There seems to be a trend on Instagram lately with the “Add Yours” feature where people share six albums that changed their lives. Or maybe that trend is already over and I’m late to the bandwagon as usual.
Me being me, there’s no way I can show the album covers without ever talking about the albums and why I chose them. What better way to ramble than to turn this into a blog post?
Honestly, I struggled with this quite a bit since I’m not someone who has ever been super into music. At least, not to the same extent that most of my friends are.
For me, I pretty much stick to the artists I like and rarely venture beyond that unless it’s a recommendation from someone whose music taste I trust/is similar to mine. I’m not the kind of person who always has music playing in the background either. In fact, most of my Spotify minutes are made up of listening to podcasts.
That’s not to say that I don’t like music, I do. But it’s never been as big a part of my life as it seems to be for a lot of other people I know. Truly, it wasn’t until meeting Jemi in college that I really began to listen to music more. Part of that, I think, was out of habit because she almost always had something playing.
Anyways, let’s get into the few albums that have really made an impact on my life. I’ve listen them in the year they were released, mostly for the sake of convenience and organization.
Red (2012) - Taylor Swift
Obviously, I do have to make the disclaimer that we should all be listening to Taylor’s Version of the album that dropped in 2021, but I first listened to Red when it came out in 2012 and it’s been a decade of love.
This was the first album that I remember waiting for and running to Limewire to download the album back in the days of music piracy. From the moment We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together dropped, it was true love for me. I had the chance to hear Taylor’s music as it was coming out and this album solidified my affection for her music.
You can’t imagine the way I listened to Begin Again when it came out. I think I easily racked up over 100 plays on the first day, to the point where my mom asked me if there was anything I was listening to.
For eight years, this was my favorite Taylor album. Something about it spoke to me and I didn’t stop listening to it for months. If you remember my post about my favorite songs from Taylor, half of them came from this album. Most of the songs easily had 500+ plays (ahh, the days when iTunes would tell me how much I’ve played a song) and to this day, I am most familiar with the lyrics in this album.
Somehow, the songs off this album captured a lot of how I feel about romantic relationships in general. Or maybe the way I feel about relationships has been shaped by these songs. I’m not really sure. All I know is that I come back to this era a lot, remembering what it was like to be a teenaged girl experiencing unrequited love.
Red has always been special to me and I don’t know that my high school friends would associate me with any other album. My love for it knows no bounds and that only grew when Taylor’s Version dropped last year. I was reminded why this was my favorite for eight years and how so many of the songs strike me on a deeper level.
With Love (2013) - Christina Grimmie
There are only two YouTubers whose albums I’ve bought, and Christina is one of them.
Like many others, I found her music through her various collaborations with other singers on the platform. Finding out that she was a Christian made me interested, but hearing her voice was what made me love her as an artist.
The day she announced that she was working on an album, I knew it would be something I listened to on repeat, and I was right.
As far as music genres go, this is pretty far outside of my comfort zone. My usual tastes lean toward generic pop and this has a bit more jazz influence, I think. It doesn’t quite sound or feel like most pop you would hear, but it is very much the kind of musical style Christina became known for in her YouTube covers.
In writing this, I decided to go back and listen to the album again. It was surprising how much I remembered considering that it had been several years since the last time I visited this. Then again, I did listen to this album on repeat for several months in the time after its release.
Some of the songs bring back such vivid memories of my teenage years. The one that has followed me through the years as I’ve grown up is I Bet You Don’t Curse God, a song I had on repeat in the weeks after her death. Currently, it sits in my comfort playlist and I come back to it once in awhile when things feel to heavy for my heart.
Another of her songs that makes me feel differently now is Think of You, a song that played in the 5th season of The Vampire Diaries, Christina’s favorite show. I loved it at the time too and remember how she would talk about it being one of her dreams to have one of her songs play on the show. When it happened, the entire fanbase freaked out. I can still remember getting so excited when I recognized the opening notes during a very emotional moment of the episode.
It only adds to the bittersweet memories when I think about how that scene was a reunion moment after a character had died and been brought back to life. The kind of moment we won’t get with Christina.
This album holds a really special place in my heart for nostalgic and painful reasons. Listening to it again reminds me of a more innocent time in my life, when things were simpler. It makes me want to appreciate life more, knowing that it can be cut short so easily.
Hamilton (2015) - Lin-Manuel Miranda
No surprises here, this album (I know it’s a cast recording) has changed so much for me. There are phrases I can’t hear without immediately having a Hamilton song start playing in my head. The show took over my life for a period of time and I remember more of these lyrics than I do most things I learned in college.
I’m not a Broadway person and I will never claim to be. The extent of what I enjoy is basically this musical and the few others that I’ve taken the time to listen to. I have a great appreciation for how much work it takes to perform on Broadway, but getting invested isn’t something I have the time for.
Hamilton appealed to me because it’s so different. Who would write a hip-hop influenced musical about a Founding Father of the United States? And why? The hype around it was that people who didn’t enjoy musicals got into it and so many people were awed by the careful lyrics chosen. As a writer, hearing other writers praise it for its writing made me want to know what they hype was about.
So it was my reward for winning NaNoWriMo in 2015. Once I listened to it, that was the end of my normal life. I became so utterly obsessed with the music and spent so much time listening to the album/recording on repeat. It was in that first year that I solidified my knowledge of the lyrics and five years later, I can still say that I can do most parts by myself.
Even now, I find myself thinking about the lyrics on a weekly basis. Someone will say something and it’ll get stuck in my head for days until I replace it with something else or listen to the song. A couple weeks ago, my mom said something that Dear Theodosia played in my head for two days straight. The absolute chokehold this musical has on me.
Though my love for the musical has simmered down over time, I hold a lot of admiration for the writing and the music choice. Everything is so careful and clever. Hearing Lin talk about his writing process and how much time he spent working on every single line, I think every writer can relate to it. That maddening rush of trying to get the perfect words and wondering what a tiny change can do to a whole line.
Plus, it’s out of this musical that all writers have been blessed with “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” I think there are few lines that have been so quickly adopted by a whole career field as a mantra.
Burn the Ships (2018) - for KING & COUNTRY
Junior year was rough in a lot of ways - my hardest classes, starting a second job, my first relationship and breakup, writing 21K words on the last day of NaNoWriMo, and getting deeply hurt by someone I considered one of my best friends. This album got me through that time.
It came out in October, just a few weeks after I broke up with my ex. The way I spent hours listening to this album, telling myself again and again that breaking up was the right decision and that there was nothing I could do for someone who didn’t want to admit that they had issues.
I Give Up Control was my most listened to song of the fall semester. I still go back to it when I struggle with wanting control over the things in my life. The combination of that, Fight on, Fighter, and God Only Knows meant that I was very, very emotional during that time. Though I think that if you asked my classmates and coworkers, most of them might not have noticed that I was going through a rough time.
This album was there for me during a time when there was little I could do to ask for help. No one could really help make me feel better, I just needed to get through the emotions and heartbreak. And on the really bad days, this album reminded me that there were still good things, that I still had strength in me.
Christian music has never made this much of an impact in my life, something that might sound weird coming from a Christian. I don’t think I felt this understood until this album. Somehow, every song felt like it was written for me in that time.
I put it on again when I was dealing with the uncertainties of unemployment and work visas. No matter what, I could count on the right songs to come on while doing my devotions and journaling about how much everything sucked.
One of the things I’m happiest about is that I got to see for KING & COUNTRY in concert once before the world shut down. The concert ended a very stressful 24 hours at school in which I skipped all my classes to deal with a news article that had everyone in a frenzy. Hearing this album live after less than 4 hours of sleep and many hours of writing, nothing is quite like that.
Earlier this year, I got to meet Luke and Joel Smallbone over FaceTime when Jemi went to their concert. A concert we thought we’d get to go to in May 2020. Meeting them over the phone was emotional and impactful, I have photos of me crying.
Finding the right words to explain how much I relied on this album during junior year is difficult. I feel like I can’t fully express how much these songs mean to me. How deeply the lyrics are embedded in my heart.
thank u, next (2018) - Ariana Grande
If Burn the Ships helped me process a dark time, thank u, next showed me the brightness that comes after. It proved that there can be amazing things after a breakup and that I can come out so much stronger and better than what I was before. Listening to these songs made me glad I ended things and could move on to bigger and better things.
Hearing Ariana sing about a relationship not working when she thought it would felt so close to home. And it was the title song that helped me process through a lot of residual emotions about my breakup. How a relationship can be so important and teach so much, but still end because it’s not right. That I can be ready for someone else given the right amount of time.
Okay yes, it was also fun to tell an imaginary man to leave his girlfriend for me.
Every song off this album is a certified bop (do people still say that?) and I will stand by that until the end of time.
The level of empowerment I felt as a woman while listening to this album. Nothing else has made me feel that strong and unbeatable. No other album has felt like a rebirth as much as this one does. At least when it comes to starting over after something really emotional and difficult.
Ariana was my top artist of 2019, closing out the decade with truly one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. I wish I had screen-recorded my whole Spotify Wrapped that year to see how many minutes I spent listening to this album, but I know that it was playing all year long.
Songs like imagine, bad idea, ghostin, break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored, and thank u, next were constantly going through my head. Every one of them encapsulated a different stage of what I was going through in the aftermath of a breakup. I was a few months out from it, but that didn’t make me wonder any less if things could have been different.
As I wrote this section, I had to listen to the album. It really is my favorite Ariana album to date and every song still makes me feel like I can take down the patriarchy.
folklore (2020) - Taylor Swift
I cannot even begin to explain what this album is to me. It inspired a massively long blog post about how Taylor is a lyrical genius and how much I love her music. While I enjoyed 1898, reputation, and Lover when they came out, I didn’t have the same deep love for them that I did for Red. Until this album.
In my post about my favorite songs from her, a few of my picks are chosen for how light they sound and how I admire her vocal control in those songs. That’s one of the reasons I love folklore so much. They feel soft and powerful.
As an album that she largely wrote about other people, it was nice to hear how she explored a large variety of concepts in a way we’ve only seen glimpses of until then. Plus, the triptych of songs about a love triangle was so masterfully done, giving depth to three characters and fully exploring three perspectives without declaring which one is right.
Indie music isn’t a genre I really explored before this album and it’s still not one I’m familiar with, but I loved how this album departed from the pop she became known for. Something about how the songs were chosen and put together did feel like they were a product of the pandemic.
Something about this album has always made me think of softness. Perhaps its the way the music is written that feels like a waking dream or the departure from her usual pop sound. Either way, I love it and have spent many hours listening to the album on repeat. During my long flight from LA to Singapore, this and evermore played on repeat during the 8 hours that I fell asleep.
I also strongly associate this album with Six of Crows because I was reading it when the album dropped. It’s not a vibe that you think would go together, but somehow, I ended up listening to this for the entirety of my time reading that book. I can’t think of one without thinking of the other.
folklore, to me, is the album that feels most like growing up. Realizing that there are missed chances with certain people, letting go of bad relationships, trying hard and not being enough, realizing how much the opinions of others can affect me, being a woman who gets mad sometimes. It feels like coming into my 20s and watching life become more complicated.
Perhaps it’s that this album got me through a lot of uncertainty about life, when I had two moves in the span of a year and dealt with unemployment. There will always be sentimental values associated with these songs. Nothing else she’s released has felt quite the same for me.
It could also be that Red was the album of my teenage years and folklore is the album of my 20s. At least until Midnights drops next month, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that nothing else she writes or releases will feel how this does for me.
I wonder which album of hers will mark my 30s?
6 albums, 6 different markers of impact in my life.
There was no way for me to do this without making it long and attempting insight at my music taste. Which really is mostly made up of Taylor’s music.
I had a lot of fun reflecting on what has stuck with me throughout the years and still holds strong when I revisit it. Perhaps I can do this again in a few years to see if anything has changed. Or maybe I’ll stand by these choices and nothing else will replace them.
Mostly, I think I’d be curious if another Taylor album will be on the list the next time I think about revisiting this idea. Or if my music taste will have expanded to include some unexpected artists. Who knows?