Remember Ed Sheeran’s “The A-Team?”
While music has a way of connecting people, it often times finds a way to divide people. As humans, we tend to group ourselves into categories, and music genre is just one more way to do that, whether we realize it or not. If you like country music, you’re probably southern; if you like rap, you’re probably from an urban area; if you like My Chemical Romance or Lana Del Rey, you’re probably a naive middle schooler going through their “I’m different and nobody understands me” phase.
If I could go back and look at my middle school music library on my old, broken iPhone 5S, I don’t doubt that I’d spend the majority of the time cringing. I suppose there’s a reason I never redownloaded most of those songs. However, there’s one band that I’ve listened to for as long as I can remember, and I don’t think there will ever come a day when I buy a new phone and choose not to redownload every single one of their songs. I remember sitting on the big yellow bus on my way to my middle school, one earbud in my right ear, the left bud in my friend’s, and I remember hearing, for the very first time, “Shake It Out” by Florence + the Machine. I don’t exactly know what changed in my young, impressionable, pre-teen brain, but looking back now, hearing Florence + the Machine on that bus-ride must have been the start of my “I’m different and nobody understands me” phase.
At one point or another, everybody goes through a phase in their life in which they start to believe that the only possible way to be important in life is to be sad and misunderstood. Some grow out of that phase quickly and go back to dressing like an older version of their previous selves. Others slowly phase out the music and clothes which defined their precious elementary school experience so well and grow into a whole new person altogether. There is no shame in either, the shame comes when thinking back to that terrible phase in the middle. I consider myself lucky to be one of the two people amongst my friends who did not go through an “emo-phase” or “goth-phase” back in middle school. One of my most vivid memories from school is sitting at the lunch table, surrounded by a fog of black jeans and Fall Out Boy t-shirts while I sat in striped, rainbow jeans and a bright blue jacket. Somehow, I made it through middle school never having worn an “emo” band t-shirt. Nonetheless, my choice of colorful pants does not erase the poor musical choices I made at the age of thirteen. Colorful taste in clothes does not necessarily guarantee a colorful taste in music.
There’s no denying that style does often correlate with music choice; however, it may not always be as evident as it seems. We like to categorize ourselves and associate mainly with those who fall into the same category as we do. But if that’s the case, why do we do this in middle school, way before our sense of style is established? Our seventh-grade selves saw the twelve-year-old girls in Uggs and Forever 21 leggings standing next to the twelve-year-old boys in Nike sneakers and neon socks, listening to Drake in the hallways and decided that that’s what being popular must be. And then, we looked at the kids in combat boots and flannels, drawing on their arms in pen while listening to “I Write Sins Not Tragedies”, and decided that that is what being “emo” is. Why is this “emo” look so infamous? We all go through an awkward, sad phase in our lives, some just choose to wear it proudly while others prefer to keep it private. Either way, we shouldn’t instinctively associate the way a person dresses with being depressed or “emo.”. Almost every middle-schooler goes through a “mis-fit” phase and the stereotypes that surround some kids while avoiding others can only be harmful. Unlike most of my friends, I was able to avoid these cutting stereotypes. Just as you’d expect from a young girl with rainbow pants, I avoided the rock section of iTunes and found myself listening to artists much more discreet in their sadness.
Like any alternative-loving teenage girl, I spent most of middle school listening to Lana Del Rey, Lorde, and, of course, Florence + the Machine. I suppose that’s a step up from the stereotypes that surround those that listen to LINKIN PARK and Sleeping With Sirens, but I am not afraid to admit that, though I still listen to all three of the artists I spent my middle school years listening to, I most definitely listened to them for the wrong reason. I didn’t listen to them because I enjoyed their music but because I liked the idea of being an outcast and being sad. We all have a strange desire to be misunderstood. It’s something so unnatural it’s almost masochistic. Everyone wants to be pitied from time to time, however, very few would ever admit it. We’ve inexplicably linked sadness to profoundness and when we reach our middle school years, we all strive to be the most fucked-up, the most intelligent. We want to be liked, but only by some; we want to be cool, but not popular; we want to be mysterious, but not socially challenged. What’s the best way to accomplish all of this without committing to a change in lifestyle? Music.
There’s no way to tell how much a person will change throughout middle school. You put cute, excited, prepubescent children in one end and three years later, awkward, disproportionately shaped, anxious teenagers come out, on their way to wreak havoc in high school as naive freshmen. While more change is on its way, the middle school years have already laid the groundwork. The young teens have most likely changed their style a dozen times over the past few years and settled on one to show off their “true selves” in high school. With the most confusing years of puberty behind them, they enter high school with a fresh perspective.
Kathryn Ksiazek is a first year Journalism major who says “Turn this up!” when “The Dog Days are Over” plays. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.