time my friend showed me this song, I thought it was a joke, just another celebrity making light of a very serious situation. However, no matter how superficial it may seem, Maynard wrote this song hoping to raise his fans’ spirits, as well as to remind them to stay inside and stay safe. With this more lighthearted approach, Maynard voices all the many silly but real thoughts and wishes we have while stuck in quarantine. Whether it’s about ordering “Uber Eats, for company,” running out of toilet paper, Skyping with friends, the desire to simply go outside or just the loneliness that life in quarantine brings, Maynard addresses the very real struggles all of us are experiencing, no matter where in the world we are. And while the song itself won’t be winning any Grammys anytime soon, it’s another reminder that although we may be in quarantine, we are not alone in this fight, in this struggle. We are all in this together, and I think the title fits the song because of how relatable the lyrics are. No matter who you are, we’ve experienced loneliness at times during quarantine, we’ve missed our friends, we’ve wanted to leave the confines of our homes and go outside, and yes, some of us have even run out of toilet paper.
“Sometimes” - H.E.R.
By Jordan Hickey
When I first listened to “Sometimes” a few weeks ago, I had a hard time believing it had come out in January and not as a response to the coronavirus. In this song, H.E.R. sings about feeling like she was on track and settled into a plan but then having to come to terms with uncertainty and things not panning out as she’d expected. Her strong vocals lend incredible depth and emotion to lyrics that feel all too relevant.
This song has become my quarantine anthem because it reminds me that so much of this situation is out of my control and sometimes, all I can do is close my eyes and take a deep breath. It stresses that it’s OK to be feeling disappointment, hopelessness and anxiety, but in the end, whatever happens will happen and we’ll make it through this crazy and unpredictable time.
“Options” - 14 Stories
By Sammi Boas
Here’s to all the kids and teens that are shaping this quarantine for the better. 14 Stories, a band from Charlottesville, Virginia, released their second single “Options” on April 3. The twist? These guys are high schoolers, ranging from freshmen to seniors. With their talent, you never would’ve guessed it. Like their previous single “Hear Me Out,” “Options” is an alternative rock groove that does everything right. A personal favorite part of the song is the vocals, especially the runs during the bridge. Lead singer and guitarist Chris Kelly has a warm and charismatic voice that stands out from the pack. And I’m not the only one who feels this way — just check out his 69,000 followers on TikTok. The keyboard and drums are interesting and essential, but do not take away from Kelly’s vocals. 14 Stories is the band I wish my high school had, and they’re only getting started. With all the “options” of things to do during quarantine, be sure to check these guys out. Maybe it’ll make you more hopeful for the sparks of positivity that will come during the rest of quarantine. It sure did for me.
“As The World Caves In” - Matt Maltese
By Madison Smith
“And here it is, our final night alive / And as the earth runs to the ground / Oh girl it’s you, that I lie with”
If you’re a college student, you’re statistically 264% more likely to have decided you’re in love with someone a week before the pandemic took over the United States and we all got kicked off campus. This song goes out to all of your bleeding hearts.
Did I find this song on TikTok? Yes. Was it a POV video? Also, yes. Am I a little bit embarrassed to be publicly admitting that? For sure. But only in a time of social distancing would I be able to dive deep enough into the depths of TikTok to find a song this lovely. Maltese, a British songwriter and an underdog of indie ballads, gives us end-of-the-world gravitas spun with notes of melodrama and psychedelic romance. Listen to this song and pretend the world is burning down while you wistfully stare out at a scene of slow-motion obliteration from behind your car window. Give your aching heart a rest, listen, and ~disassociate~.
“forever” - Charli XCX
by Beck Dengler
Charli XCX’s album “how i’m feeling now” dropping on May 15th is being assembled entirely in quarantine. She has even referred to it as a “quarantine album.” But the album’s lead single “forever” isn’t a lament on life during COVID-19, the pandemic suffocating every aspect of life and human connection. No, “forever” is a celebration of love’s ability to overcome separation and time.
The song is dedicated to her boyfriend who lives in New York while she lives in Los Angeles. Throughout the song, Charli acknowledges that in all likelihood they will probably split up, but that even if this is true, the love they share won’t disappear. It’ll simply change. As she sings, “I know in the future we won’t be together, but I will always love you.” It’s a simple sentiment. But it’s simplicity in such a complicated time makes it all the more poignant. Of course, Charli brings to “forever” her usual vocal brilliance and creative production making the song infinitely relistenable.
The music video for “forever” features clips of Charli and others in quarantine. It replaces the extravagance of the usual lead single music video with a home footage collage of what people want to remember. Interlaced with clips of people in facemasks are shots of Charli performing in front of hundreds. The video makes the song’s message all the more powerful. The moments at crowded concerts spent celebrating music together are so much more special now that we are separated.