Beyonce featuring Sean Paul “Baby Boy”
Before leaving to study abroad I took extra care in choosing the music that would come with me. I agonized over which songs to put on the one CD I would bring. Even at fifteen, I included a mix of genres and tried to fit in songs or remixes that my friends had yet to discover. Up until this point I was boy crazy from a distance. My feelings had never been reciprocated and I enjoyed the safety of that. As our group got to know each other in those first days in a foreign country, my crush became painfully obvious. I didn’t know what to say or do and tried to imitate the easy way my best friends (who were always adored by the opposite sex) carried themselves around the boys. One day, I offered him one of my headphones and we listened to that CD. It became the one thing we bonded over. He hadn’t heard Beyonce’s “Baby Boy” yet, and liked it immediately. I knew he wasn’t smitten, but I was just happy to share music with someone who found it as exciting as I did. One night after dinner, I ran into him at the residence. None of our friends were around and he suggested hanging out in my room. I knew to jump at the chance, but beyond that was clueless.
When the door closed behind me, how to fill the silence became my biggest concern. I grabbed my discman and offered to share headphones with him again. We sat on the couch side by side, leaning toward each other so we could hear the song. Before I knew it he had pinned me to the pillows and we were kissing. I remember thinking if I just tried to mimic him, maybe I’d be okay. But it felt like we were two dancers who couldn’t find the rhythm. Then he backed away, said goodnight and pecked me once more on the lips. When he left I lay frozen on the couch in shock, and I could hear the bass line coming from my headphones as the music kept playing.
Frank Ocean “The City”
When high school ended, I was anxious to start my life downtown and leave the suburban school days behind. In the weeks leading up to my first semester, I was nervous about what was to come. But the part of me that wondered about love was completely calm. I was so sure that I would meet someone, and I did. There were study dates and coffees between classes, intimate dinners and moonlit strolls. I wasn’t afraid to talk about dreams or our future because I instinctively felt that it would happen. As I found my way through the city, it became dotted with places we shared. Years later, when my heart was broken, suddenly the streets were riddled with landmines. The sites of previously romantic memories were now crashes I couldn’t look away from. Every day I’d walk to work and pass one such spot. No matter how determined I was to walk by, I’d always glance back at those doors. As the summer wore on I listened exclusively to Frank Ocean and insisted on taking that same route each morning. I’d get off the subway early, and press play. He sang about reclaiming what was his and moving on. All I wanted was to keep moving. Regardless of the weather it felt like I was pushing against the wind. Nearly seven years had passed since I became acquainted with the city, and in that time I had let it become ours. With the end of that chapter I was reminded that I loved being here before we met. And so I continued to walk that same path. As the summer cooled, I turned back toward those doors less and less. Today I still see ghosts of him and I, but I just keep walking.
Ben Howard “Keep Your Head Up”
Lately my friends have given me a lot of advice, but perhaps the most telling came from the one who said, “Stop asking guys about their taste in music.” She knows that if you play the right song, I’m yours. That’s why when we met I didn’t bother looking for clues to his favourite bands or concert experiences. All I was looking for was someone to dance with. When we went our separate ways in the morning without a goodbye, part of me thought that I had succeeded. But when we began chatting days later, he asked if I’d heard of certain artists and started sending songs my way (you see where this is going, right?). Believe me, I prayed that I wouldn’t like them. Unfortunately this was the beginning of my undoing. It had come out during our time together that my last relationship was a long one, but I didn’t say anything more. That’s why when he sent me Ben Howard’s “Keep Your Head Up” it instantly made me smile. As my latest adventure abroad neared its end, I was overcome with the sense of both freedom and renewal that come with escaping your daily life to discover new cities, so the optimistic spirit of the track was especially meaningful. By this point I wasn’t hurting anymore and I wished I had heard the song earlier to help get me through. I wondered if it meant anything to him. As it played I was immediately comforted because I knew, above all, that just like I believe that people come into our lives for a reason, so do songs. Later, friends told me not to read into it when he suggested a radio hit with sweet lyrics and said, “This one’s dedicated to you.” But with miles between us and nothing to lose, I did it anyway.