“I’m don’t even like The Chainsmokers!” I remember saying in frustration to the darkness of my high school bedroom, while somehow, despite not even liking The Chainsmokers, I was crying listening to “The One.” It was the spring break of my first year of college, I’d been living on the other side of the country without my parents for roughly 6 months, and somehow this handful of days haphazardly shaped into a homecoming managed to summarize how different 6 months had made me. I was a foreigner in a city I’d lived in for the last 6 years, and the nostalgia was killer. So here I was, up too late at night, listening to music from a band I didn’t even like, and crying talking to one of my best friends from Philadelphia about the minutiae of how The Chainsmokers should have constructed “The One” to tell the story better. At the time I summarized the song as “The vocals weren't impressive and the music was simple but it had like a weird nostalgic feel that was strangely relatable. I'm imagining the same people that cry over Adele songs would cry over this even though they shouldn't,” where I was absolutely the cry-over-Adele type of person I referenced. Neither my friend nor I were particularly enamored by the song musically, the difference was I have listened to “The One” about a hundred times since then, and my friend probably has not. Why? Because there’s more to a song than just the lyrics and the music, there’s a culture to it too. Everyone’s got a “guilty pleasure” song they absolutely would never admit to listening to because it has emotional significance to them. The cultural context is enough to overpower poorly done autotune, bad songwriting, mind-numbingly oversimplified drum beats, or any other unforgivable fallacy that would otherwise wreck a song.
With dismay, I have to say The Chainsmokers are the definitive soundtrack of my freshman year. I wish I could say the year was a power montage of Queen’s greatest hits, but as great as “Don’t Stop Me Now” would be, we’re just “Under Pressure” and rarely anything more. Even if it was a series of anthemic songs by The Killers detailing failed attempts at affairs, it would be more interesting. But here we are, from “Closer” to “The One” to “My Type,” sad, stagnant, and nostalgic. In September when we had just moved into the dorms, “Closer” was on the radio near-constantly. I had listened to the song enough to be singing it everywhere, because I was a fan of Halsey, and would listen to literally anything she sang on. I remember making jokes to my roommate about whether it was okay to sing about “the mattress that you stole from your roommate back in Boulder” and promising I would not steal her dorm mattress. I remember long philosophical talks on the lawn by our dorm room at night, with the girl who would become one of my three best friends, about exactly which Blink-182 song was probably “beat to death in Tuscon,” and my propensity for singing “Closer” in the shower probably annoyed my entire floor, but also acted as a friendship catalyst for at least 3 of us. Not because it was necessarily a good song but because it was something we connected over. From a kid from Southern California, to an international student from India, or a girl who had lived her whole life in a New Jersey suburb, whether you thought the live AMA performance was incredibly staged on Halsey’s part, or just a demonstration of why you didn’t like Andrew Taggart’s singing, it was something we had all seen and could talk about. “Closer” was more than just a too-popular EDM song, it was an that great musical gift, a cultural equalizer. Then over spring break “The One” came out and I stayed up late dissecting it with a friend, and crying over lines like “And we can play pretend / Like we haven't reached the end yet” and “Before one of us takes a chance / And breaks this, I won't be the one”, because in the dark of the same bedroom where I wrote the college application essays that got me to Philadelphia in the first place, with too-warm-for-March Texas air blowing through the window, it was relevant. The lyrics weren’t particularly well crafted but they struck a heartstring, and just like the singer, and myself, “The One” would never be “the one” but it would be important. It was all part of the journey. In March, I had accurately assumed “The One” wouldn’t be a chart topper, but I had inaccurately assumed it also wouldn’t be well loved. “The One” is not a "scream the lyrics at the top of your lungs and either a. pogo hop and fist pump or b. Cry your entire soul out" song, versus "Closer" which was incredibly catchy, hence how it ended up as a summer anthem of sorts somehow. Both, however, are nostalgic songs that are relevant, relatable, and rhythmically pleasing to speak even if not exceptionally well written.
On April 7th, 2017 Memories… Do Not Open, an album both creatively and incredibly aptly named, was released, and songs like “Something Just Like This,” “Young,” “Paris,” and “My Type” joined the lineup of The Chainsmokers’ saudade stained sentimental summer songs. Thus was born the soundtrack to my last term of freshman year, lines like “No, you're not the one, but you're all I want” and “we're learning to love / But it's hard when you're young” summarized the complexity of hard decisions we make that first year on our own. How nothing seems to work out quite right, how we’ve seen almost all of our friends broken by something or someone at some point during the year, how much we’ve all changed, how the people we were at the beginning of the year when we moved to the city would be total strangers to the people we are now and the people we will be at graduation, and the nostalgia of high school friends lost, as we wonder who and where we’ll be after “four years, no calls.” Over spring break during the conversation with a friend about “The One” he summarized the song with “The breakdown is all the song has going for it.” Perhaps that’s going to be the memory of this year too. The breakdown is all it has going for it.