Remember Garden State? It's actually a pretty problematic movie - Natalie Portman's character is not the first to be described as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she's still the quintessential example of the harmlessly quirky sprite of a woman who teaches a mopey white hipster dude how to live and love again. Still, I don't know anyone close to my age who wasn't affected by Garden State in some way. I saw the movie with my first ever boyfriend, a month before I was moving away for university across the country. One of us cried in the car afterwards. After all, whether we were mopey white hipster dudes or not, we were all exploring our own infinite abysses - 17-year-olds arguably more so than others.
And the soundtrack! Garden State introduced an entire generation to The Shins. I haven't actually heard that much about The Shins lately, but I just Googled them and I guess they're still recording and touring, so that's cool. But anyway, the soundtrack! Pretty much every song on it is amazing, and perfectly encapsulates the themes of the movie (which are basically: home is important; don't get addicted to prescription mood-enhancing drugs; love is nice). This particular anthem to living life to the fullest and not being afraid to make mistakes was constantly playing in my first-year residence hall, which made me think of the movie, which made me think of my then-boyfriend, with whom I was attempting an ultimately unsuccessful long-distance relationship at the time. There was, indeed, beauty in the breakdown.
2. Damien Rice, "The Blower's Daughter"
But not so much beauty that I actually appreciated it at the time. If Garden State takes as its central theme that love is nice, then Closer makes a compelling argument that love is a horrifying exercise in futility that will rip your heart out of your chest, mail it to London, and give it a fake name, and even though you know that before you start, you start dating that guy who lives with a girl called Ruth anyway, because you're an idiot.
I saw Closer for the first time with my parents, which was uncomfortable. I also saw it several dozens of times after my ultimately unsuccessful long-distance relationship ended, obviously seeing myself in the Natalie Portman character (her again!). Not in the sense that I'm a stripper who wears a blue wig, just in the sense of being really, really hurt and fucked up, or so I imagined. I spent a lot of days on my dorm room bed in the dark listening to this song. Some days I ate nothing but one carrot muffin from Tim Hortons; some days I ate three full meals as well as an entire bag of nacho Doritos. It was a weird time.
3. Ani DiFranco, "Out of Habit"
It's probably pretty much impossible to talk about the self-actualization of a young woman through music without at least one Ani song, so I chose the one where she says "cunt."
I started listening to Ani DiFranco when I was about 13 because my dad had the album "Dilate" and my friend Sebastian, who I had a crush on, who it turns out was gay, recommended her to me. "Dilate" is an album about a bad breakup, which is great if you've ever been through one; at the time I had not, so it didn't really impress upon me until later. I rediscovered Ani at 15 (I still hadn't been through a breakup, but the beauty of Ani DiFranco is that if you're just old enough you have no choice but to relate to her songs) and promptly plowed through all her albums. When I first heard this one, I remember being really delighted at the line about her cunt. In high school I shaved my head, covered all of my binders with gay pride stickers, and owned every single Ani DiFranco album. It didn't occur to me until very recently that everyone thought I was a lesbian, and that might have something to do with why none of the boys I liked ever liked me back. I still listen to Ani's 1990s stuff a lot and I think any girl who hasn't by age 16 or so is in for a rough coming-of-age.
4. Justin Timberlake, "Like I Love You"
"Here, baby, put on my jacket. And then..." And then what?!