Zayn Malik, “I Won’t Mind”
It seems impossible, now, that only a week elapsed between the shattering of One Direction’s utopian era and the “release” of this song, and it is a testament to the wretchedness of the world that its unveiling was intended as a blow in a fight. All night I sat alone at the kitchen table of my old apartment with cold hands tucked between my knees, shoulders pulled in, shivering, listening, trying to parse what everything meant for my heart and for the world. Jabs at Naughty Boy’s production value aside, the low quality of the leak lends the song an underwater atmosphere, and listening to it that night felt as much like sinking slowly in a swimming pool – eyes open, breath caught tight in your chest, body drifting deeper and deeper away from the bright fractured sunlight at the surface – as it did the relief of surfacing, the first drawn breath. I can’t wait to see what 2016 holds for Zayn Malik.
Hayley Kiyoko, “Girls Like Girls”
It’s not that I didn’t grow up with access to a set of queer narratives. It’s not that I didn’t manage to find them or make them or imagine them. It’s just that none of them ever looked like this: opalescent softness, television-perfect, pretty. I made do with what I could salvage from scraps and I dreamt of girls looking at girls with that golden summer haze over their skin but nobody ever gave it to me, because that wasn’t the way things could be. That wasn’t what was allowed. When I heard this for the first time it was August and I was alone in my new apartment and the warm pink sunset light split me right open. Hayley Kiyoko has a voice like breath on glass and even though it’s not quite what I need anymore it means so much to me that it exists. It exists. We exist. Lots of us are doing fine.
Metric, “Office Towers Escalate”
I take the train to work every day and I stand at the back, slouched against the glass doors that open to the space between cars – I lean all the way into the corner, as far as I can go. The first time I heard “Office Towers Escalate” I was hurtling backwards through West Oakland at a quarter after seven in the morning, swaying on my tired feet, thinking I knew what was coming next because I had listened to the album the night before, but what I didn’t know was I hadn’t made it all the way through and this song swept over me the way caffeine sweeps into your blood, with a startling thump. On its own it is maybe unremarkable – it sounds something like a club remix of Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” seeping spookily through a locked door – but it kept going, and the train kept going, and as I kept going along with them, I felt a sort of prowling hungry vengeance that made me want to square my shoulders and stare people in the eye and take quick clipped steps over the tiled floors with my boot heels snapping beneath me. I felt awake. I used to say I’d never get an office job, but it seems the promise of financial solvency has triumphed over my intrinsic shiftlessness, and while it’s still a trial for me to get on the train every morning this song crawled into my head like a secret energy and propelled me, day after day.
One Direction, “A.M.”
Everyone has their own opinion on the ethics of leaks, and that’s fine and good; I don’t think it’s my place to make any kind of moral assertion for or against their consumption. I will tell you, though, that I did listen to the first leak of Made in the A.M. – the one recorded surreptitiously from inside the theater, filtered through the hubbub of the audience – and, having listened, I cannot imagine a more perfect way to have heard it for the first time.
“A.M.” starts like an old Taylor Swift song and takes a sharp right into the chorus with we’re just swimming round in our glasses / and talking out of our asses: a dumb line objectively, a lyric for an adolescent boy whose desire to exude swagger doesn’t match his capacity to carry it off, but that made it all the more beautiful to hear a theater full of (mostly) girls react to it. The first time they heard it: uproar. The second: uproar, even louder, shrieks of delight and horror and mocking glee that the boys would do this more than once. But the third time, everyone sang along. There is a real sadness to this whole album, a note of finality that tinges everything with sorrow, but in the midst of that sorrow there is still a whole community of people learning the words, howling them with conviction. It wasn’t until the album actually dropped that I heard the line which rounds out the chorus: we’re just swimming round in our glasses / and talking out of our asses / like we’re all gonna make it.
Enya, “Echoes In Rain”
Shortly before 11:30pm on the day before my golden birthday, I boarded a plane. When I turned 24, I was thirty thousand feet above the earth, staring at the stars and listening to this song with a lump in my throat made of raw diamond. Really it’s a miracle I got five songs into Dark Sky Island before I had to press back tears – the alleluias were what did it, the sincerity and serene joy of them, the way they seemed made for me at ten years old swinging my arms loosely at my side and feeling the wind lift my hair and believing all of creation shared in my happiness. There has been no point in my life when, asked whether or not I believe in God, I would answer with a definitive yes – but I can’t say that what made me cry wasn’t the surety that the universe loved me, at least sometimes. For years my body has moved through space and time and felt the wideness of the world and sent euphoria floating out like motes of light and received more euphoria back. So much has happened but the plane soared above the sleeping earth and tiny towns glowed like incandescent cobwebs underneath and everything that Enya sings about seemed true, all those opaque fragments about everything flows – change is the only constant and doesn’t that sort of mean everything stays the same, a sea of neverending movement? It was my golden birthday and that means this year is my golden year and I got to watch dawn crack into the horizon, a ring of lavender light. Here comes another new day.