The beginning of the year can be fraught with self-consciousness and anxiety around first impressions, yet older and wiser people tell me that everyone is just as insecure as I am.
Anyone who uses iTunes is familiar with the idea that there are the playlists you turn on when your friends are over, and then there are the Top 25 Most Played in your music library. All those cool people are likely not blasting their Top 25 Most Played for all to hear. So I did some snooping around on the Home Sharing feature of iTunes in different spots on campus. Sorry for being a huge creep – I was curious. I wanted to confirm that I wasn’t the only one listening to music that doesn’t fit the criteria of hip, indie, unreleased, or throwback. And I want to reassure you that you are not the only one who might choose Britney Spears over Mumford & Sons.
I found a lot of ABBA, Phish, and Norah Jones. I found playlists transparently named “Boy Bands,” or “Sweaty,” as well as many dedicated to friends or “For Mom and Dad.” I was surprised to find that almost everyone makes seasonal playlists, and playlists that define shorter windows in time like “Going to College.” Again and again near the top of students’ Top 25 I found “Hey Soul Sister,” by Train; “Wagon Wheel,” by Old Crow Medicine Show; “Sleepyhead,” by Passion Pit; “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; and my favorite, “I Can Show You the World,” by… Disney?
Not what I expected. Music is a language of cadences, susurrus, and compound time, one that defies logic, convention and grammar. It makes for incongruous and inexplicable musical preferences. My high school peers worshipped the Hyphy movement and adored Zion I’s lyrics “wake up, gunshots in the city.” It was a private high school where no gunshots were ever fired. The only thing that connects my privileged, mostly white high school to the struggles in Zion I songs is the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland. Yet we still choose E-40, Mac Dre, Andre Nickatina, and Keak da Sneak over Adele. Likely because it’s comforting to hear the lyrics you heard when you were sixteen. Or the Van Morrison album your parents played when you were twelve, or the Aladdin tunes you loved when you were five.
So what explains the songs Stanford students turn on at the end of the day? If Tom Petty and Train are on a Stanford student’s soundtrack, we must be a pretty nostalgic bunch. “I don’t want to miss a single thing you do tonight.” “I feel summer creepin’ in.” “I gotta get a move on before the sun.” The lyrics thrumming in the background evoke a sense of time rushing by, and nostalgia for the moment that has just passed. “Everything is going to the beat.” And it feels like that beat is clicking along too quickly on the college metronome. “Take me as I come, ‘cause I can’t stay long.” You get the picture.
I admit this investigation isn’t up to Stanford standards. It was brief, casual, and only considered a tiny sample size. Still, it’s a relief stop worrying if your music is hip enough and blast the songs that are overplayed, or politically incorrect, or plain awful, just because they make you feel good. It can be a challenge to feel like a cohesive person when you leave the life of childhood friends and family dinners and start a life of new people and new routines. It can be hard to trace a thread that connects the person you are at Stanford to the person you were at thirteen. Maybe those are two different people, and it is best they remain disconnected. Or maybe you can bridge the gap by turning on some Outkast.
My goal this year is to offer you, in columns and blog posts, as close as I can get to an accurate take on student opinion on campus. I aim to respectfully expose real moments from students’ lives (encounters, conversations, emails, schedules, to-do lists, etc.) to discuss the less visible undertow of student behavior at Stanford. I hope you will join me by emailing me what you see and hear of interest on campus, and I will do my best not to step on anyone’s toes. In the meantime, let some of the stress about first impressions go, and keep blasting those uncool jams.
Amused? Confused? Outraged? Share your thoughts with Renée at firstname.lastname@example.org.