Media is becoming inundated with coming of age stories portraying a romanticized high school experience. With TV shows and movies like Euphoria and Edge of Seventeen focusing on students in high school getting ready for the beyond, you would think that the exit of high school signifies the entrance into the real world and therefore adulthood as well.
Besides the fact that media execs spend so much time thinking about minors having their first sexual experience is just plain weird, that is not the reality for a majority of Millennials and Gen Z. For us, the expectation is a university undergraduate degree. Minimum. Older generations were lucky enough to live in a society where the workforce was gladly satisfied with a high school diploma. There is nothing wrong with that, however the fact of the matter is that we no longer experience our coming of age moment in high school. Now, this transitional phase occurs generally during college as students prepare to enter the real world as an adult in their 20s instead of at age 18.
As an older Gen Z university student experiencing her own coming of age story in real time, I have prepared for your enjoyment a soundtrack to our coming of age stories. Below are ten songs I think perfectly encapsulate some coming of age tropes, represent Gen Z pop culture, and reflect the influence from our parent generation, Gen X.
- “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King
Every coming of age story includes a romance, and if not one, several. To accompany the moment of first beginning to fall for someone on our soundtrack is the hit song, “I Feel the Earth Move” by the one and only Carole King. King is well-beloved by Gen X so it is very likely that you have heard the tune before. This song is enthusiastic and brimming with energy, thus excellent to symbolize the excitement brought on by a new romantic prospect.
- “Rocket Man” by Elton John
Every coming of age story includes the trope where the subject feels lost, overwhelmed, or isolated. “Rocket Man” would accentuate this moment perfectly, as it symbolizes distance and alienation in the most obvious yet poetic and beautiful way. Elton John remains a large icon for all generations and his music will remain timeless, making any of his songs a worthy addition to this soundtrack.
- “Dance to This” by Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande
Ah yes, the quintessential party scene. Every coming of age story, no matter the medium, includes a party and it would only make sense to have a modern song on the soundtrack for this plot point. Troye Sivan and Ariana Grande make a musical power couple whose fan bases together span almost the entire generational demographic; Sivan for 2014 tumblr veterans and Grande for the current Twitter stans. Not only are the artists current in pop culture, but the vibe of the song is perfect for a budding romance. The melody provides the perfectly sensual backdrop for the main character of the story to lure their romantic interest to join them on the dance floor from across the room. And maybe, just maybe, “Green Light'' by Lorde would be the next song on the queue…
- “Green Light” by Lorde
I am sure we all recognize Lorde’s name. A defining artist for our generation, Lorde has been significant to the development of Gen Z through their middle and high school years. Any Lorde song would be a great choice to add to our soundtrack, however “Green Light” is the one and only pick for the inevitable first kiss with the love interest. The build up of the song crafts the perfect mood to accent the tension, thick enough to cut through with a knife, before the big kiss. I couldn't think of another song to fit this moment more perfectly.
- “The Great Pretender” by Freddie Mercury
Another relic of Gen X, Freddie Mercury was yet another timeless icon whose music will forever remain popular. “The Great Pretender” neatly encapsulates the feeling of concealed loneliness that every subject of a coming of age story feels at one point or another in the plot. Personally, I feel that this is the song the main character would be listening to during that moment of watching raindrops race down a window or staring out of a moving car on a long drive (you know what I mean).
- “Super Trouper” by ABBA
One of the most common coming of age tropes is an intermission of friendship between the main character and their bestie, as exemplified by Ladybird. “Super Trouper” by ABBA is my pick for the moment where the pair is reunited and feels unequivocally supported by each other after the growth they did apart. ABBA is a great addition to this soundtrack and story because there is a chance Gen Z grew up listening to the Swedish band’s songs, but it is more likely that they acquainted themselves with ABBA’s discography through the ABBA renaissance triggered by the popularity of the Mamma Mia! movies in 2008 and 2018.
- “Kiwi” Harry Styles
There have been a few tropes, and songs, already mentioned about how the main character often has mental health issues of some sort. “Kiwi” is an addition to that lineup as the soundtrack for the eventual release of pent up aggression. I feel like every coming of age movie shows the protagonist freak out, destroy their room, or make a mess in some way and the rock beat of Harry Styles’ hit song portrays the same energy.
- “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
Yeah… you know I had to do it to ‘em. I sincerely apologize for the emotional distress you may be put through by my addition of this song to the soundtrack. Fleetwood Mac has experienced its own renaissance on Tiktok which increased the band’s intergenerational popularity. The way I see it, “Landslide” is the one and only song that could perfectly accompany the main character as they visit home from their university for Winter Break and realize how much more freedom their younger siblings are privileged to have, unbound from any responsibility. This is the point in the story where the main character becomes incredibly aware of their coming of age, that they are growing up and nearing adulthood.
- "What a Feeling" by One Direction
With somewhat of a vintage feel, “What a Feeling” is the best piece of art the boy band sensation of our generation, One Direction, produced. This modern coming of age story would be incomplete without 1D and it just so happens that “What a Feeling” is the perfect tune, in lyrics and melody, to signify the main character and their love interest falling in love, most ardently. After falling in love to the pushes and pulls of this song, the characters could be nothing but bewitched, body and soul.
- “I Have a Dream” by ABBA
I couldn't resist adding another ABBA song due to both the aforementioned ABBA renaissance as well as the sweet perfection of “I Have a Dream.” Every coming of age story comes to an end and so does the transformation itself. At the end the protagonist may show their recently earned maturity and walks, drives, or flies off into the sunset. “I Have a Dream” is a mellow track to whisk the main character off into their bittersweet future as they embark on adulthood. For the purpose of this university setting, I envision this song playing as the subject graduates and says thank you and goodbye to their loved ones before moving away to begin their new life, of age.
Interested in listening to this ever-evolving soundtrack so that you can have a main character moment of your very own? Listen here. Good luck on your coming of age.