These songs haven’t so much been the soundtrack of my 2017 as they have been the sound of what I hoped I could achieve.
When I look back on 2017, I’ll remember the music.
I used to have music on all the time. Back before iPods, I carried my Discman around with me everywhere, and a huge padded sleeve full of my 64 favorite CDs, so I would never be without background music on the bus or between classes or while doing my homework. My best friend was the same, except maybe more so. Our whole friendship revolved around music, around elaborate mix CDs and carefully choreographed dances and every concert we could possibly afford. Standing in line outside a venue with her for hours, waiting to be the first through the doors, was a near-spiritual test of faith, rewarded by the miracle of being close enough to brush the hem of the lead singer’s shirt with our fingertips when she stage-dived, or even better, going home with a sacred relic – a guitar pick or a scrawled set list.
No one loves music as much when they’re 30 as they did when they were 13. I know this isn’t unusual. Still, my adoration for singing along has waned in recent years. My friend who I went to so many years of concerts with, the girl who pulled me out of my first mosh pit when it was clear I was in over my head, died unexpectedly at the age of 25. For a while my love for music became a memento, something beautiful but painful to look at, so I put it away in the same box where I keep the birthday card she gave me when I turned 16. I didn’t stop listening to music altogether, but it stopped being so vital to me. I didn’t embrace new music in the same way for a long time. I was pretty sure I would never have another new favorite song.
But something happened this year. My daughter turned 2, and is evolving from a small squishy ball of primal physical needs into a person – a person who, as it turns out, loves music. She loves nursery rhymes and Disney tunes, but she’s especially fond of peppy, poppy dance music. She jumps up and down, sways her whole body, spins in endless dizzying circles to Gloria Estefan and Destiny’s Child, and I think she’s going to be like me, someone for whom the still, small voice of her truest self sounds like a too-loud bass line ringing in her ears.
My daughter and I listen to pop and hip-hop and folk and blues, to music from my youth and from this year and from long before I was born, but mostly we listen to music by women. I reflexively skip songs with male vocalists these days. Maybe that’s not fair, but men’s voices dominate so much of the cultural landscape; when I’m trying to make space for myself, I want to hear women and non-binary people singing, rapping, whispering, shouting, crooning, pleading, telling their stories.
When the cacophony of 2017 has largely faded into memory, sometime long in the future when the trauma is healing, I believe we’ll still hear the echoes of women’s voices. This has been a hell of a year. A year when women’s narratives have been twisted, co-opted, and silenced, but also a year when the number of voices fighting to be heard has reached a level that cannot be ignored. For me, it’s been a year of learning to listen better, to myself and to the women, non-binary, trans, and otherwise gender-transgressing people in my life.
It has also been the year of my daughter learning to speak. She asks for what she wants and says “No!” to what she doesn’t. My partner and I praise her for both, hoping desperately to teach her that her voice is always wanted, always important, always welcome. She loves to sing. She can’t carry a tune yet, but she yells the words to her favorite songs: “Happy Birthday,” “Jingle Bells,” “Almost There” from The Princess and the Frog, and of course “Boogie Feet” by Kesha.
As she develops her own voice, we listen to women who are raising theirs. In a year of national reckoning with how much our culture still hates and demeans women, my daughter and I were dancing in our kitchen to songs by women proclaiming their love for themselves and each other.
By a huge margin, the album we’ve listened to most this year is Kesha’s Rainbow. Powered by the most intimate battles and the most universal themes, Kesha’s comeback after a long involuntary hiatus vaulted her into my personal musical pantheon. I’ve cried in the car to “Praying” and “Rainbow” a lot this year, and I’ve also danced a lot to “Boogie Feet” and “Learn to Let Go” – celebrations not of nihilistic excess, but of hard-won joy. Rainbow makes me hope that something better awaits on the other side of all this exhausting pain.
At the Kesha concert in October, the audience sang along so loud I sometimes couldn’t hear the speakers, so loud I could still hear it the next day. There was frantic dancing and a lot of public weeping and so much glitter the sidewalk was covered in it for a block in every direction. It was catharsis, it was healing, it was everything I needed it to be. It felt like going back to church after years of questioning my faith.
Though she didn’t release a new album this year, Lizzo’s 2017 singles were also life savers. “Water Me,” like so much of Lizzo’s incredible catalogue, is an ode to self-love, self-care, self-nourishment: “I don’t get dehydrated, I moisturize it daily, I am my inspiration.” “Truth Hurts” is about knowing you’re too valuable to stay in a relationship that isn’t giving you what you need.
These songs haven’t so much been the soundtrack of my 2017 as they have been the sound of what I hoped I could achieve. Lizzo reminds her listeners to believe in their own worthiness, which has, in some ways, been the underlying question driving public discourse this whole hellish year. What is a woman’s health, her safety, her privacy, her happiness worth? How much of those things are we willing to sacrifice in the name of politics? Of art? Of men’s careers?
I want my daughter to know that she can and should put herself first, that she has to love herself enough to fight for her own needs in a world that won’t do it for her. I thought of her at the Lizzo concert last month, packed shoulder-to-shoulder with a crowd of people, wearing a crop top in public for the first time in at least 15 years. I put my hands in the air when Lizzo told me to, and I sang “I’m in love with myself” and halfway believed it.
This is something that women know, that queer people know, that marginalized people of every variety know: All joy is hard-won. All self-love is radical. This year it’s been hard to keep our heads above water, but there are little ways of fighting back embedded in each day. Singing, dancing, listening to the voices of marginalized people raised not in fear or pain but in thriving, vibrant creation, and hoping for a better future for our children. These were the things that kept me going in 2017, and that make it possible for me to dream – just for a little while – that 2018 will be better.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).