The End of Times: Nostalgia and Youth

I have a strange obsession with nostalgic music. One day, about five years ago, I heard a song through my Spotify Discover Weekly and I fell in love. “Michigan” by Arms Akimbo changed my perspective entirely, and now I have a playlist dedicated to nostalgic music. I should clarify here—when I say nostalgic music, I don’t mean music from your childhood, I mean music that makes you feel nostalgic. Although as you’ll see, these are oftentimes related.

There’s more than just one kind of nostalgic music, actually. As Harrison Renshaw of Alfo Media points out in his analysis of the phenomenon, there are two kinds of nostalgia—nostalgia defined by you, and nostalgia defined by the music. Renshaw argues that the first type of nostalgia is less interesting than the second, and I agree. To understand what I mean, simply listen to any song you haven’t heard since you were young, and boom, nostalgia. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but the point is that these songs are connected to a certain era of your life (it’s always youth) and that’s why you feel nostalgic. This type of songs depend on how old you are. While people around my age might find Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” super nostalgic, people of a different generation won’t.

As a result, the second kind of nostalgia, songs that sound nostalgic, are special, as they create nostalgia across generations. Renshaw’s video mentions songs like “Yesterday” by The Beatles, “These Days” by Nico, or “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac as examples. And he’s right—these songs do invoke a form of nostalgia. They evoke better, simpler times. But this kind of nostalgia—I’ll call it the “Yesterday” nostalgia—is not the kind I want to talk about either. These songs aren’t on my nostalgia playlist, nor will they ever be.

The playlist in question is called “The End of Times.” The songs on “The End of Times” are ones that evoke nostalgia, but that emotion is twisted. They create a nostalgic feeling for better times I didn’t experience.

You might be forming a counterargument in your head right now: “Jack, you just turned 20. How can you say that the “Yesterday” nostalgia of a song like “Landslide” is something that you’ve experienced?” And you’re right—I haven’t experienced it. But songs with “Yesterday” nostalgia are written from a more mature perspective. They’re written about people’s personal experiences. And one essential part of nostalgia is that you must escape youth to be nostalgic for it. That’s what makes the songs on this playlist so special. These songs do such an excellent job of evoking nostalgia that they got me, a teenager, someone who hasn’t even experienced the times these songs describe, feeling nostalgic. While the listener can never truly experience the exact same things the songwriter has, the music allows you to feel like you have. I feel nostalgic regardless.

I like to do this thing where I classify songs based on a movie soundtrack. This is probably an annoying I’m-the-main-character activity, but indulge me for a minute. I will judge a song based on where it would fit into a movie, or what movie I could build around it. For instance, let’s take Landslide, which is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Landslide explores themes of loss, love, and moving on, so to me, it makes the most sense to put it in a rom-com. My grand plan is to have the audience sobbing when this song comes on. We can use our stereotypical rom-com plot points, but we need “Landslide” to be a focal point early on in the relationship. I’m thinking 500 Days of Summer vibes with this. So “Landslide” is introduced, and as the film builds, we need to hear it one or two more times—I want “Landslide” to play in some amazing moments for these characters so as the audience learns about them and their relationship, they begin to connect “Landslide” to this relationship. Maybe you can see where I’m going with this. As these two characters fall out of love and things collapse, we’re gonna play it again. I. Want. Tears.

So now that we’ve done this exercise with “Landslide,” a song that’s not on the playlist, let’s run it again with the songs that are. In retrospect, maybe this is how I should be classifying what goes on this playlist, but these songs (with a few exceptions) are all playing over the same scene.

Two songs on the playlist are Walk The Moon’s “Anna Sun” and One Republic’s “Kids.” Walk the Moon is better known for their 2014 hit “Shut Up and Dance,” while One Republic has numerous late 2000 hits like “Secrets” or “Apologize,” stretching into the early 2010s with “Counting Stars.” But these songs pale in comparison to “Anna Sun” or “Kids.” No, seriously. I cannot speak enough praise upon both of these songs. “Kids” is one of the best pop songs of the last 10 years, and “Anna Sun” is an incredibly satisfying listen with its spectacular summery vibes.

Vibes are a large part of what this is about. I don’t have a set schema for how I put songs into certain movies, it’s just based on the vibes. But anyway, here’s the scene for “Kids” and “Anna Sun,” along with most of the other songs on the playlist:

It’s a teen movie, first of all. What’s more, this is a summer movie. It’s about the fun experiences of youth and getting older, coming of age, the loss of innocence, all that kind of stuff. John Green wrote in Looking For Alaska “When adults say ‘teenagers think they are invincible,’ with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are.” This scene should make you feel invincible.

“Kids” and “Anna Sun” are road trip songs. These songs make me feel like I’m standing up in the backseat of a car with my head out of the window and the wind blowing in my face. The characters are driving up some scenic vista on the California coast, the sun is bright, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The shots are overexposed to all hell. The sun feels striking and hot, but not in a blistering-heat-that-makes-you-want-to-die kind of way, more so in an it’s-a-beautiful-day-to-be-alive way.

The day I’m writing this is one of the last days before I turn 20. I didn’t have a lot of these fun experiences as a teenager—I do not look back on most of my high school experience fondly and COVID-19 ruined the last year for me in ways I didn’t think were possible. But five years ago, I found a song called “Michigan” by a band named Arms Akimbo, and it introduced me to an emotion I don’t think I understood before.

The End of Times is a playlist about growing up. These happy, joyous songs are filled with lyrics tinged with this melancholic nostalgia. “Kids” proclaims “back when we were kids/swore we would never die,” but “Anna Sun” describes a “house [that’s] falling apart” and “Michigan” says “the world isn’t spinning/the way it did before.”

So let those movie characters drive up and down the California coast all they want, with the hair in their faces and the sun in their eyes. To quote The Office’s Andy Bernard, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”