Welcome to For Your Consideration, a new series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.
A strange thing happened driving home from Connecticut with my girlfriend this summer. Listening to St. Vincent on shuffle, “Smoking Section,” the final track on her pretty much perfect album Masseduction, started playing. We were both quiet. She said it first: Why do I feel like I’ve never heard this song before?
It was, frankly, impossible, and yet she had snatched the words right out of my own brain. But still… impossible. We both had listened to this album over and over — together and individually. We went to the Masseduction tour, sat four rows back as Annie Clark absolutely melted us with her queer rockstar power. There is no way we had never heard this song. But here we were, listening to it as if it were the very first time, the low growl of St. Vincent’s vocals in the beginning new and surprising, the slow drum vibrating. This is not a forgettable song, and yet somehow, we had both forgotten it, together, a shared memory lapse that unnerved me.
Maybe it’s one of those situations where you hear music differently because of the place you’re in in your life, she suggested. Maybe we weren’t literally hearing it for the first time — which was, again, impossible — but just hearing it anew.
The song ended, and I immediate played it again. And again. Without really thinking about it, I hit the repeat button twice to set it to Repeat One. I listened to it on repeat for at least four days.
The best way to listen to a song is to listen to it over and over and over again on a very long, incessant loop. Listening to “Smoking Section” in this way was nothing new; it merely interrupted the loop that came before it: Chvrches’ “Miracle,” which I listened to when visiting the Heavenly Bodies exhibit at the Met and then kept listening to for days on end, falling asleep to it, looped, at night. Of course, I don’t only listen to music this way. There’s room for more than one song at a time in my life. But looped listening is intensely satisfying, a way to let a song really sink into your bones and become marrow.
On my parents’ clunky stereo system in the first house I lived in, I loved to listen to three songs on repeat from a soundtrack for a movie I hadn’t even seen yet. I must have been seven years old, cranking the volume as high as I could get away with as I scream-sang along to three covers from the (extremely underrated) My Best Friend’s Wedding soundtrack: “I Say a Little Prayer (For You)” by Diana King, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” by Ani DiFranco, and “Tell Him” by The Exciters.
“Tell Him” was featured on the Ally McBeal official soundtrack, too; I can still remember it was track number nine, because that’s where I’d hurriedly skip to and then hit repeat.
There isn’t an exact playcount for when this happens. Sometimes it’s at listen #7, sometimes listen #25. But at a certain point, the song merges with me. It never becomes white noise exactly. It’s still itself, still a song. The ceaselessness doesn’t feel like monotony. It’s more like it becomes as constant and latent as my internal monologue.
I can find new things to focus on within the song, strip it all the way down to its most basic parts, zero in on the way that one chord sounds or the breath between lyrics I hadn’t noticed before. Or I can just let it play and not really think about it too hard, just let it score the world around me. Looped but never unchanging. It’s like a weighted blanket, enveloping and comforting.
Select songs I’ve looped at various points in life:
- 1999: “Totally Hot” by Olivia Newton-John (this was a vinyl, so I had to lift and move the needle every time to loop it manually)
- 2001: “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett (…from the Shrek soundtrack)
- 2003: “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence
- 2004: “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
- 2008: “Defying Gravity” from Wicked
- 2008: “Seasons of Love” from Rent
- 2010, 2014, 2016: “Not Ready To Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks
Select songs I’ve looped in the past month:
- “Miracle” by Chvrches
- “Smoking Section” by St. Vincent
- “Mamma Mia” by Lily James
- “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper
- “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
- “Smoking Section – piano version” by St. Vincent
- “Hang On Me – piano version” by St. Vincent
- “Young Lover – piano version” by St. Vincent
(I basically can’t fall asleep these days unless Annie Clark is haunting me with her sexy-scary soprano.)
What song do you think you’ve listened to the most times in your life? For me, I think it’s “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” as sung by Olivia Newton-John in Grease. Either that or the hymn we sang at the end of every church service growing up. But that’s one that repeated even if I didn’t want it to.
Standing on a street I’d never been on in Astoria, preoccupied by social anxiety and also by the way the sunset threw a pink haze over everything, I didn’t notice I’d been listening to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” repeatedly for at least 20 minutes. Robyn is the kind of artist who loops almost seamlessly. A lot of pop music does. But her brand of emotions-laced dancefloor music is particularly soothing in repetition, an aural tessellation of sad disco.
Repetition is underrated. Listen, repeat, listen, repeat. It’s comforting because it’s the same. It’s comforting because the end isn’t really the end — the beginning’s coming again. And it can still come back anew, somehow sound like something you’ve never heard before. Even though that’s impossible.