A top 40 song blares on the radio. To you, it’s meaningless and empty and generic and cliché. Just another bubblegum pop song about dance floors.
But perhaps the girl beside you listened to this song the day she lost someone she loved.
A love song comes on. You think it’s cheesy and unrealistic, completely fictional and dumb.
But maybe the woman next to you listened to this song at her wedding.
A country song about trailer parks and trucks plays, and immediately you want to laugh because country singers are just so pathetic.
It’s entirely possible that the man beside you lives in a trailer park, drives a truck, and has hopes and dreams that you wouldn’t believe.
Music is a language that links people to moments, to memories, to goals. You hear a song and instantly you’re taken back to your fifth period class during your freshman year of high school. You get that feeling in your stomach, that hope inside your heart, and you see your timid eyes scanning the room for someone-anyone-that you know. Songs contain meaning beyond the meaning that was written into them.
That’s why I’ve never understood why people want to know “what a song means.” What does it mean to you? What does it remind you of? Are you taken back to the ruffling teal waves from the summer before you graduated, or are you in that dark place whenever you hear it? Are you held back or closed in? Do you feel hopeful or hopeless, broken or whole, nostalgic or new?
A song comes on while you’re shopping, and you continue to browse, thinking about how cliché the song is and how much you hate it. Beside you, a girl stares at a shirt on a rack, pretending to be interested. Pretending like the song doesn’t touch her in an irrevocable way, reaching not just her eardrums but also her heart. She used to love that song because it reminded her of summers spent riding four wheelers and driving down country roads. Summers of pastel sunsets and patches of dandelions. Summers of bonfires and paper lanterns and the smell of black marshmallows.
But she doesn’t have those summers anymore, and so instead the song reminds her of how she used to have those things, but now she doesn’t. About how those beautiful, seemingly invincible summers used to be hers, but now they’re not. She squeezes her eyes shut as the song continues to play. She always skipped it on her iPod and turned the radio off when it played, but here it just keeps playing until it reaches the end, while the magic for her already ended years ago.
You sing along mockingly, belting out those cliché lyrics and laughing with your friends. But regardless of how many times a song says “dance floor”, it could never be completely meaningless. No song is empty; it may beat in your ears, cause pain in your eardrums and make you roll your eyes, but to someone else, there is a deeper pain than that. Songs reflect captured nostalgia, sending it soaring through the air. They speak the words we heard so long ago, but it’s a weird feeling to hear them when they’re gone. While the words “shawty fire burning on the dance floor” play, you see yourself when you were in just seventh grade. You see someone who was lost, unsure, hopeful, and scared. Every song sounds that way to someone out there. Every song takes someone back to a place they used to know, a place they used to want to go, a place where they want to be. So maybe the song is a dumb top 40 hit that should’ve never been written. That doesn’t stop people from writing their own meaning within the words; from crafting memories and moments and dreams from something that seems so empty and worthless to you.
When you hear a song, just listen. If you’d just listen to the world around you, you’d hear fear and regret and hope and beauty and bliss and faith and love and nostalgia, all swirled together in a world that is constantly singing. A world that spins the records of their past, their present, and their future over and over again. A world that tries to find rhythm within the missing pieces of their old favorite songs. Top 40 always sounds the same to you. “Classic rock” hasn’t seemed to change in years. But as time moves on and the records spin, new worlds are forming and new words are being written and pages are flipping and everyone is singing along to something entirely different. Your old records are more than just records to you. Songs never exist without meaning; everyone has added their own art to them, somehow.