Get In Loser, We’re Listening To “Ribs” By Lorde
On needing to feel pure nostalgia because we’re not making new memories right now
There’s a memory imprinted onto my brain from the Before Times. Sometimes it’s so vivid and pure I think there’s no way I experienced it in real life, I must have dreamed it.
It’s late summer 2018 and I’m on the first actual vacation I’ve taken in years. We’re zipping down a highway on the Sicilian coast in a rental Audi we picked up at the airport. My friend Corey is driving, I’m in the passenger seat, and my friend Amanda is in the backseat. We’d just spent the day in the coastal town of Cefalù. We ate cannoli and drank cappuccinos for breakfast, walked along the town’s winding cobblestone streets, and went to a beach club in the afternoon, eating sandwiches with ‘nduja and prosciutto and mozzarella for lunch while sitting on our lounge chairs. Amanda and I went swimming, bobbing in the Tyrrhenian Sea while the sun shone down and reflected off the water for what felt like hours. The sea felt like bathwater. The whole time we were in Italy we kept murmuring “I can’t believe this is real” to ourselves and to one another, because none of it felt real. It was so picturesque, the mountains and the water and the villas.
The day was over, the sun was just starting to set, and we were driving back to our Airbnb in Mondello. We had been listening to Corey’s Spotify because he either had the most music saved to his phone or had purchased a better international data plan than either me or Amanda had for our phones (You may recall that I live and die by Corey’s recommendations because he’s famously good at treating himself).
“Ribs” by Lorde came on shuffle. I’d never really considered it before, but the crescendo of the percussive elements, the ethereal choir-like backing vocals, and the heartbeat felt like a drug. As the song simmered into its cathartic outro I rolled down my window and watched as the world flew by outside, the shore and trees and mountains and houses and the setting sun blending together.
Maybe I can’t stop thinking about this moment on a vacation two and a half years ago because I’m not exactly making new memories right now. My sense of nostalgia has never been stronger than it has been over the past year. I find myself longing for the most mundane things: driving the stretch of winding forest-clad road connecting my mom’s house to my dad’s in central Pennsylvania; the days when I was a freelancer and I’d spend hours working next to a power strip at a coffeeshop in Bed-Stuy, watching the sun move across the room as time passed; a happy hour in a shitty wood-paneled bar in Manhattan.
I guess it comes as no surprise that so much of what I’ve done to speed up time in quarantine is nostalgic escapism, trying to locate the feelings I associate with a time in my life that was, at minimum, less bad-feeling. I’ve rewatched Gossip Girl, made friends with Internet strangers bonding over our shared affinity for what was once turntable.fm, did a table read of the pilot episode of Girls with my friends over Zoom, and listened to a lot of music I liked in college, from 2010 to 2014.
Lorde’s debut album Pure Heroine came out in 2013, right around the start of my senior year, and I remember some of the songs from that album — primarily “Royals” — serving as the backdrop to countless birthday parties and tailgates that fall. I loved Pure Heroine but I could never really identify why. In retrospect I think it’s because it’s an album that reads like a diary, making you identify with the writer’s fears and anxieties about growing up. As a whole, it was a little on the nose to spend my last semesters of college listening to it. It’s manufactured relatability and nostalgia and it completely works on me.
It turns out I’m not the only person who feels this way. The 2014-era Tumblr aesthetic, of all things, resurfaced on TikTok early in the pandemic and with it teens, people who were literal children in 2014, picked up the mantle of nostalgia and started listening to bands like Arctic Monkeys, Purity Ring, the 1975 and Grimes. “What people are craving is the period when they had fewer worries, more innocent fun, and greater emotional support during difficult times,” Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology who studies nostalgia at Le Moyne College, told Vox in May. “It was simpler. Now there are all these choices. [Social media] got so complicated that it ruins some of the fun.”
Besides Tumblr, there’s nowhere online with a clearer indication of this craving for nostalgia and yearning than on Spotify: I looked up “Ribs” a few weeks ago to listen to it again and accidentally stumbled upon a nostalgia goldmine in the form of dozens of Ribs-themed playlists. There’s ribs in different fonts, Ribs by lorde type of depressed, spiraling into a ribs-induced rut, ribs walked so this playlist could run, get in loser we’re listening to ribs by lorde, i like to watch the rain drip down my car window while listening to ribs by lorde, the soundtrack to my coming of age movie in which im obviously the main character (description: “the story of falling in love, being reckless, growing up and making memories, and of course the montages *cues ribs by lorde*”), and ribs by lorde in an empty parking lot at 2am.
I dove deeper to understand the specific appeal of “Ribs” by reading what other Ribs Stans said about it, to try to figure out what it was that we all saw in it. In a post called “How Ribs Has Become the Magnum Opus of Lorde’s Discography,” writer Chomsky Yuwono explains: “The song itself is created with minimalistic and detailed production that captured longing feelings and nostalgia of youth. It reflects on tragedy of wasted childhood, how kids can’t wait to grow up, but when they have become adults, they realize how precious it was to be young.”
In Atwood Magazine, writer Regan Wojick says of “Ribs,” “I don’t know if this song means so much to me because of the lyrics, or the way Lorde sings each line like she’s just yearning for more time in the present… I’m going to go with all of the above. … The feelings she sings about are almost tangible: The song that you and your friends could not stop playing even though you’ve heard it a hundred times before — though, Lorde and her friends are much cooler than me. I mean, they had to have been some of the only 16 year-olds to listen to Broken Social Scene.”
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks listening to these “Ribs” playlists, which are all somewhat similar, though not exactly the same. Some include the Lumineers and Mumford & Sons (my friend Kate’s boyfriend refers to this subgenre of early 2010s twangy folksy pop as “hoot,” which is also how I now exclusively refer to it) while others are imbued with moody tracks from Frank Ocean and Clairo. One has a bunch of Soundcloud-style emo-rap, while still others include songs from pop artists like BØRNS and Billie Eilish and Harry Styles. Everyone seems to listen to “Ribs” and then file it away into their respective nostalgia banks, along with the other songs that evoke the same feelings for them.
Altogether this series of playlists invokes a specific kind of mood. I feel like it sounds diminutive to describe this feeling as “angst,” but as a famously angsty onetime teenager, I know angst when I see it. It feels like regression to listen to a bunch of songs from when I was younger and everything felt a bit less bad, a familiar and comforting nostalgia. On a macro level, nothing is changing anytime soon. It looks like we’ll probably still be in our homes for a while longer this year, finding new forms of escapism to carry us through. I’ve felt so stagnant this winter, like my brain is preserved in a block of amber. I’m sure I’ll eventually snap out of it, get over my current depression rut, and stop listening to my collection of “Ribs” playlists, but for now it’s sort of soothing to turn to them and know I’m not the only one feeling like this.