To 2019: the finest line I’ve walked on thus far.
For the year that saw my biggest going-through-the-motions and for the decade that molded me into the tiny self-titled badass I am today, I say thank you.
2019 was the ultimate capstone of a decade that saw my teen years, the journey through middle school, high school, and into university and the working world. It’s ten years of self-discovery, of wading through periods of anxious emotions and feelings towards friends, crushes, the in-between of both, of traveling and living without my family by my side in foreign countries, of discovering what I want for myself and who I care to be seen as by my community and by my city. Ten years of music and artists and concerts that allowed me to unleash whatever, good or bad, was plaguing me in the current moment.
Before going into a master list of my top artists and albums of the decade, I want to devote a brief top of the pops list to the year where I graduated from college, traveled for two and half months across five countries, and acquired my first working position in my field of interest. It was also (another) year of telling others I was crushing on how I felt about them, and the torn rejection and simultaneous relief I felt after expressing my feelings.
Without further ado, here are the ten songs that carried me through 2019:
1. “Hasta La Raiz” by Natalia Lafourcade
Sigo cruzando ríos, andando selvas, amando el sol
Cada día sigo sacando espinas de lo profundo del corazón
En la noche sigo encendiendo sueños
para limpiar con el humo sagrado cada recuerdo
When I looked back on my Spotify list of liked songs, I found that “Hasta La Raiz” by Natalia Lafourcade was the song I added on the first day of the new year. I began the new year still reeling from the previous year’s tumultuous nature, but was hopeful as I had just worked a one-week paid internship during Miami Art Week with UNTITLED, Art., an art fair that debuts new and upcoming contemporary art from around the world, and would soon begin a paid intern position as an assistant at a local contemporary art gallery.
The start of my last semester of undergrad was also imminent and I raced around to busy myself and avoid impending feelings of hopelessness and dread over what would happen to my student-loving self after I graduated. From enrolling to 25 credits to declaring a second minor in art history at the last minute, I tried to stuff myself with academic distraction as the spring semester began.
In the accompanying black and white music video for the song, Natalia Lafourcade is seen traveling across a sea of hands. It’s an anthem that Lafourcade hails as a tribute to her Mexican roots and how it remains within her as she grows and experiences new environments, an anthem that vocally equals the nostalgic power of Alfonzo Cuarón’s Roma, the first film I viewed in 2019. It depicts the slow languor of life with intermittent moments of violence. I am reminded of my start to the year, one where I was beginning in new environments and yet also striving to stay rooted in the comfort of friendships and passions that I had acquainted my body to work on, from film photography to creative writing. I didn’t want to lose what drove me to continue as I grew this year more than ever.
2. “Jane Cum” by Japanese Breakfast
Full force through the high beams
I was rushing from phantom pain
Sweat away our clothes hatching
It’s one thing to listen to the ache of a singer’s pain in the form of a song and another to witness that ache in person. After getting the chance to see Japanese Breakfast perform live at Gramps in Miami mid-February, I was more impacted than ever by the grief and heartache of a love lost that lead singer Michelle Zauner‘s voice carries in this tune. With an introduction that is reminiscent of the Twin Peaks theme song, it’s the most vocally dynamic song of their album Psychopomp, which was released in 2016 after Zauner lost her mother to cancer and one that, when performed live, is filled with the wrenched nature of screaming voices echoing back to Zauner that she is not alone in her pain and that we have all experienced this heartache and overwhelming consumption of grief.
Following a year where I had lost my maternal abuelo and had experienced the agony of broken friendships, February marked itself as a month where I was allowing myself to love again and without judgment and also continue to reflect on the sadness that I still carried from the previous year. Even when I was caught in the middle of thrilling opportunities and newfound attraction, I still felt the pangs of this “phantom pain,” of grief that doesn’t ever fully go away even with the start of a new year.
3. “Happy” by Mitski
Oh, if you’re going, take the train
So I can hear it rumble, one last rumble
And when you go, take this heart
Soon, February became March and March then merged into April. I was approaching the big day of my graduation. One of the biggest regrets I feel now is selling my ticket to see Mitski in Orlando after the worry that I would bomb my finals and ruin my last semester of college. Looking back, I knew that would have been impossible but the anxiety that drove me to sell the ticket manifested into sorrow over not getting to see the powerhouse that is Mitski perform live. I would later hear from friends who had done the drive up to Orlando that they had cried in the back of the crowd, feeling the intensity of her emotions in their own cores.
I later made a Spotify playlist titled, “graduation tornado,” as I attempted to capture how I was going through it during the end of my time as an undergraduate. When I look back at the playlist, with its description of “bro this is just mitski,” and the trajectory that this song takes with its sounds and obsessive rumbling, I remember the obsession I had with wanting to live very in the moment as I was prepping for, not only the end of graduation but also the post-undergraduate study abroad programs I had signed up to take as a non-degree seeking student, both of which would keep me distanced from the reality that I had graduated for at least two and a half months. With a heart that was rumbling with worry and anticipation, I graduated on the last day of April with a grad cap perched on top of my curls decorated in pink satin and red felt fabric with yellow paper letters declaring: Be The Grad.
Here’s to you, Mitski.
4. “Five Seconds” by Twin Shadow
I can’t get to your heart
She said, five seconds in your heart
Straight to your heart
I can’t get to your heart
When I look back at the two and a half months of summer I spent abroad, I am grateful, confused, nostalgic, and embarrassed all at once.
This summer got me good. Two days after graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in English, I took off to Milano, Italia with two peers who I had just met just four months before, for a lil’ four-day pre-trip before a month-long study abroad program throughout Roma, Firenze, Cinque Terre, Venezia, and various day trips around these Italian metropolises. I was excited and anxious and grateful and WOW how the hell did I do that right after the tornado of graduation emotions that I was experiencing. As I scroll back through the Spotify playlists I made and collaborated on with friends I traveled with throughout the summer, all these conflicting emotions come back in one fell swoop.
Thanks to my friend Niko, with whom I traveled through Italy, I was introduced to “Five Seconds” and its infectious ability to get me up and dancing around the various apartments I resided in throughout the month. The song became the noise that filled the background as my friends and I got ready to go out and explore the nightlife of our temporary home. It’s a tune that fills me with instant happiness and recollections of nights spent stomping around clubs and bars in my green velvet maxi dress and yellow Vans as I tried to dance the exhaustion of long days away into the free spirit of the night.
5. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me
The radio reminds me of my home far away
Driving down the road I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday
Throughout the month I spent away in Italy and the other I spent in Spain, I hiked consecutively through various trails as part of the curriculum of the study abroad programs.
During the 18 mile hike I completed through the five towns of Cinque Terre, there was a moment when a group of my peers began humming this song as it gradually ascends from a quiet recollection of memories from home to a soaring cry for wanting to be back there.
The charming country accent of John Denver was no stranger to my ears, as my dad would often play the song on the YouTube network installed into his television, and so I caught myself singing along with them as I felt the ache of my calves and knees from trekking the up and down nature of the rocky cliff terrain.
Later on in Spain, I’d hike again through adjacent towns to the great cities, like Toledo and Segovia, and hear again this tune emerge from my group of classmates surrounding me as I moved alongside them through a country that I was ancestrally rooted to.
The summer I was gone from home was not as picturesque as I’m detailing. I remember the moment I cried in the middle of the Roman Forum within the first week I was away from home or when I was sick as shit after a drunken night where I solely consumed white wine and then had to stand nauseously on a Vaporetto in Venice. I went through harsh conversations about my inability to control my emotions with friends I roomed with, and also experienced a homesickness so deep that had me calling up my brother sobbing after a month of only calling my mother twice during the whole trip. When I later went on a post-program two week trip with two of my closest friends, I was relieved that I could break from the pressure of a class dynamic. Having added the song to our collaborative EuroTrip 19’ playlist, it emerged in the car we rented for the road trip we took to see the Neuschwanstein castle in the Bavarian region of Germany. I was once again taken back to my mundane living room, a setting that stood as boring in comparison to the grand mountains and antiquated structures I was viewing from the back seat window. And yet, I longed to be back home again while also wanting to continue seeing more and more of the world; a dichotomy I’m still grappling with to this day.
6. “Gaucho” by Womanhouse
You are never here
I am never here
I returned to Miami in mid-July feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of a trip filled with simultaneous freedom and tension with my friends and peers and within myself. Within two weeks, I’d begin working full-time as an assistant at the same gallery I had worked as an intern during my last semester. While the ability to secure paid employment in a field directly tied to my interests within mere months after graduation was an accomplishment, I found myself struggling to connect again with Miami as my home. Many of my closest friends were moving away, either for graduate programs or out of the need to escape to a new environment to continue growing. Was I allowing myself to settle? Should I move away??? Why wasn’t I interested in applying to master’s programs anymore? What was wrong with me????
A week after I had flown back, I received a message from a friend asking if I wanted to go see Womanhouse play live at Churchill’s Pub, a band that was locally formed and also composed of musicians who were peers of mine from college. Before I had left for my trip, I had followed the local band’s up and coming Instagram account out of curiosity and happened to leave just as they were debuting their music at live performances across Miami.
Little would I realize how much of a punch Emily Afre, the lead singer of the band, would pack as I leaned against the sticky, sticker-covered stage bar while watching them perform. I kept turning to my friend Gabe with my mouth wide open over the powerhouse of each member, from Björn Roland on drums to Carlo Barbacci on bass and Steve Montoya and Andrés Nuñez on the guitar. Each stood on the stage giving it their all. In complete shivers, Gaucho carries Afre’s droning deep vocals against hits of guitar and bass riffs and drums that are heavy with angst and longing for a better sense of the present. It’s a song that shakes my bones and grounds me in the venues I’ve seen the band perform live in. This is the Miami I’ve come back to, one filled with strong, local voices emerging from the chaos of a city I get to call home.
7. “Callaita” by Bad Bunny & Tainy
Ey, el perreo e’ su profesión
Siempre puesta pa’ la misión
As a way to spend time together before her big move to NYC, my friends Anabelle and Stephanie gathered at our friend Monica’s house for a quaint dinner of spaghetti bolognese and red wine.
During the dinner, with Monica’s dog Peanut at our feet, we got into the topic of perreo parties, a term that immediately piqued my interest. Upon learning that these parties were founded by Daniela Molina to be a safe space to dance to reggaeton and were some of the most fun parties to attend in the city, I realized I needed to check out a perreo party for myself. There was one coming up at the end of August themed Perreo Life, a parody of the marketing corporation that aims to promote dietary supplements and powders and nutritional products to the naive consumer, and one that was under critical federal investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for being involved in a pyramid scheme. With a court order that has stood since the 1980s to not make misleading claims about the health benefits of its products, it’s the most dramatic and fitting theme to surround the first of many perreo parties I would later attend throughout the fall, where fellow dancers to reggaeton sported athletic wear and sneakers to the event.
A space where I could shake my ass as much as I pleased, these perreo parties, hosted by Out of Service Miami and the many DJs they’ve had hyping up the crowd became my chance to let go in between the craze of working full-time and adjusting to a new routine. I even attended two perreo dance workshops, one on my own and another with two pals, as a chance to get out of my comfort zone and move my body.
With seagulls and the looping sound that initiates the reggaeton number, Bad Bunny’s “Callaita” was one of the many songs that I spent my fall nights shaking my hips to, evenings where perreo most certainly became my (second) profession.
8. “It Gets Better” by Rex Orange County
January, baby, I was takin’ my time
Spending summer and then we’ll be good in July
Why can’t it be like this for the rest of my life?
Huh, no, I wouldn’t mind
There are songs you know and love and end up jamming to at full blast in the quiet comfort of your car, and then there are ones that stick with you because of friends that end up blasting it through your stereo at full volume and shaking the car so violently from happy joy. That’s “It Gets Better” by Rex Orange County.
One fall day, I had just finished up a reception at the gallery and was heading out to fix my Yard House cravings with three friends when Jonah, the DJ of the ride to the restaurant, started playing this song. I had heard mixed reviews about Pony, Rex’s latest album release, and hadn’t gotten around to giving it a listen. The gradual ascension of the track began grabbing me as I was stuck listening to Jonah turn up the volume on my poor car stereo until suddenly it popped and unleashed a rush of pure happiness into the space of my car. Jonah was jumping up and down, dancing and vibing to the tune, while I was caught in the middle of it all as my car sat parked in the Merrick Park parking garage under the buzz of fluorescent lights at 1 in the morning.
It’s a song that was the embodiment of a moment and one that just makes me super happy.
9. “Drunk II” by Mannequin Pussy
I push you down, I drink to drown, I am alone
I push you down, I drink to drown, I am alone
I push you down (Everyone gather ’round)
I drink to drown (I have the answer now)
A week before attending a Mannequin Pussy concert at Gramps in mid-December, I admit I never heard of the band nor the riot girl bangers they had put out earlier in the year with the release of their third album titled Patience.
After a night spent drinking beers before a local show at the 777 International Mall, I remember a newly-made friend at Lost Boy noting how the band was her absolute favorite and that I had to see them live. I took a listen to the album one late morning on the way to work and fell head over heels for the angry pissed off tone of the Philly-born group. It’s Marisa Debice’s rage-filled letter to an ex-lover, it’s an acceptance of drinking to drown out the noise, it’s wanting to reach out to someone you miss and who has been distant and only getting the balls to do so when under the influence, it’s telling someone you like them and them saying “uhhhhh, I don’t want this – get the hell away from me”. It was all this and the inability to comprehend why it was happening to me at the same time I was listening to this song that tied me so strongly to the tune.
As my year filled with drunk nights of feeling pissed off at the people I’ve found myself crushing on, and wanting to shake off the all-too-ready energy to tell them how I felt with slurred words, this became my anthem for feeling passionately for another human – and the petty bitterness that ensues when that passion is not reciprocated.
“I still love you, you stupid fuck.”
Thank you, Sabrina, for introducing this angsty, riot grrl energy into my life.
10. “Fine Line” by Harry Styles
Test of my patience
There’s things that we’ll never know
You sunshine, you temptress
My hand’s at risk, I fold
With the release of his second album at the end of the year, Harry Styles’ solo career continued to expand as he experiments (lyrically and physically) with the bend of life within his music.
I swear to God, I have loved this man as a musician and individual since I was 14. There’s something about his way of being that just draws me in as I watch interview after interview of his on YouTube about what he’s been up to. As I’ve grown up, I’ve fallen out of love with a lot of my teenage obsessions, but I’m still stuck with my love for this man as an artist and creative.
During an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Styles explained the extremity of emotions he went through as he wrote the album’s title track “Fine Line,” which is about feeling on top of the world while also deeply sad and down in his feelings.
It’s a song that is tied to the overarching theme I have felt this year; a diptych with one half showing my happiest moments and greatest accomplishments where I graduate college, travel for months on end, and then get a job and enjoy the company of beautiful friends and family till the end of the year. But there’s the other half where I’m overwhelmed and crying in public places, where I stand trying to have a heart to heart with someone I unintentionally hurt with my brutish honesty and of owning up to shitty behavior.
To 2019: the finest line I’ve walked on thus far.
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