“I swear they were singing about Vespas!” my friend yelled in the hostel room as our group of 12 groggily began getting ready for the day.
Our search for the mystery song was interrupted by recollections of the previous night. We had spent hours following a yellow umbrella toted by the leader of a pub crawl through the damp streets of Sicily’s capital city, Palermo. That morning, I learned that it’s one thing to Google search the lyrics of a song in a language you know, and another to rack your brain for a recognizable chain of words in a language you have rarely heard.
30 minutes later, we had our answer: “50 Special” by the Italian group Lunapop. The song immediately found a home on my playlist titled “May 2022.” Every time I hear it I’m taken back to a bustling karaoke bar and the halfhearted attempt I made to talk to a group of local young adults before they burst into their rendition of the song.
Anyone who has spent hours with me in a car could describe my taste in music as erratic. “A song either hits or it doesn’t,” I say when asked to explain the playlists of five to six songs that I piece together and play one week at a time. My Spotify library functions as a journal of sorts. I’ve never been one to write my thoughts down, yet relistening to specific collections of songs — spanning genres and languages — brings back memories of events and emotions from the time at which I compiled them.
In May 2022, I was lucky enough to travel across six countries in three weeks. It was a trip hastily thrown together at the end of a semester abroad in France, with flights booked as I packed the life I had created for myself over the past four months into one small carry-on suitcase. I traveled in large groups, small groups and alone; with friends I had just met, ones I had known for years and others I made along the way; to places I had barely heard of, some I had already visited and others I had always dreamed of going to. Unlike my tedious preparations for this trip, my Spotify playlists were not something I thought deeply about or planned in advance. The one I compiled in May changed my perception of this, something I didn’t realize until I listened to the playlist on a loop — the soundtrack to my 36-hour journey back to the United States.
“Criminal” by Natti Natasha and Ozuna transports me back to the smoke and flashing lights of the dance floor of a club in Barcelona — a place where I quickly realized that I was one of the only people not belting out the many Spanish songs played throughout the night. “Voler” by Caballero and JeanJass takes me to the Belgian countryside, crammed in the back of a tiny minivan driven by my friend’s host brother. I struggled to understand a lot of the French slang thrown around during that drive, but I did pick up on the assertion that this artist was one of Belgium’s finest. “Hotelschool” by Antoon — despite being in Dutch — places me on the steps of a small town square in Greece, where I asked a new acquaintance from The Netherlands for his favorite Dutch song after realizing that I hadn’t added anything to my playlist during the couple of days I spent in the country.
Moving to the small city of Reims last January was the first time I lived somewhere other than the East Bay. Yet even in the Champagne region of France, I easily learned to navigate the cobblestone streets and made a close circle of friends, both of which rendered the place comfortable. Because of this, the playlists I created in Reims continue to bring back warm memories, but they lack the novelty I feel when listening to the conglomeration of words and beats in the playlist that documents my travels across the globe, “May 2022.”
Though representative of the most international period of my life, these songs are not and never will be truly representative of the countries I visited. But they take me from sipping sangria on Playa de Bogatell to sampling Aperol spritz on Positano Spiaggia, from the monasteries of Meteora to the Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp.
These songs are reminders of the days I spent in each place trying to immerse myself in new spaces, cultures and languages — reminders that will live forever in my trusty Spotify library, ready to transport me across the globe with one simple tap.