The Side Character
Playlists: Side Character, Side Character: Revisited
Everything feels stagnant. The fallen leaves have become one with the ground, leaving naked, wilted branches in the open, cold air of the winter season. The skies have been the same shade of white for the past few months, and you wonder if the world has stopped revolving or if you’re the only one that remains frozen in time, left behind by everyone around you. While you repeat every single day in monotony, waking up at ungodly hours only to fall back to sleep during sunrise, everyone else seemed to grow and move forward, achieving greater and greater heights with each passing day.
Social media has a special way of turning you into a main character—after all, a majority of its features optimize you to post your best moments, leaving everything else under wraps. There was a period in my life when I was stranded in my room in a city that I was then unfamiliar with, while all those around me went home or travelled around the world. Scrolling through post after post of reunions, vacations, internship announcements, and academic or career-related achievements made me feel a certain type of anger that I have never felt before. Opening Instagram made me want to hurl my phone across the room, and I just wanted to sink deeper into my covers, certain that the world has left me. I was bitter, distressed, and in desperate denial upon the realization that I was simply a bystander, watching on the sidelines while everyone else lived out their lives. I felt like a placeholder, taking up undeserved space that was meant for someone else.
It was during this time that I created Side Character, a playlist that reflected the bottomless loneliness and rancorous resentment I felt. It perfectly encapsulated the gaping void that stagnancy left me with, eternally widening its surface no matter how hard I tried to fill it up. Soccer Mommy’s nostalgic homage to the 2000s, circle the drain, lyrically introduces the exhausting nature of a downward spiral. Though Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Bosses Hang, Pt. I, and Storm serve as a spacey interlude that illustrates the image of a worn-out traveller going through an infinite trek into nothingness, the uncanny dissonance between happiness and anger exuded in Nouns’ dogs and Weatherday’s My Sputnik Sweetheart adds an apoplectic dimension to the type of indescribable exhaustion I went through within the discomforts of my room.
A year had passed since then. I’ve lived for two decades, I’m a year closer to graduating from university, and I finally got the chance to go home after being stuck in Toronto—a city that has grown on me. Even though I was able to experience reunions with old friends, a well-deserved vacation after a tumultuous semester, potential job prospects, and a satisfactory academic performance—life events that main characters go through—I still felt like I was on the sidelines, watching everyone around me change and blossom into a flora of potential and opportunities. However, the bitterness that I felt was no longer there; I’ve grown extremely comfortable with the idea of being a passive observer in a world of active bodies. Although being actively involved and present is something that I continue to strive for, I find that embracing the slow stagnancy that comes with passivity is also an important feat in life. Thus, I revisited the playlist and curated another one, Side Character: Revisited, to convey my current satisfaction upon discovering the bliss that comes with fully accepting and embracing the role of the supporting cast.
Though some of the songs and artists in the previous iteration of Side Character continue to remain in my list of frequently streamed music, I must admit that I listen to them with a newfound, almost zen-like acceptance that puts me at peace. The opening songs in Side Character: Revisited pay homage to a genre that I’ve found comfort in since my teenage years, but with a more mature approach. Bands such as Modern Baseball and The Story So Far were artists I found solace in for the wrong reasons then; the anger, bitterness, and regrets they would sing about in isolated and desolate areas of America made me feel extremely lonely in a bustling, big city. However, the inclusion of some of my favorite emo artists in this playlist serves more as a mode of grounding my character. Sure, I have changed, but I can listen to these artists without having to empathize with their sad, coming of age narratives about toxic boundaries and pushing people away. I can duly reflect and look back at my former self, deeply characterized in the lines that Modern Baseball’s Brendan Lukens sings: I scream get lost, I hate everything / I can’t say how I got here / Still I feel the need to change me from the inside.
The playlist also attempts to reconnect me with my cultural roots with the inclusion of Japanese artists such as Kinokoteikoku and Yuragi. The haunting, somber, yet optimistic piano introduction to “桜が咲く前に,” followed by Chiaki Satō’s soft voice that illustrates the pain lurking behind beautiful memories of the past makes me envision the very cherry blossoms that she sings about drifting into the winds to welcome the summer sun. Transience and change may seem intimidating, but as Satō says, one has to get up and walk again to start anew, for there will always be another season where the flowers will bloom again.
A large contrast that can easily be noted when comparing both playlists is the softer nature of Side Character: Revisited. While the side character of last year was filled with a bottomless anger directed towards herself and everyone around her, this year’s supporting cast silently watches everyone around her with an indescribable tranquiltiy, a small, benign grin on her face upon watching those around her live and breathe the fruits that life has to offer. This floating, euphoric feeling is perfectly captured in the inclusion of bands such as Mazzy Star, Alison’s Halo, and Via Luna—all three artists that uniquely encapsulate that solitary, spacey bliss that one would feel in the presence of liminal spaces such as an empty parking lot or a street with all shops closed. It’s eerie, yes, but there is a weird sense of relief in the sudden spaciousness of what otherwise would have been a bustling area.
In my personal journey, I’ve let go of a lot of things. There were many people that came and went, memories that I used to look back on with contempt, and places that I wasn’t able to visit out of a lingering pain that continued to ground me in the past. This was embodied in the music I listened to then, and my growth has been immaculately documented in the evolution of the music I keep either in the background or on the forefront in my daily life. Music is one of the few things that I know everyone can relate to for the simple fact that everyone listens to it regardless of their tastes and preferences. What I want to close this message off with, however, is to view music as a retrospective tool. Even if I’ve tried to convince readers that it’s okay to be a passive onlooker, music should try to be treated as a bigger part of your life than it usually is (I’m looking at people who leave their Spotify running in the background for the sake of streams rather than actually listening to the music playing). Perhaps, if you compared playlists you’ve made last year with those that you’ve recently created, you can find patterns and tidbits about yourself that you would have never discovered otherwise.