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Unlocking nostalgia through music

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JULY 18, 2023

Music has the ability to transcend time and space. It’s especially unbelievable how music can transport us into a state of nostalgia and revisit the emotions rooted within our memories. I recently returned home to Southern California for the summer — and by listening to my old playlists, I feel as though my angsty yet optimistic teenager inside is awakening. 

Sitting in this shared bedroom and staring blankly at how my brother essentially made this his room, Taylor Swift’s “22” (Taylor’s Version) was echoing in the background — and I, too, was feeling “happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.” I achieved what I’ve wanted for so long and got the opportunity to move away for college, but memories and feelings about this room flooded back immediately. And I recall the many moments I sat at my desk under the loft reflecting and feeling relieved, happy, pain, frustrated and/or angry — all while listening to a playlist of sad songs that validated how I genuinely felt about my life during the pandemic and early years of college. 

The cozy space and the midnight peace hold a special charm in my life. Finding a safe space to think clearly without noise or interruption was challenging. Listening to these sad songs under the loft after midnight transcended the ordinary constraints of time for me, and it was enough to put a pause on the troubles and lack of motivation I was experiencing. 

Chance Peña’s “In My Room” had me “counting stars inside my room,” hoping for the day that things would change for the better. (Thankfully, they eventually did.) Halsey’s verse in Benny Blanco’s “Eastside” pushed me into a dreamy state as I was “seventeen and [I had] a dream to have a family, a house and everything in between” and all of this hadn’t felt attainable. NIKI’s acoustic version of “La La Lost You” comforted how isolated I felt “in the City of Angels,” that this hometown and bustling city of people wasn’t enough to make me feel any less lonely. And listening to Post Malone’s “Feeling Whitney” enough on repeat sparked the strength to stop comparing my life to others and feeling sorry for myself because “to each their own and [I could] find peace in knowing ain’t always broken.”

Beyond the loft, music has also created my fondest memories with friends. Car rides to Target, Newport Beach, the local mall or Raising Canes always transformed into carpool karaoke. No matter the distance, the playlist of classic pop songs reminded us how young we were and of who we were, and I’m grateful to share these memories with them. (Taylor Swift was probably our most played artist, duh.)

I was also introduced to concerts when my friend offered me a ticket to see Pink Sweat$ at The NOVO in 2021. We were even lucky to meet the artist while waiting in line for merchandise. Since then, I’ve seen Train sing “Hey, Soul Sister” live while capturing the moment my friend was told to dial his eager energy down (how rude). I even got to sing “Best Friend” with my best friend at a Rex Orange County concert. Though music comforted me most when I needed it, music has also helped me learn more about my friends and their interests. Listening to these artists now brings back the lived experiences I shared with my friends, and the nostalgia reminds me of the joy we once experienced through music together. 

In retrospect, the nostalgia of my sad songs playlist will always bring me back to that space under the loft, feeling hopeless and crying in the quiet after midnight. Since then, these sad songs have also given me the strength to change the course of my well-being. I’ve since removed myself from uncomfortable situations, moved away to another city and healed from moments these songs once validated. 

I’ll admit — it was a difficult time, but I didn’t want to be miserable forever. I’m grateful these songs eventually translated into the inherent need to face the music of my life, and when it did, I leapt at the opportunity to fine-tune it into more positive experiences. 

Contact Deric Lai at 


JULY 18, 2023