Tell Me What It Is You Want: Years & Years’ Confession at Terminal 5


The minute I got inside Terminal 5 last Wednesday to see Years & Years, past the glimmering chandeliers in the entrance hall contrasted by the grime of the floor, I made my way to the bar. I was present to hear Communion, and I wanted my fill of alcohol. It’d already had been a long week. Though, I will say I was dressed the part for a New York City concert in my Topshop Chelsea boots, leather jacket, and leopard print skirt. Budweiser in hand, I headed to the floor.

The closest I feel these days to something akin to religion is attending concerts. The sense of community amassed as we all stand waiting to hear the lyrics we’ve whispered to ourselves before bed, jammed to in our cars at 5pm in standstill traffic or strutted down the sidewalk to. I love the moment that the album goes from being a personal to collective experience. The clamor of sweaty bodies, spilt (cheap) beer, and glimpses I catch of the band make an album tangible. I was ready for “Eyes Shut” and “Without” to become a live experience I could take home, a memory I could hold. Years & Years so acutely speaks to my constant state of longing and wanting. I always want more, more, more.

Years & Years started off their September 16 show with “Foundation.” The beginning of their debut album sets the tone for the dance party they are going to reign over. Communion is an album about want and desire, the latter a name of a track on the album. Communion—like the best pop records—is about love, loss, obsession, and sex. As the lights dimmed and strobes turned on, I downed the rest of my beer and threw my cup to the floor. I didn’t want anything inhibiting me. As Olly Alexander came out on stage, a force of boundless energy and long limbs and blinding smiles, I screamed into the lights, “And I wanna get older / All the things I want I really shouldn’t get…” I used to be shy about taking up space at shows, trying to contort my body as small as possible, make sure my purse wasn’t touching anyone, cautiously moving my hips but not enough to garner any real attention. I was afraid of being seen, mocked. I’m finally learning how to lose myself in the music, how that’s ok if not preferable. The sold-out crowd was immersed in every lyric. Thrashing along to the beat, lunging forward. “And your head looks so good / I wanna love it so much…” All of us understanding that all to familiar urge to drown oneself in someone new, “I wanna do what you love…” Years & Years hauntingly merges upbeat electronic beats with melancholy lyrics, the juxtaposition of uplift and disappointment constantly experiencing friction. The duality live was great. Olly reminds us of the reality of our expectations despite our adoration. The constant refrain throughout the night was our callback response of “ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhh.” It was like a dreamlike chant, all of us in the crowd wanting, needing, craving and freely admitting so.

Longing comes up again and again on Communion. Live it was fun to thrash, jump, and sing, “You tell me that you want me now / Is it desire / Or is it love that I’m feeling for you / I want desire…” It’s hard to listen to “Desire” and not think of the modern age of short-lived relationships and Tinder swiping. Is all we want desire? Do we know what love is anymore? Are we willing to find out? Olly was quiet throughout most of the night except from when he interjected, “If you’re here on a date now would be a good time to start hooking up.” The energy in the room palpably changed. Bodies moved a little closer, shook a little bit harder. We are a generation looking for “want.” This was never more apparent than on “Memo” when the crowd rose their voices along with Olly to exclaim, “I want more, I want more / I want more, I want more…”

As everything cracks and splinters on “Take Shelter,” I loved being held up by the audience as Olly sang, “I know I wanted far too much / Never thought I wouldn’t be enough…” I constantly feel like I want too much from people, and therefore I ask for nothing. I am so prepared, so deeply engrained with the belief that I need to be ready at any moment for the brush off. It was nice to seek sanctuary in the lyrics, to dance the loneliness away. “I’m not gonna tell nobody / I’m not gonna tell nobody ’bout you…”

“Gold” was beautiful live, an audience bathed in luminescent gold light singing, “I’m gonna be the one that sets it all alight…” The sense of agency and control. Pop music focuses on the exaltation and exhilaration, the powerful and defiant. Years & Years with “Gold” have written a track that echoes. We see the light, and the darkness within us all is momentarily transformed. I was blinded by strobe lights. I could only feel.

The show quieted down when Years & Years performed “Eyes Shut,” a personal favorite on the album. Olly sat at the piano, iPhone’s craned to get a picture of him poised with his fingers on the keys.

And nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut
I can see through them
I can see through them…

The audience was hushed. Everyone’s dance moves slowed. Eyes trained on Olly obscured in a halo of pink and blue lights. We stayed silent for “Without.”

You don’t belong to me, you’re too far away
And everything falls apart when I try to say

You’re enough
In love without me
So close your heart
You’ll never find me
Ooh you can hate me now
Cause I’ll be gone
And I’ll be with you or without…

Having relocated to Brooklyn this summer, I feel “Without” strongest. It’s been on my bedtime playlist for months. I objectively miss people, constantly. I just don’t know how to tell them. I understand Olly’s exclamation here that “Everything falls apart when I try to say…” As an English major, I love words. However, poetry taught me that sometimes the power is in the breaks, in the pauses, in the things left unsaid. Everyone I love is “too far away” and I often have to remind myself that they “don’t belong to me” anymore. Time will test the foundation of our relationship, but for now I have to allow us to experience life apart.

The show reaches its culmination with “Real.”

I think I’m into you
How much do you want it too
What are you prepared to do
I think I’m gonna make it worse
I talk to you but it doesn’t work
I touch you but it starts to hurt
What have I been doing wrong
Tell me what it is you want
Don’t know what it is you want…

Years & Years deals with the unknown, the tumultuous. There is very little steady ground. Young, reckless. They’re looking for answers, and sometimes, admittedly, in all the wrong places (people). Standing in a crowd of young twentysomething’s, I felt like we were all admitting we were lost. Tell me what it is you want / Don’t you know what it is you want…

These two girls in front of me turned to each other after Olly bounded off the stage, saying, “He can’t not play ‘King’! He can’t not play ‘King’!” I wanted to pull an Amy Winehouse and tell them there was no way Years & Years would leave the stage without playing their breakout hit. As Olly came back onto the stage to an ovation of hollers and shouts, he smiled, his arms out, and sang, “Let go, let go, let go of everything…” For an evening—as I rose my arms and swung my hips—I actually did.

About Ashley

Ashley Hull wishes she was a mermaid, but she’s happier she’s managed to find her voice. She currently resides in Brooklyn. If you’re looking for her, she’s likely in front of a mirror applying lip stain while singing Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” under her breath.

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