This piece is featured in Issue No. 2 Fake News

think piece

How Will We Remember the Soundtrack to the Apocalypse?

You never really know what to make of yourself once summer ends. Much like the transformative state of mind known as post- nut clarity, the moment immediately following sexual climax in which every debaucherous thought leaves your head in an instant, the come down from summer often leaves you looking back at the former episode of your life with feelings of fondness, embarrassment, yearning, disappointment, humor, nostalgia, and dehydration. Albeit in reality most of our summers typically consist of drinking warm wine in parks, learning the hard way where you forgot to apply sunscreen, finding out how many of your friends actually have cottages they never told you about, and hooking up with people named Alex. Yet still, those handful of humid months nevertheless succeed in cementing themselves as the most romantic chapters of your life every year to be romanticized and longed for while staring into the abyss of a black January sky at 4 p.m.

What gives those weeks of pit-stained euphoria such lionization tends to be the music of the season. These catalogues of songs serve as our internal soundtracks to give us the confidence to bop triumphantly through our everyday lives whilst establishing ourselves as the main character of Trinity Bellwoods. I will never forget the summer of 2017 when SZA’s Ctrl came out and waking up every morning in June feeling like a misunderstood mean girl in a 90’s coming-of-age movie experiencing a moment of unexpected vulnerability while applying her brown lipstick in the mirror; or in 2016, cursing the trifling husband I never had and vowing to never trust a man again because my commute to work ended before Beyoncé got to the forgiveness portion of Lemonade. Yes, the music of summer truly is the catalyst as to what memories are engraved in our hearts like a tender yearbook signature from your highschool best friend who you never saw again but remember warmly for sharing her Hot Cheetos with you. With that being said, despite the unprecedentedly consistent abundance of excellent music that has emerged this year, it is unknown if that alone will be enough for us to one day look back fondly on 2020 and the summer that never was.

It is hard to believe it was only seven months ago that we were asked to stay home to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 virus as it officially reached pandemic status. At first I actually found it to be a bit of a guilt-free staycation, a shameless excuse to get day-drunk and throw my ass in a circle at home to Tame Impala’s The Slow Rush in anticipation for their concert I was supposed to be attending just three months I thought. Still, for many people such as Gal Gadot and her circle of celebrity peers who lasted four business days before recording themselves singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” at home instead of donating money, quarantine proved a challenging tribulation for many who struggled to find use of themselves after being derailed from our concepts of normalcy.

The trajectory of not only our New Year’s aspirations were shifted, but those too of musicians plotting the meticulously calculated releases of their eagerly anticipated projects. Both Lady Gaga and The 1975 pushed back the releases of their albums from April in the hope of being able to properly promote their work once normal life resumed. Contrasting to this, British singer Dua Lipa instead pushed her sophomore album Future Nostalgia forward as a memento of hope to her fans that they may be able to find some glimmer of joy amidst our modern plague to help wait it out. Despite her best efforts, we’re still waiting. 

In a cruel twist of fate, much of the music reluctantly pushed out following the lockdown beginning in March proved to be some of the most uplifting and cheerful tunes that I could recall hearing in ages. Lady Gaga transported listeners from their confined homes to a planet of wonder and synthesizers with Chromatica; Megan Thee Stallion teamed up with her idol Beyoncé to tempt us into scheduling a tentative dick appointment with her “Savage” remix; and Carly Rae Jepsen gave us the B-side follow up to her 2019 album Dedicated that was initially developed under the working title Music to Clean Your House To, an eerie foresight into its ultimate purpose. No matter how much glee this music brought me as I strutted across my living room to the kitchen for the seventeenth time each morning, it never escaped me how much better this music could sound being blasted over the speakers of a sticky bar at 12:45 a.m while my friend asks the bartender working if they have a phone charger he can use.

In the same way that quarantine had taught those working from home the hollow tediousness of their jobs without the sense of purpose their social office setting awarded them, the absence of community given to us through attending concerts and dancing with loved ones deflated this once unifying experience of emotion through music to an austere vibration within our ears. Song lyrics clearly written before March 15th, 2020 describing sex, partying, dancing, and love began to feel like folklores of a fantasy world long gone with little promise of returning. More so, artists themselves revealed their own tone deafness as many of them failed to recognize the spectacle of opulence in their performances no longer allured an audience of predominately unemployed listeners. Watching Drake prance amidst original Warhol paintings and a quarter mile long dining table in the wings of his 50,000 square foot Toronto manor in his “Tootise Slide” video didn’t quite connect with me as I waited on hold with EI for three hours to beg for $2,000 so that I may avoid going homeless in a global pandemic.

The memories we attach to songs and albums upon our initial introductions to them have the power to trigger memories of elated nostalgia or crushing trauma depending on the associations we create with them given the current state of our lives at the time. Like a sleeper agent, I store deep down within the crevices of my subconsciousness the cursed memory of pretending to be trashed out of my mind off of one Mike’s Hard Lemonade that can only be awoken by the lyrics, now I’m feeling so fly like a G6. But as I anxiously walked through the produce section, cautious of those standing within six feet of myself during my bi-weekly grocery shop, I noticed that my heart was nervously pulsing in synch as “Rain on Me” played over the store’s sound system; this would eventually prove to be a lasting connotation to the Gaga x Grande duet.

For me, I had the luxury of being able to enter and exit these premises at my own will depending on how quickly I could grab my groceries. But for the essential workers tasked with the unsolicited mantle of heroes for working eight-hour shifts in plague centers, they were forced to have the songs comprising mandatory work playlists engraved into their minds for five days a week as they non-consensually compromised their health and safety so that we could maintain ours. As a former retail employee myself, I know the dread of hearing “One Dance” and remembering hearing it up to eleven times during a six-hour shift, but I will never know the trauma of one day being reminded of the fear that I may contract a fatal virus to be spread to my family members every time “The Box” comes on the radio.

The fatal coronavirus was not the only contributor to widespread death in 2020. While COVID shut down almost every component of American culture this year, it did little to end the systemic violence of police brutality and white supremacy. Following in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, the music industry needed to take a pause so that the voices of the Black community could be heard in its place. The contributions made to the history of American music across all genres by Black artists cannot ever be understated, yet still in 2020 Black artists were forced to band together to assert that their lives mattered after having devoted their souls and minds to a society that views them as disposable commodities. In an effort to avoid taking focus away from the modern civil-rights movement being led by Black Lives Matter, sister-duo Chloe X Halle pushed back the release of their aptly titled sophomore album Ungodly Hour as the United States lived through its own. Many Black artists wrestled with the unfair conundrum enforced upon them of being told to step aside to allow focus on the political conversations at hand, or to appear optically vain and self-centered for promoting their impassioned work during a political uprising defending their right to exist. While the civil rights movement of the 1960’s gave the world unforgettable music such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, it is unknown just how much longer touching lyrics and soothing melodies can attempt to heal Black suffering.

As quarantine slowly lifted during the eye of the COVID storm prior to the second wave’s arrival, summer began to feel like an unnerving purgatory of guilty festivities. Parks, beaches, and patios filled up like they would any July despite our knowing there’s no vaccine or treatment to a virus that has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide. Sweat covered our goosebumps as we pretended everything was OK while purchasing wine to be enjoyed in the park with friends from service workers we had called heroes just weeks prior. I remember yearning to listen to the jubilant music put out from the months of April through July over portable speakers on the beach with my friends once the pandemic was over. After finally caving in to my desires and relinquishing all care for logical safety, I took to Hanlan's Point Beach to bask in the sun with my friends. As I lay in the sun surrounded by a legally permitted group of ten people hearing the songs of quarantine played for the first time, my joy was still not enough to absolve me of my guilt.

Summer officially came to a gloomy close several weeks ago, and with it so did numerous establishments within Ontario as COVID numbers continue to reach new peaks marking the arrival of the second wave. It is still too early for me to say how I feel about summer 2020, not enough time has passed for me to able to experience the post-nut clarity of summer to allow for deeper reflection. Given that neither the pandemics of COVID nor police brutality have met their ends, the conclusion of this summer was signaled only by a change in weather rather than progress of a dying world. I feel grateful for the music that was given to us during this crisis as it at times felt like the only memory of a reality I continue to mourn. How this music will be remembered is impossible to say; I don’t know if this will this be seen as the definitive beginning of our new normal, or will it be a time capsule for our darkest moment before things got better; and even if they do, just how many of us will still be alive to see it?

Jesse Boland

Jesse Boland

I write to give voices to people who use their passports as ID to get into the club. Gay Leo who grew up on Toronto Islands who lives life by chasing my dreams by foot because I don’t have a driver’s license.