You Are What You Listen To

by Maureen Bruce

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved music. I was essentially raised on it—specifically, a ton of late seventies and eighties hits, I listened to everything from Phil Collins and Simply Red to Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. Music is just as much a part of me as the blood flowing through my veins.

Naturally, I would come to develop my own taste in music as I got older. When I was eight years old, I was drawn to bubblegum pop—Britney Spears and P!nk—but I also loved R&B, hence my inclination to sing along to Rihanna and Beyonce songs as they played on the radio. Once I got a smartphone in middle school, I began to discover artists that weren’t very well known, but they had a style and feel that was much more appealing to me at that age. I stumbled across Lana Del Rey, an artist known for her vintage, cinematic music, as well as The Neighbourhood, an alternative and indie rock group known for their classic black-and-white music videos and their most popular song, “Sweater Weather” (2013). 

This was only the beginning of my exploration of artists and their music, but it was also the start of my playlist-making. As I grew up in the 2000s, music and the way it was shared and listened to evolved in such a way that we could literally have music in our pockets. With our cell phones, headphones and earbuds, and with the invention of mp3 players and iPods, we had incredible access to libraries of music. I remember getting an iPod touch for Christmas one year and I developed an unhealthy attachment to it. Suffice to say, I reached a time where I could actually put all of the songs I loved listening to on a playlist, and it became a hobby of mine. 

As the years went on, I made playlists for a number of things. With Spotify, I could create as many playlists as I wanted to. It was convenient to have all of my favorite songs in one place, sure, but it was also something I thoroughly enjoyed doing. I spent my time curating these playlists, creating a little musical world within each one. Some playlists fit specific moods and feelings; some were dedicated to individual genres or eras; and some were inspired by books I read or films I watched. 

These playlists were like magic—there was something so beautifully indescribable about finalizing a playlist and letting it play on shuffle. If I wanted to curl into a ball in my bed and cry my eyes out to Adele, I knew which playlist to click on. If I was getting ready to hang out with friends, I’d choose something that would get me dancing around my room as I pulled on my socks and checked my outfit in the mirror. The more playlists I made, the more I learned that my music taste was eclectic. I loved such a wide range of artists that my playlists were a direct expression of my interests. 

Soon enough, I began sharing songs and then entire playlists with my best friends. This encouraged them to make their own playlists. It was something we could all contribute to and talk about. We’d sit close together, earbuds in, simply letting the music sweep over us. We bonded over our favorite lyrics, the sweet blend of instruments and vocals streaming into our ears.

As a junior in college, I’m thankful to say that music has impacted my perspective on so many things—friendships, traveling, good and bad experiences, and people. You can learn a lot about a person just by looking at their favorite artists and the playlists they make, but more than that, you can create a sense of community and relation to others through their music. These playlists have gotten my friends and I through everything from breakups and bad grades to our senior prom and graduation day. 

My playlists are like old friends that I go back to, and they’re littered with different types of genres. For soul music, The Teskey Brothers and Leon Bridges come in handy. If I’m feeling a little nostalgic, I go to my vintage playlist, filled with Ashanti, Justin Timberlake, Fleetwood Mac and The Backstreet Boys. When I’m in the mood for alternative R&B, pop, or soulful rock, I turn to Emotional Oranges, Harry Styles, and Hozier. 

Today we are still in the middle of a historic pandemic (COVID-19) and the last six months of our lives have been a combination of emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Through the hard and seemingly endless days of quarantine, playlists were a huge life-saver for me. I’d have one wireless earbud in as I shopped for groceries, got an oil change, did chores around the house, and read news articles about the virus and its impact on the world around us. I made plenty of spring/summer playlists to share with friends and even did a thirty-day playlist challenge with my best friend in April. 

In a time as uncertain as this, the one thing I can always count on is music. It’s comforting, but also full of life. As these songs play, I can dream up anything I want, be as creative as possible, and I can freely express myself. Years from now, I can go back to these playlists and remember the moments that shaped me as a young adult. I can remember the people, places, and things that impacted me. Most of all, I can remember the songs that played as I danced, FaceTimed a friend, as memories were made, and as laughs were shared. There is no perfect playlist—at least not one I’ve ever found or made for myself—but the best thing is that they don’t have to be. They don’t have to fit into a mold, but can really be anything I want. My encouragement to whoever is reading this right now: go make a playlist and let your imagination run wild. Trust me, you’ll probably fall in love it. 

Maureen Bruce is a junior at HBU studying Mass Media Arts. When she's not in class, she enjoys writing, binge-watching TV shows, and listening to music.

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