Music That Defined My Decade


Everyone agrees that music holds strong emotional ties in our minds. We associate songs with moments, for better or worse. For example: You’re going about your day, adulty like you are, and suddenly, a song from the mid-2000s comes on the radio or Pandora or Spotify or whatever. Almost instantly, you’re transported back to being 13. You can almost smell the cucumber melon lotion from Bath and Body Works, taste the A&W Root Beer Lipsmackers that you plastered on your lips that morning. In the distance, you hear Ashleigh gossiping about how Justin likes Cassie and not her. You remember the time you cried into your PillowPet because the drama was just too much. All because “Still Into You” by Paramore blasted through your current-self ears.

It comes on strong. We all have deep connections to music. Which is why every year, Spotify gives us a present – the eponymous “Unwrapped.” They are summaries of what artists we listened to during the year, how many collective hours we spent on their site, what our unskippables were. All that jazz. It’s a great marketing ploy. And since it’s 2019, they threw in another extra special surprise – our top music of the decade. 

I know. You just got chills. I wanted to do a blog post again about my year in music (like I did last year,) We’ll get to that soon, but since Spotify threw in an extra treat, I first wanted to review my DECADE in music. Because how cool is that? Especially since Spotify did all my research for me. (Okay, I did have to re-download iTunes to see what I was into before 2011, which was when I started using Spotify regularly.)

My Decade in Music: The Somewhat-Chronological Summary of the Songs that Shaped My Teenage Years (And Then Some,) by Audrey Wierenga

We’ll start with a very brief summary of my last decade, in case you were curious and/or don’t know me very well. In 2009, I was 13, so I came of age in the 2010s. In those years, I went to high school, went through the good part of puberty where you actually look like a normal human being, went to college, graduated college, and moved out of my parent’s house. I’ve had six jobs over the course of this decade – four part-time, and two full-time. I’ve also had odd jobs (dressing up as Minnie Mouse for kids’ birthday parties was a highlight, but I also did cold-calls for my high school for about, four hours. And now I freelance. So there.) In the 2010s, I’ve dated three and a half people (I count “half” because one of them was not fully committed but it ended up lasting long enough for me to consider it basically dating.) I had countless crushes in the 2010s (high school, helloooo.)

So, that’s all pretty subjective. Pretty bland. So let’s make it spicy by adding music, and how it influenced those formative years.

2009-2010: The Year(s) of Being Awkward

In 2010, I was in eighth grade. About a year prior to that, I started listening to music other than what was in movie soundtracks (and a smattering of songs by Skillet and Relient K.) Specifically, Broadway musicals. More specifically, The Phantom of the Opera. The photo below is actually a picture of me at a restaurant after I saw it live for the first time. It blew my tiny freaking mind. I have a lot to thank that (and other musicals) for. During those years of my life, I found a lot of solace in Broadway tunes, from other Andrew Lloyd Webber shows like Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Jesus Christ Superstar. I had other faves, like the old-school Rodgers and Hammerstein, 1776, and of course, Les Miserables. All of these sparked my inspiration to want to sing. I never thought I had been an exceptional singer – I sang in sixth grade choir and after that I would just sing in the car when my parents were getting groceries. I didn’t have the guts to get voice lessons until high school. But I have musicals to thank for beginning the deep love for theatre, specifically of the musical variety.

Song of the Year: “Overture” from The Phantom of the Opera. Because obviously. 
Honorable Mentions: “Forgiven” by Skillet, “I Only Want to Say” from Jesus Christ Superstar, “Is Anybody There?” from 1776

Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 4.24.53 PM
For reference, what I looked like in 2010. 

2011: The Year of Clinging to the Past
In early high school, I was still pretty shy and awkward, although I was starting to emerge from my mousy little shell. (In 10th grade, I discovered mascara. Wow.) Again, I turned to music to help me parse out my feelings. It was still mostly Broadway hits freshman year (I would walk through the halls humming “Tonight, Tonight” from West Side Story in my head because in ninth grade, “the minutes seem like hours.” For real for real.) I wasn’t ready to branch out yet. I felt safe in my bubble of musical theatre, classical music, and soundtracks. But I still discovered some quality bops – specifically the soundtrack to Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom.

Song of the Year: “Tonight” from West Side Story
Honorable Mentions: “Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies, “I Don’t Need Anything but You” from Annie (the first musical I was ever in!)

2012: The Year of Becoming Cool (?)
As a sophomore, two things happened – 1) I developed a very large and unshakable crush, and 2) I discovered folk music. Specifically, I listened to Once, which is a musical inspired by Irish folk and street busking music. And since I didn’t pay for Spotify at that point (lol I was 15) the app would come up with a handy radio station – which got me in a deep-dive into The Civil Wars. Specifically their album “Barton Hollow.” And small, shy girl got hooked. An even better way to express your emotions – through angsty, breathy vocals and banjos! (Did I mention I started listening to Mumford and Sons at this point as well?) My wardrobe changed (lots of scarves, skinny jeans, and knee-high boots) to show off my new, ~folksier~ side. And now I had John Paul White and Joy Williams to help me work out complicated teen emotions.  I also started driving in 2012, so obviously I needed some good car music. I used to use Pandora (ha,) which introduced me to American Idol winner David Cook. So angsty folk girl became angsty rock girl when she was in the car. All of these artists and more helped me through many a cry sesh in high school.

Song of the Year: “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars
Honorable Mentions: “Paper Heart” by David Cook, “Out Alive” by Kris Allen, “Beautiful” by Ben Rector, “Falling Slowly” from Once the Musical, “Awake” by Josh Groban, “End of May” by Michael Buble, “Song of the Human Heart” by Ramin Karimloo

2013-2014: The Year of So Much Changing PleaseSlowDownOkay
Ah yes, older, more mature Audrey. This Audrey knew that you needed to be ~edgy~ in order to survive in this crazy world, a world of confusing boys and choosing a college and just ugh. Drama. So one day, Audrey bought an album at Target. It was an album by The Head and the Heart called “Let’s Be Still.” And it was played on repeat in her ’97 Olds Intrigue. She saw them in concert in 2014 (the opener, Basia Bulat, also became one of her favorites.) Despite the difficulty of growing up and gaining more independence, this music helped me stay grounded in who I wanted to be. It inspired me and helped me work through how I felt (at this point, I’d been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder which was also coupled with depression.) I cried a lot in high school (for numerous reasons, but generally because being an awkward, nerdy, quiet teenager is not super easy in a school full of equally-insecure but way-cooler peers) but I also grew a lot, and found out a lot about myself – I liked theatre. I loved theatre. And I loved writing and singing and being creative.
And then, I went to college.

Song of the Year: “Waking Up” by OneRepublic
Honorable Mentions: “I Need to Know” by Kris Allen, “Sleeping” from Once the Musical, “Go On” by Basia Bulat, “Josh McBride” by The Head and the Heart, “Take Me As I Am” by David Cook, “Love Like Jesus” by the Pawnshop Kings, “Dream” by Imagine Dragons

2015-2016: The Year(s) of Trying My Best
Oof, where to begin. You know how college can be kind of a Litmus test for your personality? Well, it was for mine. 2015 was the beginning of my college career, and at that point, I was “seeing” someone who was very hot and cold. So obviously that was infuriating, and uncharted waters for our young heroine. On top of that, the first year of college was a little bit lonely for me, and stressful on top of that. (Don’t get me wrong, it was super fun.) So how did 18-year-old Audrey cope? That’s right, by listening to HARD ROCK. It was in these years that I discovered Anberlin, Fall Out Boy, and Red (due in part to that wishy-washy fellow I discussed earlier. But mostly due to me having FEELINGS.) I still listened to a lot of folk, however. During my freshman year, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which features some music by Rogue Valley. They became one of my favorite bands (and were especially fun to listen to on a field trip to the East Coast.) With a more refined palate (is Fall Out Boy refined?) I had more tools in my Angst Belt ™ so I could cry more thoroughly and brood more effectively. Because hey, your late teens are a very broody time. I also discovered Hozier, which is a whole other subset of angst that I glommed onto like one of those sucker fish on a shark.

Song of the Year: Bay of Pigs – Rogue Valley
Honorable Mentions: “Novocaine” by Fall Out Boy, “Impossible” by Anberlin, “Of These Chains” by Red, “One Day” by Kodaline, “Paris or Amsterdam” by Basia Bulat, “Organs” by Of Monsters and Men, “The Precipice” by The Classic Crime, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier

2017-2018: The Year(s) of Not Measuring Up 
Don’t worry, smol Audrey. Your early 20s are nominally better. I mean, they’re still dramatic. Because you finally dumped that sap you were confused about and had some ~choice words~ when he tried to contact you again (sorry to that man. But actually not sorry at all, tbh.) So you decided to start ~dating.~ And you received ~mixed results.~ That being said, I learned a lot in those years, even though there were some very difficult moments. In order to get through those moments, I had to find some, um, head-bangers to process my feelings. And it worked. Because in 2017, I discovered The Dear Hunter, which is now my all-time favorite band. I can’t describe how much their music helped me, how much joy it gave me and still gives me. It made me yearn to tell stories. It still makes me want that of myself. I also discovered Panic! At the Disco, which is one of my top artists of the decade. I delved hard and fast into this very specific kind of angst – not the angst of forgetting someone, but the angst of being just plain angry at them. I dated someone in fall of 2017 and another in the summer of 2018, and then another in late fall of 2018, the most people I’d ever dated like, ever. So obviously there were emotions (those time-old emotions of falling in love, which no one tells you is NEVER cut and dry, and then the really difficult emotions of falling out of it.) And there was crying. But in these years, there was a lot of picking myself up, because I was the only one I could rely on.

Song of the Year: In Cauda Venenum – The Deer Hunter
Honorable Mentions: “Believer” by Imagine Dragons, “Golden Days” by Panic! At the Disco, “Hymn for Her” by Anchor and Braille, “Fool” by Fitz and the Tantrums, “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T” by Fall Out Boy, “Hope I Die” by John Paul White, “I Appear Missing” by Queens of the Stone Age, “Colour Me In” by Damien Rice

2019: The Year of Starting Over 
We’ll get into this in more detail later, but: Wow. 2019 has been a whirlwind year. My first full year of being a full-fledged adult (I think?) The first time in a long time I’ve felt fully like my true self. A year of difficulty and cutting ties and new beginnings. So obviously, I’ve needed some new jams. A lot of my fave artists came out with new albums this year, so that gave me an excuse to lean into them again. I also gathered some “one hit wonders” – which for me are bands of which I only listen to one song. I’ll get into the “why these songs?” in a later post. But let’s just say 2019 was a year of ~new things.~

Song of the Year: Movement – Hozier
Honorable Mentions: “Kin” by Penny and Sparrow, “Soothsayer” by Of Monsters and Men, “You Go Down Smooth” by Lake Street Dive, “Roaring 20s” by Panic! At the Disco, “Dying in LA” by Panic! At the Disco, “No Plan” by Hozier, “Drive it Like You Stole It” from Sing Street

I just happened to compile most of these songs into a playlist commemorating the decade! They also include some songs that were popular on the airwaves in the last decade that I took a shine to. So sit back and enjoy this (very extensive) playlist that summarizes Audrey’s 2010s.

And now I’m curious – what songs defined your decade? What stories do these songs tell for you? 

I think I turned out pretty okay at the end of the decade.

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