Life would not be the same without music. That sentiment holds twice as true when it comes to talking about one’s school years. At a time when you are going through seemingly-infinite transitional phases and overwhelming confusion is at an all-time high, music exists as both an escape and connecting force to the world outside your immediate purview; music can become something larger than yourself.
Quite possibly the only thing in existence capable of connecting The Plastics and the rest of us, how would middle school, high school, and college us existed without those albums that quite literally defined teenage us? After all, we all didn’t grow up with lofi hip hop radio - beats to study/relax to. So, we asked ourselves what one album served as our guiding light through those tumultuous school years.
Avril Lavigne - Let Go
From the palpable agony in “Losing Grip,” to the innocent infatuation in “Sk8er boi,” to the tear-worthy loneliness in “I’m with You,” there’s no album that guided me through the early 2000s more than Avril Lavigne’s Let Go. Introducing an emo side of pop music, Lavigne’s dark and relatable lyrics undoubtedly rescued countless young women in the face of hormonal angst. Truth be told, I still bump it in the car more often than not.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
In terms of pure listening time, Panic! at the Disco’s debut or Green Day’s American Idiot likely takes the prize for scoring my school years. However, no album embodied the overwhelming teenage urge to grow up quite like Neutral Milk Hotel’s landmark album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Released over a decade before I would ever dare to play Jeff Magnum’s haunting fuzz-folk’s meditations over the school’s PA system (the result of a misguided initiative to allow students greater control over the lunch playlist) to this day, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea exists as a nostalgia-ridden reminder to days and nights spent trying to uncover a greater, hidden meaning behind all the noise.
Drake - Thank Me Later
From late nights on Facebook writing statuses dedicated to my crush to “Shut it Down,” to queuing up “Miss Me” on the bus to school so that it’d start playing as soon as I stepped off… damn. That album really has everything. The braggadocios, the late-night simp tunes, a fun, flirty track for the ladies. You name it baby. It shaped me into the versatile king that I am today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
Masterfully melding the bellicose but anxious feelings of my wintery youth, the downward spiral lyrically guided me to the heights of teenage cliché. I stopped playing sports. I became deliberate and moody at house parties. I wrote terrible facsimile poetry to my much prettier and interesting girlfriends. I joined bands one week, quit them the next. All the bad decisions buoyed by this great album, my adolescence summarized succinctly, you could have it all, my empire of dirt.
Kanye West - Graduation
The album that got me through college was Kanye West’s Graduation. I was a junior in college when this song was out and it signified a lot of change in my life which coincided with Kanye’s progress in musical prowess. The nights we would drive around off-campus listening to “Flashing Lights” are some nights I’ll remember forever. Kanye’s legendary ‘Glow In The Dark’ tour was based on this album cycle. I remember driving two hours on a weeknight just to catch this show near my hometown with three of my friends. This moments I had around this album will always mean a lot to me.
Blink-182 - Blink-182
Blink-182’s self-titled album was undoubtedly the album that got me through my pre-teen and teenage years. Growing up in the Northshore of Chicago (yes the same Northshore that Mean Girls was based off of, and yes that movie was crazy accurate about the kids I was surrounded by), it was hard to find who you actually are in the midst of rumors, bullying and cliques. The album showed growth in maturity, while still sticking to individualism. Unlike most of Blink’s albums, this album showed a more mature side to their art. That was super important for me to remember, simply because it prevented me from getting warped into the egotistical bubble most of my peers found themselves in. It was also the album that really inspired me to get involved with music and touring, so I have to give those guys in Blink some mad props.
Bring Me The Horizon - Sempiternal
No band was able to simultaneously capture and validate the whirlwind of emotions I experienced on a daily basis in my early teenage years quite like Bring Me the Horizon. Their fourth studio album, Sempiternal, included songs such as “Can You Feel My Heart” and “Shadow Moses,” which contain brutally honest lyrics that related to my internal struggles in a way music had never done before. Furthermore, because of my newfound love for Bring Me the Horizon, I was welcomed into the punk/metal community with open arms. Gaining acceptance into this new community fundamentally changed my high school experience because as frontman Oli Sykes said, “Other hurting people can be the best therapy.”
Shania Twain - UP!
I got this huge purple boombox one year for Christmas and got really into CDs. I found this Shania Twain CD at a Best Buy clearance aisle one day with my Dad and had it on repeat for years growing up. I’d like to blame Shania for my love of country and fire of independence from men.
Death Cab for Cutie - PLANS
PLANS hit me just when I got my driver’s license: my first legal stamp of autonomy. Driving – by myself – to these tracks gave me a hall pass to feelings I needed to feel, in my own space, in my own time.
Kelela - Take Me Apart
When it comes to methods of surviving the emotional (and financial) rollercoaster that is college, never would I have thought to even consider the act of being taken apart to be one of the most important mechanisms for endurance. From the austere yet liberating lyrics of “Frontline” to the end-of-the-war melodies in “Altadena,” Kelela sends listeners on an emotional, intergalactic journey through the stages of dealing with a loss in her 2017 release Take Me Apart. If I learned one thing about surviving college from this album, it’s that it is okay for things to fall apart sometimes, because destruction is often a conduit for rebirth (if only that also held true for the financial loss, though).
Arctic Monkeys - AM
Nothing throws me back more than Arctic Monkey’s album AM. From “Do I Wanna Know?” to “Snap Out of It,” every song on that album makes me feel like an angsty tumblr teen again. Without that album, I doubt I would’ve been even half as edgy going through high school.
Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
I didn’t know indie-pop music until I heard this album. It was the first vinyl I bought, the first real band I was obsessed with. At the end of 8th grade, I found their project on Youtube and listened to it up and down in the era before ads. It ushered me into high school where I’m pretty sure I saw the world in exclusively pastel colors and thought I was enlightened because everyone else was still listening to The Black Eyed Peas. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix made me an indie kid – I started snowboarding, wearing a lot of grey, and only listened to blog radio after this. Phoenix is still my everything.
A Day To Remember - Common Courtesy
Ever since I first discovered A Day To Remember, they’ve remained one of my favorite bands and this record specifically got me through high school. Every track on this album has an important message and it’s definitely worth listening through in its entirety. Whether you’re going through a tough time or just needing some heavy-ish music in your life, ADTR gives it all to you.