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  • Sarah Hart

My First Year of Undergrad, in Playlists

In about two weeks, I’ll be a college sophomore.

I know it’s cliche, but this school year really did go by quite fast. This year was my first year as a college undergrad, I would like to think that I went through some very distinct changes.

I read somewhere that music is just organized sound, which I think is true. But I also think that the music we surround ourselves with is vindictive of our emotional, psychological, and social state. My experiences, changes, and realizations from this year can be reflected by the music which I surrounded myself with at any given time during this school year. What follows is my freshman year, in playlists.

Playlist 1: Summer Turns to Fall

This playlist is relatively upbeat and optimistic. This year I lived away from home for the first time. Moving in, I was excited. I had finished my senior year of high school on a high note, surrounded by friends and supporters, headed to a bright future at one of the best dance schools in California. Better yet, I was staying in southern California, relatively close to my family and my friends at community college. I would be close to the music scene I had been active in during high school, and there was no doubt I would discover more and more about Orange County, despite having lived there for my entire life.

This time of my life was a transitive one. Many of these songs felt like the kind of music you would listen to on a road trip to a state you had never seen in person. It’s the music you listen to as you gaze out the window of the car as the foreign and familiar North American landscape passes you by. Like you’re on an unstoppable, intangible conveyor belt through time.

Every conversation was like speed dating. What’s your major, are you from the bay, I’m from Orange County, what dorm are you living in, I’m a transfer actually my roommate is a music education major, I’m in the film school I want to minor in communications. I struggled to find the balance between the two extremes of being overly vulnerable and not putting myself out there enough. Many of the people I met were nice enough, but in retrospect, the expectation that I would suddenly have friendships like the ones I had spent years curating in my hometown was naive. I became lonely.

I want to point out the contrast between my emotions and the music I was listening to. Despite my feelings of displacement, I was trying very hard to be upbeat and extroverted. Still, a few songs like “Posing in Bondage” by Japanese Breakfast and “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody” by Weyes Blood betray my true feelings of isolation.

I started going to a lot of local shows during this time, which I think was in an effort to feel connected with southern California again. A lot of the tickets I had to bigger artists like Japanese Breakfast (school-related conflict) and Beabadoobee (canceled) fell through, and I was able to discover some really amazing local artists like Rocket, Kills Birds, and Reckling. I started listening to The Garden, Nirvana, and No Doubt more.

To be honest, looking back on this playlist now, I realize my taste has changed quite a bit since the fall. If I had to make a playlist of my favorite music today, it probably wouldn’t look much like this. This playlist feels weirdly vulnerable, and I almost hesitate to share it with others now, even though, in an objective sense, I still like all of the songs in it. I guess that feeling of vulnerability means that this playlist truly encapsulates me exactly as I was at the beginning of my first semester of undergrad.

Playlist 2: Wintertime

I started to get annoyed with myself here. I was getting used to my new life, and even though I felt socially isolated, I was really starting to love my classes and the programs I was in. I declared a second major in English with a journalism concentration. I turned 19. I got rejected by the school newspaper. I took dance classes in LA.

I met a real-life film bro for the first time. I don’t know why it took so long, seeing as they’re everywhere, but I was very taken aback at encountering one in the wild at a party.

In a strange way, the random exchanges that I had at parties and school events bolstered the confidence that I had in my identity. I became a little better at letting go of the fear of judgment for being myself and it helped me let go of the fear that others wouldn’t like me.

In the winter, I saw Lucy Dacus for the second time (I had previously seen her once in the fall of 2021), and watched Haley Heyendrickx open for her. I know that I’m late to the party and that Haley Heyendrickx is popular all over the internet already, but I was taken aback at how beautiful her music was live. After that show, I became an avid Haley Heyendrickx listener and resolved to see her again.

I also saw the band Rocket open for Starcrawler’s New Year’s Eve show. I had already been getting back into rock music, the kind with such big waves of electric guitar that feels like it swallows your soul, but I think that show in particular really put me on the route to my music taste for the rest of the school year. Ultimately, it was a really great way to start my 2023.

This playlist has a lot more overtly sad or melancholy music with artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastian, and Bondo, but it also demonstrates the beginning of my inclination towards more punky bands like Mannequin Pussy or The Paranoyds. I also had to include some songs from Peach Pit, as they released their new album during this period.

One more thing about this playlist! It includes some instrumental and experimental music, which is a complete diversion from the music I’ve been talking about up until this point. My explanation is as follows: I am a modern dancer, and a lot of the music that I dance to and, subsequently, listen to is unconventional. In general, I listen to a lot of music like this on a daily basis, but for the sake of playlist-ic continuity, I only included experimental music in the wintertime playlist.

Playlist 3: A rainy CA springtime?

This spring, the weather was really weird. It snowed in Orange County, which did not help to ease the sense of climate dread that had been settling in with the torrential rain that the state has been experiencing.

I made it my mission to change. I changed out my septum ring after a year, and even though I ended up hating it, I kept it in for two months because I wanted to appear changed at the beginning of second semester. My roommate and I adopted a fish (named Dr. Holly, after our favorite person on Dance Moms), I started to frequent the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, and my micro bangs became more micro. I really started to write again, for the first time since I had moved into my dorm.

I became afraid of the idea of being an adult. When you’re younger, being grown up sounds like it’s great, and in many ways it is. In high school, I was always praised for doing good work, for being a great writer, for having a strong work ethic, for being an exceptional teenage girl. Becoming a college student has led me to realize that in just a year, all of those things that garnered me compliments from teachers and family members are qualities that every adult is apparently supposed to possess. Suddenly, I am not an exceptional kid, I am just an average adult.

My music taste became characterized by 90s rock and metal. There’s something about the hugeness of the sound of the metal genre that makes each song seem kind of intimate. In a weird way, metal and punk rock became the vegan chicken soup for my soul, especially in such an emotionally tumultuous time of my life.

As for my live music consumption during the spring, I saw Soccer Mommy (amazing performance, terrible crowd) and some random local shows, including a shoegaze night at the Lodge Room in Highland Park, which ended up being really great. Overall, I would say that I went to fewer shows during those months because of the sheer volume of work and dance-related activities that I had.

Regardless, I discovered a few local bands for myself such as Agriculture, and started listening to artists such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Helpless, Hole, The Breeders, and Veruca Salt more often. Most notably, as I’m sure many are aware, boygenius released new music for the first time in forever, so, of course, I had to include that song, $20.

Playlist 4: Summer, again

The thing about being a student is that you’re perpetually waiting. Preparing. Even if you aren’t in your senior year, the end of the school year marks a progression: one year closer to graduating, one year closer to moving on. As summer draws closer, everyone seems to comment on how fast it went, or how crazy it is that we’re getting older. I turn twenty in six months. The thought is paralyzing, because soon after that I will be twenty-one, and then twenty-two, and before I know it, I will be out of school, and the one thing that has been constant through my entire life will be over and gone. Soon it’ll be strange that I sleep in my childhood bedroom every weekend, or that my parents help me pay for gas, or that I don’t have any idea what I’ll do after I leave school.

But I am getting better at looking on the bright side of things and letting go of my fears. I am trying to savor this time of my life as much as possible. I am working at a really fun summer job. I drive around with my dad every weekend, and we listen to the Smashing Pumpkins together. I got my driver’s license. I have a modern dance piece premiering at a dance festival in a few weeks!

The theme of this playlist is easing into the comfortable. Enjoying the music that produces serotonin in my brain and makes my synapses fire. Lucy Dacus, Mannequin Pussy, Yo La Tengo, boygenius (and their new album!) Paul Simon, and more. I hope that it sounds like the soundtrack to a really cool coming-of-age movie or music that credits can roll to.

The shows I’m seeing nowadays are very exciting! I went to the Flower Moon music festival in Garden Grove this week, which was super fun. I have tickets to Lieth Ross, Rocket, and boygenius this month. I’m sure that I’ll find some local shows to go to as well.

The music I am trying to surround myself with is music that gives me room to breathe. I hope that this summer is full of new music, and that my personal growth in both music taste and personality is ever-changing and developing during my time as a student.


If you made it this far, you must be committed. I made a bonus playlist with some of my favorite songs in general and from this year! If you want to give it a listen, you can find it below. If you have anything you want to chat about, you can find me on Instagram here. Happy listening!


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