As a girl who has traveled very little in her life and has never once stepped foot outside of the country, I can’t speak to the sense of newness and immersion that one finds in a place completely foreign to them. However, the writer in me knows the importance of setting an atmosphere to creating a story that is authentic. Trying to write about a place you’ve never been is no easy feat and you’ll never fully encompass its nuances. I often wish I had the time and means to travel to far away countries. Although it is not the same, there is no more authentic experience than hearing about a place from someone who truly knows it and loves it. Today, I’ve selected a list of seven songs that center around the significance of location.
Song One: “S3OUL” by Gentle Bones and MYRNE
If you want to talk about being an outsider in a new city, look no further than “S3OUL” from the collaborative album by Gentle Bones and MYRNE titled B4NGER PROJECT. The two became interested in collaboration after MYRNE (a.k.a. Manfred Lim) remixed a few songs by Gentle Bones (Joel Tan). The remixed versions opened a dialogue between the two in which Tan asked for advice with his musical direction. While Tan is known for his more calming and, for lack of a better term, “gentle” music, Lim is used to highly developed EDM sounds. The blending of these styles allowed for B4NGER PROJECT to become a fusion of story-driven narratives backed by unique synthesized beats.
“S3OUL” outlines the feelings of inadequacy and wanting of being in a new place and meeting a girl who turns your world upside down. While the narrator seems to be filled with doubt in himself and his future, this girl he meets is carefree and tells him to disregard all of his worries. She is persuasive in a way that bewilders the narrator, as he sings “She looked me in the eyes, put fists up to my mouth.” Clearly, she’s not afraid and is the type of girl who likes to be in control. She even tells the narrator that he will “be the father,” which I can only assume means the father of her child. She just met him and already she is planning to tie him down with a kid. Sounds pretty possessive to me. So this girl is the perfect storm: crazy, clever, and beautiful (as we can infer from the way he compares her to a K-Pop idol), making her inevitably irresistible. Nothing says “trip to a new country” like a huge mistake.
Song Two: “Paris” by Magic Man
Fleeting love does not just happen in one city. Apparently, it’s universal. Magic Man’s hit single “Paris” from their 2014 album Before the Waves discusses the regrets of a man who left his love in Paris. Magic Man formed in 2010 with vocalist Alex Caplow and guitarist and keyboardist Sam Lee, the only two remaining members after bassist Gabe Goodman, keyboardist Justine Bowe and drummer Joey Sulkowski left the band in 2015. Now functioning as a duo, Magic Man is looking toward releasing a third studio album.
In the song “Paris,” we see the speaker of this narrative begin in an unstable place. He claims he has “jet lag” because he is now away from the person he loves and he feels his life spinning out of his control. When he left, he believed it was the right thing to do, but now he’s left with all of the memories of Paris and can’t help feeling that he isn’t ready to say goodbye to that part of his life. In the chorus of the song, he admits to have “left [them] at the station,” signifying that his departure from Paris was the end to their relationship. Now he finds it difficult to live with that reality as he claims there’s a “fantasy taking over like a disease” that grips him every time he thinks of what he left behind.
Song Three: “Istanbul” by Kadie Elder
Cities aren’t just about lost romances. In fact, Kadie Elder’s song “Istanbul” is about the importance of standing up for oneself. Kadie Elder is an electronic folk and pop duo. The duo is made up of singer Anders Rask and guitarist Morten Kærup Hjort. Their latest EP B O Y, released on January 15, 2016 focuses on a cleaner pop sound featuring their most popular single “First Time He Kissed a Boy.”
While Kadie Elder’s music is certainly unique, I appreciated Istanbul for its depiction of the bravery that comes in having a voice. This song discusses the violent natures of war, singing about the “bodies rolling down the streets” and how it creates an atmosphere in which hope has deserted them. In the chorus, Kadie Elder encourages their audience even in the face of adversity to “stand up and shout it out.” They use this song to memorialize the lives of those who sacrificed themselves for their greater causes. Istanbul is a city with much history of warfare and divided peoples and most recently in Taksim Square was the site of the Gezi Park Protests that took place to refute the government’s encroachment on their freedom of press, expression and assembly. The bravery surrounding this city has become a landmark for others to use their voices.
Song Four: “Morocco” by Moon Taxi
Another great thing about running away to other countries? They can help you escape all of your problems back home. That seems to be the concept behind the song “Morocco” by Moon Taxi, an indie-alternative rock band out of Nashville, Tennessee. This band began in 2006 as the five members all attended Belmont University together. Their lineup features Trevor Terndrup as a guitarist and main vocalist, Tommy Putnam as bassist, Spencer Thomson as the guitarist and programmer, Tyler Ritter as the drummer and Wes Bailey as the keyboardist. They have release five studio albums, the latest of which, Let The Record Play, was released on May 5th of 2017.
“Morocco” clings to the idea that many people seem to have: if I run away, my problems can’t catch up with me. In this song, the speaker decides to take a train to Morocco because he’s run out of all other options of how he can dull his pain. He finds himself in a bar, trying to immerse himself in the heat of the distraction. He talks to Morocco as if it were a stranger he met at the bar, asking “Tell me where you’ve been. Won’t you tell me what you know?” It seems he is looking for some sort of direction because he’s lost all sense of it in his own life and hopes to find the answer with Morocco. In the second verse, the speaker describes a walk across the desert in which he “found a compass in a box buried beneath the sand.” He had felt lost, but has now been given something to help lead him “to the water” so that he can escape the mirage he had been trapped in. Sometimes, you just have to get yourself out of your own head, and a change of scene can be the perfect opportunity.
Song Five: “On An Evening In Roma” by Dean Martin
Nothing says romance like Italy. In this Dean Martin classic, there’s nothing quite like spending an evening in Rome with a beautiful girl on your arm. For those not familiar with his work, Dean Martin was an Italian-American singer, actor, producer and comedian. He was a member of the Rat Pack, a group of entertainers famous for their involvement in the Las Vegas casino scene. This group consisted of members such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Martin was the star of his own television programs, most famously the self-titled show The Dean Martin Show. Deemed a “crooner” for the unique, relaxed quality of his voice, he earned his spot as one of the greats with several hit songs including “That’s Amore” and “Memories are Made of This.”
“On An Evening In Roma” is nothing short of enchanting. Martin uses his crooner’s voice to envelope his audience in the atmosphere of Italy and the romance of the night. He begins by singing in Italian, describing the way the moon is shining and lighting up their stroll through the streets of Rome. He introduces the audience to the culture of the city by saying “Down each avenue or via, street or strata, you can see ’em disappearing two by two.” This stirs up an image of a city filled with couples, finding their own secret parts of the city to escape off to. He alludes to the magic of the night life when he sings “Though there’s grinning and mandolining in sunny Italy, the beginning has just begun when the sun goes down.” The music and the intrigue of the night are the things about Italy that make Martin so enamored with it. It would make any listener wish they could spend a night in Rome right there with him.
Song Six: “Budapest” by George Ezra
Now, you’re probably familiar with this song as it was released in the United States in 2015 and peaked on the music charts at number 32. Since then, George Ezra has kept making an impact on the U.S. music scene with singles such as “Don’t Matter Now” and “Shotgun.” Ezra is an English singer, songwriter and musician known best for the low, sultry quality of his voice. In 2014, he released his first studio album Wanted on Voyage that reached number 1 in the United Kingdom.
“Budapest” is a song about sacrifice. The funny thing is that at the time of writing the song, George Ezra had never even been to Budapest. In fact, he used this as a metaphor for all of the grand things he wished he had, but that were, for the moment, unattainable. Although he is not the owner of a house in Budapest, nor does he own a castle, he claims that if he did have all these things, “For you, I’d leave it all.” He believes that the person he loves is worth more than any riches, comforts or material possessions he could acquire. He later talks about his family fearing the loss of their own riches and Ezra if he decides to be with this person, but he ultimately says that he would leave his family behind to pursue the love that they have. “Budapest” is meant to capture the innermost dreams and desires that can and should never be.
Song Seven: “Still New York” by MAX and Joey Bada$$
I couldn’t make a list of great places without shouting out the city that never sleeps and my part-time home. This song is about sense of place, and for MAX, he’ll never be able to escape the feeling of home that New York brings him. Before music became his career, MAX (a.k.a. Max Schneider) was a model and actor, best known for his roles in Disney’s Shake It Up and Nickelodeon’s How To Rock. In 2015, his music career kicked off with the release of his album NWL and the first single to be released under the name MAX, “Mugshot.” Fellow collaborator Joey Bada$$ is an American rapper and actor from Brooklyn, New York as well as a founder of the hip-hop collective Pro Era.
“Still New York” expresses the genuine love and knowing of a place that only a native can have. MAX reminisces about the city as being “the best nights of [his] life.” It comes as no surprise, as New York is the hub for just about everything. Everywhere else he goes, he feels still that nothing is comparable to his home. He even says “I breathe your air when I land in another city. I’ll be the one that’s got you printed on my bones.” This place is so significant to him that he takes it with him whenever he travels. In Joey Bada$$’s verse, he raps “Yeah, BK born and raised, I was Godsent. I used to hit the courts out in Prospect,” telling the audience that his life in Brooklyn and playing basketball there was an integral part of his childhood and now his loyalty will always stay with New York. This song emphasizes the importance of taking pride in your roots.
Leaving the familiar and experiencing something new is a truly inspiring experience. Often, I have found that growth comes in stepping out of your place of comfort for a little while, and visiting a new city or country is the perfect opportunity for that. Place is so important to the human experience because it cannot be disentangled from our memories. A setting is what a story is built on. Without it, the characters lose what makes them. So go forth, be your own character and experience somewhere new.
Listen to the full playlist here!