Are you aware of your cheeks? I’m not asking if you have cheeks. I’m not asking if you know you have cheeks. What I’m wondering is: are you consciously aware that you have cheeks? Does that factor into how you speak? Dress? Behave? For most of us, I’d guess no. Which is funny, because cheeks are one of those face parts we notice the fastest. Little things tend to add up, don’t they? Yet we tend to take them for granted. Where is our joy in the little things?
Growing up as a homeschooler, my choices in music were somewhat limited. Our family started off pretty conservative, so I missed out on a lot of the early 2000s music scene. No Brittany Spears or Avril Lavigne for me: I was listening to classical music and Casting Crowns. The occasional Beatles song slipped through from my dad every so often, but overall my selection was pretty binary. Then Owl City came along. There’s something about Adam Young’s infectious enthusiasm that finds its’ way into all of his songs. Maybe it was that, maybe since he shares a common faith, but his music found its’ way into my home and into my heart. I have a great love for Adam’s youthful, bright take on life. Songs like Metropolis and Shooting Star hold great memories for me, as songs that helped me to connect with people, and to myself.
Fast forward to 2014: I’ve just gotten into the KPOP fandom, and I stumble across Akdong Musician. They’re the cherry in the fruit salad of KPOP For one thing, they’re a brother-sister duo, a concept you don’t see much in Korean music. Secondly, they were homeschooled too! Their parents were missionaries to Mongolia, so they pretty much had to be home-educated. Their earthy style and their chill vibes really resonated with me, and their backstory gave me common ground. It’s as if someone took the charm of Owl City and fed it a healthy serving of kimbap.
What makes AKMU and Owl City so endearing is that they are pop artists, yet their music is different. They have the home-grown feel of an indie band with the production value their star status brings, yet they inject it with a joy and emotion that feels tangible. They make the abstract feel real. At least, if not real, then relatable. Taking feelings and inner musings, projecting those onto abstract ideas or concepts that seem unrelated, yet bringing them home. It sounds confusing, I know, so let’s take a look at some of their work, starting with Owl City’s Metropolis:
So far apart, I checked but the coast was clear
I feel like a postcard
I wish you were here
Subway through the dark, carriage through the park
Taxi down the street, get out and use my feet
Don’t matter much to me what it is that I do
As long as I’m coming home to you
An old favorite of mine, Metropolis infuses this wistful song with a powerful energy. Dialing down the power to bring home the gentle longings of the singer while bringing it up with the chorus to drive home that beat. It’s a song rich in metaphor, taking desire and fitting into several boxes. Subway, taxi, carriage feet: all modes of transportation. Different ways of moving, all with varying levels of efficiency. Yet the main goal is the same: the get to the one he loves. It’s beautiful, and where it shines is in personifying the amount of desire he has. We know what these vehicles are, and their diversity shows the desperation he feels. Yet there’s also warmth and hope in those lines. AKMU do something similar in their song Galaxy:
Should I do it or not? At the end of deep thought
I couldn’t confess to you because of the sound of the midsummer rain
Did it float off to the Milky Way that is faintly shining in the sky?
Galaxy, wanna take a walk with me?
The twinkling Tinkerbell pixie dust will make me float
Someone might hide and see us
There might be a party for me
But my dreams will definitely be floating there past the hazy fog
At first, it feels really random. Referring to the object of affection as “Galaxy”? Tinkerbell pixie dust? Dreams in the Milky Way? What’s even going on? Take a closer look, and you start to piece together the meaning. Referring to the lover as “Galaxy”, referencing how beautiful and yet mysterious they are. Recognizing how far apart they are, wanting to confess. Using the imagery of pixie dust to reference how magical and otherworldy love feels, and yet how love can bring two worlds together. They use this shift in perspective to change the immediate meaning of the words. It’s more than just a love, it’s a deep hope, framed by wistful chords and joyful melodies.
I think we often get distracted by the bigness of life. There’s a lot to do! Need to keep up grades, gotta perform at work, need to stay in the lives of so many people. It’s overwhelming. Scary. At times, it’s hard to slow down and process. Part of it is due to a loss of that youthful innocence, and part of it is a desire to take ownership of our lives. It’s a change in perspective, and one that isn’t inherently wrong, yet can lead to more stress than necessary if left unchecked. Songs like Galaxy and Metropolis help to recapture that childlike joy. They distill our big, adult-y feelings into words and rhymes that we can easily digest, and surround them with a soothing vibe that calms as much as it heals. All aspects of life, both big and small, are a gift “coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Our lives are driven by purpose, but that purpose is never so large that we shouldn’t cherish our time here while we can. Through this childlike wonder, we come to catharsis. Through catharsis, we come to know ourselves.
So the next time someone rags on you for listening to the Curious George Movie soundtrack, ask them to stay a while, sit back, and enjoy the music with you. Maybe it’ll do them more good than they bargained for.