Zero to Sixty
(I wrote this a week ago and somehow forgot to ever hit send, oops!)
originally published aug. 15th, 2021
A genuine favorite musical experience, though distressing in the moment to both myself and anyone who has the displeasure of interacting with me while it’s ongoing, is hearing a song for the first time and not just liking it, not just loving it, but having it immediately hit me like a ton of actual physical bricks. I believe, at least as far I can remember, I’ve had exactly seven (7) experiences like this: what I call the Zero-to-Sixty list.
Generally these are pop songs, or at least songs with a heavy pop-adjacent quality and/or some sort of blindingly catchy hook.
To qualify, it has to be a song that:
1. I completely fall for on first listen. There are plenty of great, beloved songs that mean a lot to me that grew over time or took a listen or two to sink in, and no shade on those, but they don’t count for this. It's gotta be immediate.
1.a. (not a hard requirement but) Every example that feels right to me is, to the best of my memory, also the first song I heard from that particular artist. Somehow it feels different to fall for say a Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen or Gaslight Anthem song given I'm already primed to see it within the context of a discography I adore. Maybe an arbitrary distinction, but also this is a made-up concept in an email for most likely 1 person (🥳😎🤪) so.
2. It destroys my life for at least a week. I’m talking listening on loops, obsessing over a music video, finding alternate versions, bonus points if one were to look at things like TV or podcast consumption (or work done) in the week after and see a dip because all I’m doing is listening to this fucking song, bonus bonus points if at least one friend comments on my listening habits, concernéd.
3. It has to make it into the rotation. Again, no shade on plenty of wonderful one-off songs that soundtrack a specific period of time but fade away, but a Zero-to-Sixty song, in addition to having fast and intense initial acceleration, has to stay cruising for a good long while.
Some example honorable mentions that could theoretically come close but fail one or more of those tests:
Top Of The World - Kimbra (failed #2, I think it's just shy of counting, but a difference enough in degree to become a difference in kind)
Into You - Ariana Grande (failed #3, hasn't been in the rotation much after its time in the spotlight (still rips though))
So, the Zero-to-Sixty list, in reverse order of how much I feel like they fit the prompt/actively ruined my life:
7. SGL - Now, Now
This was on a Grimes playlist, which is a fun flavor of Zero-to-Sixty discovery method: song by a band you've never heard of that's buried in the middle of a list of mostly forgettable songs (though as a side note, this list was also I think the first turning point to me actually really liking Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift, in that it was included on this Grimes playlist of mostly other weird-or-weird-adjacent pop, and I think seeing it in that context removed a mental block I didn't realize I had towards thinking of it as a Taylor Swift Song™)
But that acoustic guitar riff!! That almost-whispery monotone!! The groove that is just undeniable, especially with how much (not to make it a bit) the melody is almost all eighth- and quarter-notes, chefs kiss baybee!!!! Of course this would wreck me!!!!
Interestingly, this isn't actually my favorite Now, Now song: that honor I think is Yours (off the same album as SGL, though this was a single almost a year before the album and I think before even the album announcement?) Not just because Yours rips, but it sounds exactly like a Carly Rae Jepsen song in a way that fucks me up lol. But Yours never tipped into true Zero-to-Sixty life-ruining obsession territory.
Anyway, listened to this song a lot!!!
6. good 4 u - Olivia Rodrigo
...But not as much as this one, the latest addition, and I guess technically contradicting what I said earlier about all of these being the first songs I'd heard from an artist since I'd definitely heard and (bizarrely) mostly written off Drivers License at this point. But this is the one that clicked, rocketed Olivia Rodrigo into the mental pantheon.
A bratty, danceable little pop-punk song?? That goes from like faux-Billie-Eilish verses into faux-Paramore choruses?? That features her doing the little laugh-thing on "good for you, it's like you never even met me"?? And her doing shades-of-Front-Bottoms belting on the chorus lines?? Literally what more can you ask for.
Also, a theme throughout this list, and my music taste in general, is being a monstrous slut for any variation of a I-V-vi-IV progression. That's what she uses in the chorus (the IV-I-V-vi version, D to A to E to F#m) and yes, it is the famed Four-Chord Song progression, but guess what it rips, and the number of times I've fallen for a song (Zero-to-Sixty or otherwise) and then realized later when trying to learn to play it, or even just thinking about it "Oh shit duh, it's IV-I-V-vi or vi-IV-I-V or I-V-vi-IV" is nuts.
To put on a dime-story music theorist hat, maybe coupled with a dose of unresearched pop psychology, is it not the perfect pop chord progression? In that hits all the big pop music touchpoints of the scale (the root/the minor/the fourth/the fifth), gives you interplay between major and minor and between root and not-root, and the journey it takes avoids simple ascending/descending in favor a more interesting back-and-forth kind of pattern, which has its own sort of internal repeating structure where both going from the I to the V and the vi to the IV are moves of 4 notes in the scale. And the fact that it's always moving gives it a sense of forward motion, which, coupled with the root only being 1/4 of the chords, means you're always in a position where either the progression doesn't fully resolve within the 4-chord phrase, or in the (rare I believe) case where you're doing V-vi-IV-I it's at least not starting on the root.
Just saying, if you want a little bit of everything but in a way that keeps you moving and keeps you striving, you gotta go I-V-vi-IV etc.
Anyway, genuine days of listening literally on repeat, in fact started doing that while writing this blurb and guess what! It rules!!!!!
5. Television Romance - Pale Waves
This I believe was a Youtube suggestion, spoiler because come on, am I not gonna click on a video in the sidebar with a band fronted by a cute goth girl? I am only human, after all.
Turns out, the song rips. The sparkly guitars and synths over top of the bass and drum groove immediately hooked me in, then the guitar riff completes the rhythmic picture in a fun and complementary sort of way, and then hearing Heather Baron-Gracie's voice which, especially at this point, was intriguingly raw and amateur, constantly kinda straining for the note in a way that totally fits the theme of the song, I mean that's the ballgame right there. Plus, I-V-vi-IV baybee!!!!
And on the theme point, haven't talked about theme or lyrical content much in the other two, but I'm! Such! A! Sucker! For! This! Shit!!!! "Late night watching television/how'd we get in this position" &c. You telling me this is a song about teens and/or 20-somethings feeling feelings but then feelings feelings about those feelings because those feelings don't conform to the narratives they're playing in their head and would expect to see on tv and the internet and the media?? How on earth could I ever relate to or love that, I wonder!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
But here we should also talk about how this is the first, though not the last, example of a Zero-to-Sixty where the music video played a huge part in the life-destroying approach, in fact to a point where, because I was watching the music video so much, my various Spotify stats were notably undercounting the impact Pale Waves was having on my listening patterns (and psyche.)
..........and look, was it almost entirely because the lead singer is a pretty goth girl with eyeshadow and black lipstick?
4. Alterlife - Rina Sawayama
I thought this song was called "Afterlife" for a genuine two months lol.
This one came through from I believe a Noisey profile of Rina I stumbled on back in 2017 because the headline seemed interesting, and going through the songs mentioned I found plenty of stuff I loved, and then. Holy shit.
Many threads from the above hold here (deeply groovable, vocal performance is wild and fun, the bass/drum/guitar riff arrangement of the intro is actually very similar to Television Romance) but there are two, I think, new things this adds into the rotation.
First, the production is legitimately insane. "What if we took what would be a fun, 90s-Max-Martin-esque bop, but made it sound like you're on ketamine?", I imagine the session going.
The distortion, the car noises and shattered glass sounds overlapping with marimbas(???), the massive gated reverb drums, the seven thousand synths each doing their own nuts thing that somehow all work together, the vocal harmonies snaking through everything almost menacingly and doubling up with the guitar riff like chorus of background crows commenting on the proceedings, the octave on the guitar solo, the synth sweeps used all over the place to get from one moment to another, it sounds like the inside of a computer in a gloriously chaotic and romantic sort of way, perfect for this song and the general project of this part of Rina's career where the cyberspace princess motif was a big driving force.
Allegedly this song's process wasn't actually that far off from my goof before, in that Rina talked with producer Clarence Clarity and he took a demo (or maybe even finished track? Not gonna google) that had more conventional production choices and then just blew it the fuck up lol.
But second, just as important......... THAT FUCKING KEY CHANGE. I mean I think it's genuinely the most gloriously transcendent key change in maybe any song I've ever heard I truly can't get over it. It just pulls you into the stratosphere, especially especially on first listen.
...... THEN SHE FUCKING DOES IT AGAIN. Rina is a menace and must be stopped.
3. Russian Roulette - Red Velvet
You know the whole "twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern" thing? I'm now at the point, roughly 7 groups* in, where the pattern is etched into stone tablets for "How to get Whipple into a kpop group" and the steps are as follows:
Have them release, or have me stumble on, a ludicrously catchy song, bonus points if there's a cool and aesthetically interesting music video.
Have that song destroy my life for a little bit, generally at least a day or two.
Piggy back off that song not necessarily into other songs, but into other miscellany about the group like interviews, performances, talk show appearances, instagram accounts, reality shows, etc.
Get deep enough into that to now have opinions about which members I like more or less and what their personalities and dynamics are like.
Get into all their other songs.
It's the one-two punch of "very catchy song to hook me music-wise" and "engaging extracurricular material to hook me broken-brain-wise" that we need.
Anyway, Russian Roulette is that Very Catchy Song for me and Red Velvet, a group that I actually remember some long-defunct tumblr I followed for years but can't place the name of would constantly post about and I thought "oh good for her." Shoe's on the other foot now je suppose.
Another comparably recent one, this was an early pandemic discovery, and like Alterlife, a huge chunk is production. The hyperactivity of the song, from the freakout synth stabs, to the chiptune synth leads, to the stutter-steppy synth basses, hmmm this song has a lot of synths huh, is so engaging, especially when you're uhhhhhhh stuck in your house because of a plague!!! The vocal arrangement and production is also gloriously nuts, with close harmonies stacked and compressed within an inch of their life, and featuring both actual vocal chops and vocal rhythms meant to emulate a vocal chop ("Heart b-b-beat".) It's just such a relentless, driving, as-sweet-and-sinister-as-mainlining-laced-pixie-stix-dust tune.
And like Television Romance, this was a big music video obsession. Yeah fine, in part because they're all very hot, but also similar to the production the sweet-but-sinister vibe of the video is such a fun and intriguing balance (though I would tbh rank this second in the power ranking of "Red Velvet Music Videos About Committing Murder".) This song and video are candy that'll rot your teeth and it knows it and is taking perverse glee in it, which I refuse to self-analyze why that to me sounds like a good thing and thing I want in my relationship to art and artists and other people!!
*the groups are, as of writing, Red Velvet, Twice, Itzy, (G)I-dle, BTS, f(x), and [spoiler], and songs are the aforementioned Russian Roulette, I Can't Stop Me, Wannabe, Senorita, Boy With Luv, When I'm Alone, and [spoiler], respectively.
2. Flesh Without Blood - Grimes
The motivator of this whole concept, the first time I genuinely noticed "Oh this is bad, I'm not only not listening to other music, I'm not doing like..... homework or theater work or things that are important because I'm listening to this too much."
Fall of 2k15, Stanford, CA, in the kitchen of Xanadu, running into a friend who asked "Oh what have you been up to this weekend" and couldn't think of a lie fast enough and so said "Mostly just listening to the new Grimes song" and she said "Oh, that's nice."
I feel like I lose music nerd cred for the fact I never got into (and to some degree, still haven't) Visions-era Grimes, and that this song, the poppy one, was the thing that got me interested in her. But I also feel like my whole persona is built on an equally unhealthy poptimist "I actually gain real music nerd cred by losing traditional music nerd cred" type deal, so I guess both a win/win and a lose/lose depending on how you look at it.
At this point I probably don't need much explanation, given the picture painted by the above examples, of why this song would burrow into my brain, but for the sake of completeness: the drive-ahead groove of SGL, the pop-punk vibes of good 4 u, the snaky almost amateurish vocal performance of Television Romance, the outré production choices over top of a fairly conventional composition of Alterlife, the sweet-plus-sinister vibe of Russian Roulette, it's the whole package baybee.
But, to a degree unmatched by even Television Romance, this is a music video song for me, or at least was in those heady days of 2k15. Because Grimes is an actual psychopath and made such a wonderfully stupid and visually engaging music video that I literally could not stop watching because every moment has some wild image or performance tic that is just not remotely related to anything about how real humans are and that rules.
Power rankings of the Grimes characters (who have real character names because again, psychopath, but I refuse to look them up):
Snow Crash Harley Quinn
The Dark Tower Tony Montana in the Green Hat
The Dark Tower Tony Montana in the Blue Hat
Prop Contact Lenses Murder Angel
Marie Antoinette in Sunglasses
(Life In The Vivid Dream half is boring though so I always skip that.)
1. As If It’s Your Last - Blackpink
Look. It's my most listened-to song on Spotify of all time, and I only heard it for the first time in April of 2019 so that's a lot in a little. It's the one song which I can sing along to in its entirety despite it being in a language I notably don't speak. It's a song that to this day if it comes on a playlist I will almost always skip back and listen to it at least twice because I get to the end of the first listen and think "Hmmmmm okay but how about instead of literally any other music, what if we listen to this one again?" It's the song that singlehandedly got me not just into Blackpink, an objectively pretty-good-but-also-not-the-best group but one for whom I saw their documentary 4 times in 3 months, making it my top watched movie ever on letterboxd, and for whom I bought a ticket to see their recent in-theaters movie without actually knowing what it was going to be other than "presumably about and featuring Blackpink!" and it turned out to be mostly just a re-run and repackaging of a livestream concert they did earlier this year that yes of course I paid $30 for because I had to get the deluxe version which was no different than the regular version other than I got roughly five (5) extra minutes of behind the scenes content spaced across about seven (7) different unlisted videos, and for whom I do have a set of photocards framed on my wall beside me as I write this, and for whom I'm apparently in the top 5% of Spotify listeners globally which on the one hand absolutely feels like amateur hour but also lol blinks are fucking maniacs so grading on a curve not bad, but also it is the song that got me into kpop in general.
But anyway. This song fucking rips. It is, I think, for me, just The Most Fun Song. I cannot not smile when it comes on, it is joy distilled into three minutes and thirty six seconds. The way the intro builds!!!!! The synths (ex: the synth brass in the post-chorus)!!! Taking tropical house and hilariously turning it into a sugary-sweet euro dance song!!!! Having a 2-for-1 exchange rate crush on Jennie!!!!!! The synths, again (ex: the synth that's following along the chorus vocal line)!!!!! Lisa's whole deal!!!!!!!! Rosé's little hair flip in the bridge!!!!! The build into the chorus and then everything dropping out, then Jennie/Rosé saying "Baby", then hearing the drum hit, and then it's time to fucking gooooooo!!!!!!! The fact that Jennie is standing in front of a "Jennie's Ice Cream" truck, which isn't quite "Jeni's Ice Cream" but close enough to be cool!!!!! The synths, once more (ex: the synth lead line in the post-chorus over top of the already-mentioned synth brass)!!!!!!!! The way Jisoo looks at the little half of a broken heart that one time!!!!!!!! Lisa doing fucking Migos flow in the 2nd verse lolololol!!!!!!!! The synths!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And finally, of course: the chorus. And the way it is just so perfectly constructed for striving. It sounds like screaming while happy/sad/scared/in love and always moving forward and longing for that emotional thing that will help resolve you but you know is just out of reach, or is within reach but you're not sure if you're ready to go for it. It sounds like the last call, dancing at the end of the night knowing how much you want to text or call someone and how much you're scared of doing it, especially in that little over-the-top-of-the-octave run at the tail end of the chorus ("사랑인 것처럼" (and especially-especially when Rosé is the one singing it.))
And you know why?
Mother! fucking! skeleton! key! bay! bee!!! I-V-vi-IV for life!!!!!!!!