When Olivia Rodrigo turned 18, she released “18 years, 18 tracks,” a playlist of songs that she says, “made me who I am.”
In an attempt to excite myself about turning 24, I made my own playlist. These 24 songs made me… me. Here’s how:
1. It’s All Coming Back to Me Now: Céline Dion
This song soundtracks the most distinct memories I have as a small tot in the backseat of my mom’s navy Acura. Driving to and from preschool, to Justin’s baseball practices, to gymnastics. It was always Céline Dion or Kevin and Liz on KGBX. I hear it and think of tan leather seats and a blurry Springfield floating through the windows (the buildings seem a lot less tall than they did then).
2. The Reason: Hoobastank
See: Track 1, but in dad’s black Bravada, at the old dent shop, waiting in the parking lot of the national guard (where Justin had basketball practice) with the windows down. I’ll always hear dad’s voice when this song plays.
3. Candle in the Wind: Elton John
This is Jack’s song. It was played at his funeral, and I hear it at seemingly random moments, like it’s following me. I make sure to say hi to him when this plays over the speakers in the grocery store.
4. The Man Who Can’t be Moved: The Script
Somewhere around 2010, when Justin started driving. This is the song we blasted down Campbell on last minute Walmart trips, hummed on the steep walk from the neighborhood pool, turned up while we completed mom’s daily chore list in 10 minutes. That bridge, though.
5. Nashville: David Mead
First discovered because of Miss Swift’s cover on the Speak Now World Tour, held on to because of my intense attachment to Nashville after visiting for the first time in 2014. Maybe it’s because I’ve since attended so many concerts there. The drive feels quite like arriving home. The first glimpse of the skyline over I-24 is my “childhood highway.” Guess you gotta run sometimes.
6. Give Me Love: Ed Sheeran
This is my fangirl summer song—summer 2014. The most intense emotion I’ve felt, and I’ve been trying to feel again since. This song is solidified because of the layered four times version I listened to at least three times a day that summer.
7. Past Lives: BØRNS
All it takes is the “OOOWEEEEEOOOOOO” at the beginning and I’m driving down Glenstone in 2015 at 11 p.m. with Maddie. The windows are probably down. We are screaming and showing off some epic car dancing to people at stoplights. Pure joy mixed with the confusion of being a teenager.
I’m noticing a lot of these have to do with driving. Oops.
8. High Hopes: Kodaline
I get stuck in my teen years here for a few songs, because I remember those feelings so intensely. I found Kodaline sometime between 2014-2015. High Hopes is a song I remember listening to (and still do listen to) when I need to remember that this moment of pain won’t last forever. The world keeps spinning.
9. Wonderful Unknown: Ingrid Michaelson
Turn this song on when we get the first autumn chill in the air. You’ll thank me later. This song is crisp mornings, cold toes, new moments of joy as the leaves burn fluorescent for a breath. In the best way, it’s the death of me.
10. Home: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
West Springfield, Summer 2015. I’m in the passenger seat of the car with my cousins, bellies full of Andy’s frozen custard. It’s the summer before my senior year of high school. I feel infinite. I snap a photo of my hand dangling out the window. When I close my eyes, I still see the tails of the streetlights.
11. We’re on Our Way: Radical Face
I’m on a rooftop in spring 2016 with Maddie and Tony. I have mere weeks of high school left. We watch the sky melt from orange to pink to midnight blue. I realize I am not ready for this to end. But the only constant is change, and you never know what you’ll find.
12. Begin Again: Taylor Swift
A new beginning on the eighth floor of Hutchens House at Missouri State University. A boy that I’ve grown to trust asks me to be his girlfriend. I say yes, giddy. Begin Again is playing in the background. I chuckle at how perfect it is.
13. Fisher Road to Hollywood: The Avett Brothers
It’s November 2017, and I’m starting to think I don’t like the life I’ve built in my early years of college. I don’t feel like myself. I probably went for a night drive at least one time that month, softly braking near the places in Springfield that remind me who I am. I still do this. Down my own Fisher Road. I take a deep breath and know I’m me, no matter what.
14. Homesick: Dua Lipa
A frozen, slushy night in February 2018. I’m in my car in the parking lot of my apartment. All I want is to go home and curl up on the couch with my mom. She’s already asleep in our warm house 20 minutes away, so I ugly cry with the headlights off before I walk inside. Then I call Maddie in Columbia to learn we are having the same night. I find some solace knowing two lonely people make each other a little less so.
15. Green Light: Lorde
Sprint Center, Kansas City, March 2018. A spontaneous purchase for Lorde’s Melodrama tour. When Green Light starts, I dance off the winter of loneliness. Every time it plays after that night, I remember the relief and release of tension. I can’t help but dance.
16. Old Friends: Ben Rector
Maddie, Brooke, Tony. Years and stages and growing pains. Through it all, they stayed. When I hear this song, I think of a picture I have of them posing with shopping bags in front of Ross, backlit by a glorious late summer sunset. They are my August sunshine. They’re stuck with me forever.
17. Re: Stacks: Bon Iver
Not ashamed to admit this is the song I turn on when I’m sad and want to be more sad.
18. I Miss Those Days: Bleachers
A supercut of my teenage years and my early twenties run through my head as soon as I hear those horns. It’s nostalgia and angst and regret and elation and warmth. It’s spinning in empty parking lots and hitting traffic on the way to a concert. It’s my tiny bedroom in my first apartment and the smell of Meyer Library at 1 a.m. I know I was lost (still am), but I miss those days (always will).
19. Orpheus: Sara Bareilles
For the people who didn’t turn away when it was the easier option. I think of you when I hear this song. Thank you for sitting with me in the chaos. Your love has been my solid ground, and I hope mine has been the same for you.
20. I Will Follow You Into The Dark: Miya Folick
Autumn 2019. I’m watching the Looking for Alaska Hulu series in the middle of the night. This song backs the last glimpse we get of Alaska as she leaves Miles’ dorm room. I hear the piano and I can’t help but think of Alaska’s face in that final shot. Sleepy, broken, smiley, shaken. We know what’s coming, but Miles doesn’t. I’ll never know why some of the people I love most have to leave before me, but I know when I close my eyes, I can see their smiles forever.
21. This is Me Trying: Taylor Swift
October 2020. I’m trudging through grad school in the middle of a pandemic. I feel like I’ve fallen behind. It’s not true, but I don’t believe myself when I say it. I’m exhausted. Life is tugging at me from all directions. I just want you to know, this is me trying. And I’m going to make it. I am.
22. Hallelujah: HAIM
Tina. The most unexpected and precious friendship that grew on the pile of garbage that was 2020. Target runs and office talks and election week and true crime and FaceTime and same brain and missing you constantly. You are the real deal, my gal. How’d I get this hallelujah?
23. Graceland Too: Phoebe Bridgers
A rebel without a clue (me). Staring at the moon (me again). Living through it to get to this moment (also me). Eating a sleeve of saltines on the floor (you guessed it, me).
24. Back in my Body: Maggie Rogers
Oh, this time. And next time. I’m fighting. I found myself when I was going everywhere.
+ 1 to grow on. Fine Line: Harry Styles
I’m learning life is a constant ebb and flow of mundane and extraordinary, joy and regret. Constantly hanging in the balance. A fine line. We’ll be alright.