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Throughout the many phases of my girlhood, one of the few unfading obsessions has been my music playlists. I have more than I can actually remember. Many of them range from ten to thirty songs. Some of them unfinished, others more perfected and shared with friends. I’ve learned that there’s an art to it: the transition from upbeat and hype songs to more slow and dreamy ones, starting out the playlist on one emotion and ending on another. Finding the prettiest cover photo and the perfect title for the playlist and making sure that it fits the mood. The weird friction I feel after putting two songs by the same artists next to one another or just too close on the tracklist in general. I have predictable behavior when it comes to songs as well. I know that adding a Frank Ocean ballad towards the end of the playlist is always a good move. I may throw in some Lorde or Kid Cudi for nostalgia’s sake, or even some BANKS and Mitski to lean into my untapped emotions. Sometimes I’ll add some Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Winehouse, and Joni Mitchell depending on the time of night. Or even some Tracy Chapman, Weyes Blood, or Mereba on playlists made for passenger seat riding.

This past fall, I transitioned over from Apple Music to Spotify, and as my hundreds of playlists and thousands of sounds that I’ve saved since I was fourteen moved from one streaming service to another. I got to revisit playlists that I’ve made over the years. I scrolled through the many obscured playlists, some of my titles being pretty simple like “summer ‘19,” or “June 4th” and “retrograde.” Others were a bit more niche and melodramatic like “renovation pending” and “songs that DESTROY me” and “it’s not the same anymore and that’s okay i guess.” Through these playlists, I’m able to have access to the past. A time capsule left by my past self. My memories, thoughts, and the past versions of myself fossilized in chords and ballads.

The Internet and the abstract entity that is “The Cloud” has some perks. We know music is a transformative art. But it’s also a way to reflect on the parts of us we may be avoiding or simply never thought to revisit and question. These playlists allow me to channel the girls I’ve been, connect with them through lyrics and frequencies. I can find the songs I listened to in early adolescence and be transported into the past. I am reminded of being on the cusp of elementary and middle school: bunk beds, Sunday school, and the smell of dandelions on a soccer field. Or fast forward to high school, sitting in the back of a physics class, taking the bus across town lines at 6 am, and weekends spent ice skating with friends. And even more recently, last year, my first semester of college and the playlists that transport me back to November, waking up for my 8 am class, entering the dining hall with friends, and nights spent laying on the football field, looking up at the stars. 

All these playlists have hints of feelings of loss, confusion, mourning, and longing. Every song, even when it’s upbeat and grand, still reminds me that grief and sadness were the undertows of my life. It’s unnerving to realize that so many parts of my girlhood have been synonymous with these feelings even when I reflect upon the good parts. Grieving old friends and old zip codes, longing for connection and community, trying to figure out the trajectory of my life. Now, through the challenges of growing up and starting a new era, I can say that I’ve grown so much. That the girl I was two, three, four years ago, is not gone but just took a new form. That I carry these parts of me wherever I go, and I’m not ashamed of it because everything I’ve been through has made me who I am.

But, looking back, I found safety in my sadness, and sometimes, it was easier to live there than be present in my life. I could listen to music, daydream, and be transported to another reality. One where all the problems are non-existent, one where I’m always the victor, no matter the parameters of the story. But I’ve realized that I don’t crave this escapism anymore. And that it’s okay to revisit the past, it’s not dangerous, nor as messy as I thought it was. Now, I look back and I am proud of the journey I’ve made in order to get here. 

Though it’s hard to revisit the past, especially when a lot of it taints the present, I’m grateful that I have these remains. It lets me know how much I’ve grown, and that nothing lasts forever: the bad and the good. I should be present and look forward. Maybe I’m looking too deep into the reasons why I added a song into a playlist I made on my way to the gas station. Or maybe these little small details of our day are more necessary and impactful than we realize. Though the sadness only makes happier moments more vivid and loved, I can retire the role of the sad girl because my life isn’t a Broadway production about a broken girl. The words and lyrics I listen to over and over again have weight. Through the dark moments, I know there is still so much to celebrate. The girls I’ve been are with me, cheering me on through everything I do. Nothing is truly a loss; it just keeps transforming into something better and better.

Kailah Figueroa is a writer, editor, and lover of photography, coffee, and kindness. She is the founding editor of Mid-Heaven Magazine, a zine centered around weird and sad girl art & writing. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @KailahFigueroa or at kailahfigueroa.com
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