The best way to organize your thoughts about a year is to pick a song every month that represents its vibe in some way. Maybe the lyrics speak to a situation you were working on overcoming, maybe it played during a particular high or low point, or maybe it was just your most played song of that month. At the end of the year you have 12 songs, each one particularly powerful in transporting you to a particular moment and evoking the overall feelings that add up to your year.
I’ve been doing this for 10 years now and when I play my 2006 playlist, I can still remember why I felt like partying in September 2006 and why I broke up with a guy in February of that year and how the year as a whole.
To better understand how to make an annual vibes playlist, here’s my 2016:
January — Only Girl In The World (Rihanna)
Want you to make me feel
Like I’m the only girl in the world
Like I’m the only one that you’ll ever love
Like I’m the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world
Like I’m the only one that’s in command
‘Cause I’m the only one who understands
How to make you feel like a man
My friend made fun of me when we traded Spotify year in review playlists and he saw this old Rihanna song charted so high on mine. But it’s a banger! And more importantly it clearly articulates the standards I have for my life. All I want is for all the people I respect and care about to make me feel like I’m the only girl in the world. It’s really not that complicated.
I play this song whenever I do this thing I call instilling the low key fear of god in someone. Love is really important to me and I care a lot about making sure the people I care about in all forms of romantic/platonic/work relationships know how special they are. But this makes it easy for people to get too comfortable and so every once in awhile I have to remind someone that as sensitive and emotional as I am, I’m a rationality-driven person and if the hedonic calculus doesn’t add up for me anymore, I’m cool making difficult decisions in order to make myself happier.
So I revisit the gold standard of having standards: make me feel like the only girl in the world. That’s all.
February — Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do (Robyn)
Your nagging is killing me
Ease up, you’re killing me
Let go, you’re killing me
Calm down, you’re killing me
My god, you’re killing me
If you cut open my heart, there’s a Robyn song playing in there. She’s so powerful and feminine and non-conventional. This song is about being a creator and a lover and working yourself to the bone for all the things you care about. And then, somehow, there’s still outside pressure there when you’re fully capable of putting enough pressure on yourself.
This was a month of taking space from other people’s annoying opinions about what I’m supposed to be doing for them.
March — Wide Awake (Katy Perry)
I’m wide awake
Yeah, I was in the dark
I was falling hard
With an open heart
I’m wide awake
How did I read the stars so wrong
The beginning of the year was clearly full of angst for me. This is a song about letting people know you’re not falling for what they are telling you. I don’t really care about calling people out on their shit, but I do start to care when they think I don’t realize what they are doing.
It also has a lot of philosophical connotations, which I like.
April — Heartbeats (Royal Teeth)
One night to be confused
One night to speed up truth
We had a promise made
Four hands and then away
Both under influence
We had divine scent
To know what to say
Mind is a razor blade
This is a cover of one of my favorite songs of all time (Heartbeats — The Knife, its v v v incredible). It’s about sleeping someone when you’re still in love with someone else and also wondering if you believe in god.
This is an especially beautiful cover I discovered this month that helped me fall in love with the song all over again.
I was seeing someone and battling the feelings of how good and deep our physical chemistry could feel while also being just totally insanely removed from any kind of thinking or love or real value. I wasn’t used to that. It was the embodiment of that Tolstoy quote about how delusional we are as a human race that beauty is related to goodness.
(NEVER @ ME ABOUT THE JOSE GONZALEZ COVER OF HEARTBEATS IT SUCKS AND IS BLASPHEMY EXCEPT FOR THIS COOL SONY BRAVIA COMMERCIAL MY FRIENDS DID).
May — Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small
But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a comin’ day
I was getting ready for a summer of travel and I was captivated by the idea of how this constellation of stars could seem like magic the first time you saw it.
June — Record Year (Eric Church)
Slowly plannin’ my survival
In a three foot stack of vinyl
I had made the decision to move out of my apartment and to stay in Minnesota and to live in my own apartment for the first time ever. It was the beginning of summer which should be full of Britney jams but I was already nostalgic about how the year would feel because I was making such big decisions. I especially related to it as I packed up my stuff and sat in literal piles of Chrissy.
A close second here would be Wiz Khalifa’s because I remember being at a giant MTV beach house with all my friends in Santa Cruz and someone put this song on the Sonos and everyone died and devolved into dancing and talking about how this is probably the most underrated song of all time and it was a MOMENT.
July — YOUTH (Troye Sivan)
What if, what if we run away
What if, what if we left today
What if, we say goodbye to safe and sound
What if, what if we’re hard to find
What if, what if we lost our minds
What if, we looked and fall behind and then never found
In July I fell in love with Troye Sivan and HOW COULD YOU NOT ???? The only thing I listened to the entire month of June is Troye Sivan. Watch the video and get with the program.
There was a day when my friend and I drove to a giant luxury pool in the suburbs to get served mojitos by poolboys all day and played Troye Sivan the entire there way and back.
August — Work From Home (Fifth Harmony)
And I don’t need no explanation
‘Cause baby, you’re the boss at home
This is one of the best songs of our generation. And it’s also perfect for me because I have a very good work ethic while also being totally into the concept of a guy who’s ‘the boss at home.’ It’s also impossible to listen to without a good visceral hair flip or two. I remembered it being on the radio every time I turned my rental car on in California and then in August every time I needed to turn up my focus and #grind I’d play this one hour loop of the song and get in the zone.
Also Real Chad Johnson is obsessed with which is just the telos of all my guilty pleasures.
September — Acid Tongue (Jenny Lewis)
I went to a cobbler
to fix a hole in my shoe
he took one look at my face and said
“I can fix that hole in you.”
The first time I heard this song I was obsessed with it and listened to it hundreds of times in a row. I instantly and viscerally related to the line about having a ‘hole’ in you. I drove through Minnesota and Iowa and Nebraska and Colorado this month. I spent a lot of time in my car and with my radio and with my heart and my mind.
I tried to get ready for this big trip by thinking about all the things I was going to think about on my drive and all the things I was going to leave behind in Minnesota. It didn’t work. I didn’t get to leave all the things and all the people I wanted to leave behind, but it was still cathartic in all the ways I wanted it to be cathartic.
October — Vindicated (Dashboard Confessional)
I am selfish
I am wrong
I am right, I swear I’m right
Swear I knew it all along and
I am flawed
But I am cleaning up so well
I am seeing in me now the things you swore you saw yourself
A holdover from my Colorado trip. I spent my long, straight drive through Nebraska playing straight through, and then all my other Dashboard favorites. It was such a fun experience because I knew of it so viscerally. These were lyrics I had screamed before. Suddenly they were relevant again and the giant catharsis was coming at the end of the road, at the end of the album, at the end of the trip. It was medicinal.
November — Lucky Now (Ryan Adams)
I don’t remember were we wild and young
All that faded into memory
I feel like somebody I don’t know
Are we really who we used to be
Am I really who I was
In November I was thinking about getting older and being at peace with it. I feel safe enough that I’ve accomplished enough to be 31. Ryan’s one of my favorite artists, ever, and he’s a decade older than me but this song really resonated with me this year. I used to be a very cool internet teen and then a 20-something with a viral tumblr who went to cool raves all the time and I’m so not cool anymore. Which I am happy with but is also a loss I am grieving. There is only forward.
December — Not The Doctor (Alanis Morisette)
I don’t want to be the filler if the void is solely yours
I don’t want to be your glass of single malt whiskey
Hidden in the bottom drawer
I don’t want to be a bandage if the wound is not mine
Lend me some fresh air
I don’t want to be adored for what I merely represent to you
I don’t want to be your babysitter
You’re a very big boy now
I don’t want to be your mother
I didn’t carry you in my womb for nine months
I’m ending the year like I began it, which is kind of a bad thing because the vibe is having to remind people that all relationships are an equation and if you don’t get out of them what you put into them you need to let go and let them sink.
This reminds me that in 2017 I need to try harder to have a more positive beginning of the year because I think that influences the entire rest of your year. I don’t want to start and end by having to prove myself when that’s always been so self-obvious in the past. That’s not something that should be complicated and I’ve learned this year that people who make it complicated are too bad at thinking and too much work to be worth it. People are worth it or they aren’t, that’s the easy part.
Do you see that this is the way to remember a year? Leave your Spotify playlist link in the comments.