Some people use pictures to reflect on key moments of their life. Others use books or fashion trends. In the following list, I gather songs that I listened to at a distinct period of time, ones that had a large impact on my thoughts, and explain how they bring me back to certain places and resonate with me more as I get older. A few of them may not have big, overarching lessons that tell you all there is to know about growing up — but they nonetheless had an impact on the way I continue to see the world. If you ever find yourself in a weird in-between phase, I recommend closing your eyes and giving these songs a listen. That's what I always do.
"Ribs" - Lorde
Bittersweet and nostalgic, "Ribs" is a song I always come back to whenever growing up gets a little too complicated. In the song's nearly fifty-second introduction, quiet echoes build into a crescendo, setting a dramatic tone straight off the bat. But the real power in "Ribs" comes from its lyrics, at once so simple and so profound: I want 'em back (I want 'em back) / The minds we had (the minds we had) / It's not enough to feel the lack / I want 'em back, I want 'em back, I want 'em." It's a silent ode to childhood, mourning the simplicity of the past while dreading the "craziness" of getting old. And it's one of my favorite songs.
"Fat Lip" - Sum 41
I'd like to think that everyone went through a semi-punk music phase in middle school, but if I really am alone in this, oh well. "Fat Lip" is the product of teenage angst. Originally released in April 2001 by Canadian rock band Sum 41, it's become one of the most recognized works of the aughts, and the band's most popular single. It's got all the marks of punk: distorted guitar sounds and sheer, uninhibited rage: "Because you don't / Know us at all we laugh when old people fall / But what would you expect with a conscience so small?" Listening back to this song makes me wonder why I was so angry as a thirteen year-old. Even though I don't listen to a lot of punk music anymore, it'll always be a classic.
"Portugal" - Walk the Moon
At the outset, Walk the Moon's 2014 record "Portugal" seems to follow the traditional "one that got away" tale. But if you listen closely, there's more to it. The band kicks its synth-pop skills into full gear on this record, creating a song that is ballad-like in lyrics but ultimately triumphant in sound. With verses like, "You grow up when you're not looking / We grow up but without knowing / And all of a sudden I'm leaving," the song tackles one of the most basic guarantees of getting older: leaving people behind and relying on yourself, "'Cause even on your own / You are not alone." Moving on to a new chapter in life can be hard, but this song makes it easier.
"High School Never Ends" - Bowling For Soup
Another product of my middle school musical choices — and a good one. Also, remember Bowling for Soup? This song was released in 2006 as the first single off the band's sixth album, "The Great Burrito Extortion Case." The title says it all: high school, specifically the social hierarchy that exists within it, never seizes. The band partially illustrates this point by using the names of pop culture figures and comparing them to social fixtures in high school: Reese Witherspoon, she's the prom queen / Bill Gates, captain of the chess team…". Though I hadn't even entered high school when I first listened to this song, nothing ringed more true to me after I eventually graduated. Those pesky little things we hated about our time there — social climbers, popular cliques, jocks — they're all out there in the adult world, too. I credit Bowling for Soup for instilling this life lesson in me before I even understood it.
"Prom" - SZA
SZA's debut album Ctrl came out in June 2017, at the tail end of my junior year of high school. Since then, many of the songs have taken on a new meaning to me, "Prom" most of all. It's fitting that the song should be named after one of the most defining events of adolescence. In my book, "Prom" is about that nagging worry in the back of your mind when you feel you're not doing enough — academically, socially, professionally. It's about watching the years go by and fearing that you're slipping behind, or that you're not ready to make that big move ahead. In my experience, those worries are more exasperating than constructive. I think SZA would agree.