Isabel Mathy, Opinion Columnist

It’s August 2020, and I’m mindlessly scrolling through TikTok for what must be an hour straight and “Money Trees” by Kendrick Lamar keeps popping up on my feed. The videos are mostly of white women dancing to the song. I love the irony of rich white influencers dancing to “Money Trees,” a song about wealth. “Money Trees” talks about the struggle to gain wealth and, following the album’s arc, how violence and hardship paved the path for Lamar and others in Compton. In the song, seeking wealth is running drugs and prostitution; it’s a brutal job that’s killing people. For TikTok, it was a ten second trendy song that people danced to — oh, the irony of the D’Amelio sisters’ videos. 

TikTok has plagued music in this way and is a stark example of our overall music listening pattern. A lot of our music consumption comes as background noise to homework or social media. Slowing down and taking time to process the music is key to our overall understanding of the world. It is a form of art with many components and processes mixing to create the final product of a song. Delving into the meaning of these albums and songs should be similar to reading or observing a painting. One should give their mental capacity to the music by sitting down and listening to an album in its entirety. 

My favorite album of the year, “Ants from Up There” by Black Country, New Road (this is quite the achievement; the band should be very proud of my praise), forced me to do that upon its release. I listened to this album multiple times in a row; I was hooked by the music, and with each listen, I turned a page of the story. There’s this feeling of never-ending depression; the album is hopeless at first. Then, the ants (I’m not kidding — the songwriter claimed the central motif is ants) find their way back home; they return to the place where the devastation first occurred, finally giving up and choosing to slowly die with the others that died before them. However, the instruments at times are really cheerful with these large crescendos and an upbeat rhythm, making the album intentionally confusing. This album is beautiful in its pain. 

Now, this isn’t just a love letter to Black Country, New Road (please respond to my direct messages though); it’s an example of the stories that music creates. We have been conditioned to treat music as a background piece, not as the central work that it is. Pay attention to the music you listen to: It was written to be heard in an album as a holistic story. Listening to music doesn’t mean hitting the play button more or racking up your Spotify Wrapped hours; it means having dedicated time and brainpower to digest, process and draw out meaning from the songs you listen to. Oh, and also: go listen to “Ants from Up There.”