“No Ceilings” — Lil Wayne Feat. Birdman
For the first year I knew you, I didn’t really know you. We shared the same social circle but for some reason always stayed on opposite ends. I think we both just assumed we had nothing in common, so most of our interactions consisted of pouring each other shots and glancing at each other awkwardly every time we were left alone. We were standing like that, just the two of us in the crowded living room of a stranger’s house our friends had convinced us to go to, when a Lil Wayne song came blaring through the speakers.
“Oh god, I love this song,” I said, swaying back and forth because of the beat and the alcohol and maybe just because I couldn’t stand to sit still any longer. I mouthed along to the lyrics.
You looked at me, surprised and cynical. “Isn’t it a little demeaning?”
I understood what you meant but I didn’t stop singing along. Maybe I didn’t care. You looked away and pretended we weren’t there together, which honestly, maybe we weren’t. In some ways, we were still just strangers pretending to be something more.
A few years later, the same song popped up on a playlist we were listening to in the car.
“Oh god, I love this song,” I said.
Your mouth twisted up in a smile. “I know.”
We both reached for the volume at the same time, our hands colliding right above the dial, and froze, surprised. I felt something twisting in my gut but instead of saying something, I untangled my fingers from yours and let you control the stereo. I didn’t yet understand what was happening, but I knew that something was, and even though you blasted the song on full volume, I swear my heartbeat was louder.
“Real Friends” — Kanye West
I don’t remember why or how we started getting closer, but we did. One minute we were acquaintances and the next we were friends and I was telling you things I wasn’t used to opening up about. Big things. Little things, too. Anything that crossed my mind, I told you.
“Does anyone else know about your strange obsession with Kanye West?” you asked me once.
I felt my cheeks flush. “Only a few,” I admit. “A lot of people judge me for that one.”
There was a teasing glint in your eye. “Guess it’s time for me to out you.”
“Oh god, please, no.” It was only sort of a joke.
“Have you heard this song?” you asked. You pulled up Kanye’s newest album and played a song I hadn’t gotten around to listening to yet. “It’s called ‘Real Friends.’ It’s all about how there aren’t a lot of those out there anymore. There are a lot of fake people, you know?”
I knew. Of course I knew. I’d had my fair share of falling outs, of friendships that left me more hurt than happy. I know you knew.
“Don’t worry,” you said with a small smile. “I think we’re real friends.”
I looked at you, surprised. I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but it wasn’t that. I nodded. “Yeah, me too.”
And I don’t know why, but I believed it.
“3005” — Childish Gambino
Sometimes when I’d walk into your house, I could hear this song wafting from your room, just loud enough to make the walls tremble. I’d sit outside your door, singing the words in my head, and wait for it to end before I’d knock.
When you heard me playing it in my car, you smiled. “Looks like we’ve both been going on a Childish Gambino binge.”
You were right in some ways; in others, not so much. I picked up this awful habit of adopting your music taste without fully realizing what I was doing. You’d listen to a song and it’d be stuck in my head for days, so I’d add it to my Spotify playlist and try to convince myself it wasn’t just because it reminded me of you.
“Instant Crush” — Daft Punk
I let you have the aux cord while I drove, but you kept playing all my favorite songs anyway. That was one of my favorite things about you — you’d go out of your way to do tiny things you knew would make me happy. We always pretended like it was just coincidence.
We were singing at the top of our lungs to every song that came on until finally you asked, “Hey, can I play you a song?”
I glanced over at you, confused, but it was too dark to see your face. “Yeah, of course.”
And so you went to your Daft Punk playlist and turned it on and didn’t say a word the entire time it played. I quietly soaked up the lyrics, wondering if there was a message in there somewhere, something you wanted to say. When it ended, you tentatively asked, “Did you like it?”
I wished so badly that I could see your face. “Yeah, I do,” I admitted.
But even though your expression was shrouded in darkness, I could hear the smile in your voice. “Yeah. Me too.”
“Don’t read into it,” my friend told me later when I told her what happened. “It’s just a song.”
But for some reason, it’s “just a song” that only comes on now when I’m in places I used to spend time with you. The bar on the corner, the coffee shop halfway between our houses, the car we drove cross-country in. It’s “just a song” that seems to scream at me every time it plays, the message louder and clearer than it’s ever been.
“I Feel It Coming” — The Weeknd Feat. Daft Punk
You introduced me to this song long before it reached the radio. Even when it became overplayed and overrated, we both loved it anyway. Our friends would yell at us to turn it off but we’d refuse, sending each other secret smiles from across the room. Maybe we both knew that it was more than just a song. Maybe that was the point.
It was weird how it became the essence of everything we were. It would start playing on the radio the moment you texted me. I’d mention your name to someone at a cafe and it would immediately start blaring over the sound system. The second I’d hear it out in public, I knew you’d call me soon. It was like the universe was trying to send me a message, but I kept telling myself it was coincidence and pretended l didn’t care.
But even when I told myself it was nothing, I knew it wasn’t. Because whenever I’d hear the song, my chest would tighten and my gut would twist and somehow I knew, deep down, that you were somewhere thinking about me, too.
“Bound 2” — Kanye West
The first time we listened to this song together, we couldn’t stop laughing. You were in awe of the fact that I knew every word.
“I used to listen to it on repeat,” I explained, only slightly embarrassed.
“Of course you did.”
Every time we were together, one of us would turn it on. At first it was funny. Then it wasn’t. We stopped laughing at the lyrics and just grew quiet. Sometimes I’d hum the hook quietly, as if to myself: “Bound to fall in love.” You’d look at me from the corner of your eye, but you’d never say anything.
The last time you played it for me was after things got bad. When we weren’t talking as much as we usually did and you started disappearing for days. But we were together for the first time in weeks and it seemed like we were getting to a better place. When I asked you to put on some music, it was the first song you played.
That night, I was grateful for the darkness, for the roads without street lamps. I was glad you couldn’t read my expression, or see the way my hands clenched the steering wheel until my nails dug into the faux leather exterior, or the way my eyes filled with tears I knew I wouldn’t be able to blink away.
“Heartbeat” — Childish Gambino
We only listened to this song together once. We were on a road trip and decided to try out new songs; we laughed through most of it. But at a certain point you grew silent, listening closely to the lyrics, and you didn’t like what you heard.
I’ll never forget those last lines: “Are we dating? Are we fucking? Are we best friends? Are we something? In between that? I wish we never fucked, and I mean that.”
You didn’t say anything for a long time. I didn’t either. I kept playing music, hoping the atmosphere would change, but it didn’t. When we finally got to the motel we planned on staying in, you asked for two separate beds, even though we’d been sharing mattresses for the last week and a half. You went to sleep early and the next morning I tried to pretend like I hadn’t spent all night lying awake, haunted by those final lyrics and the feeling that somehow, within those few minutes of a song, something had changed.
“I Want It That Way” — The Backstreet Boys
After a certain point, our relationship became performative. You acted like you were too busy to see me, I acted like I didn’t care, and we were so good at pretending that everyone seemed to believe us. Everyone but us.
That’s how we were acting the night we went out for our friend’s birthday. We ended up in a throwback bar, where I held up drunk friends who threatened to teeter over and you stood quietly in the corner, acting like you didn’t notice.
But the second the song came on, everyone perked up. The Backstreet Boys were magic like that — you’d go months, sometimes years without hearing them, but the moment they started playing, you felt like you were transported back to a different time, a different place. When things were simpler, happier. Every word found their way to my lips effortlessly.
We all starting singing the first lines of the song, pantomiming dramatically to each other like we were part of some Broadway production, and it was only then that I felt someone watching me. Even in the overcrowded room, my eyes found yours immediately.
You were standing still, staring at me unabashedly, mouthing along to the music. You smiled a little when you realized you had my attention. And even though I kept trying to look away, my gaze always found its way back to you.
The next day, the song came on the radio when I was driving home. Minutes later, I got the text: “Want to hang out tomorrow?”
“Same Drugs” — Chance the Rapper
You were obsessed with this song. You used to turn on Spotify and play it over and over again for hours.
“So depressing,” I’d tease.
“So what?” You’d shrug. “You like it too.”
It’s funny. When we first started listening to that song together, I think it made us think of a lot of people from our past. Ones that left us, ones that hurt us, ones we had to force ourselves to walk away from. We always had this inherent understanding of one another, of the hurt we both endured, of the way it scarred us and shaped us. Sometimes I think that’s what drew us together from the beginning — we were two broken people whose fragments just seemed to fit together perfectly.
Now I listen to the song and the only person I think about is you.