“As It Was” is a sad-disco dance track that encapsulates this moment of manic nostalgia and hyper-longing
I’m trying to be a person again.
I don’t know exactly what that means, however. There’s no roadmap for the latest new normal. The old normal — now obsolete, apparently — was pre-pandemic life, which we’ll never return to. As offices open back up and many places discard mandates and restrictions, people are still getting Covid. And many of the lifestyle adjustments we made during the pandemic are permanently ingrained — permanently altering our relationships to work, ourselves, and others.
My apartment now has an abundance of plants, for example. My closet is packed with comfortable sweatpants and nap dresses. My family has regular group chats on Zoom, and I’ve yet to meet many of my virtual co-workers IRL. Two years of this behavior and it’s definitely considered normal now. Yet, the “new normal” denoted a time of social distancing, reduced in-person interaction, and sanitizing grocery store fruit. Whatever this new period is, it’s something entirely apart from the old times, and, frankly, I do not know how to navigate it.
The Vibe Shift
It doesn’t help that the social landscape we’re heading into is completely foreign. Culture has changed. When we retreated into our homes in March 2020, Instagram was king and I had no clue who this Julia Fox person was. Now, TikTok is the judge, jury, and executioner of all things popular, rather than the fringe social media platform it had been pre-lockdown.
With such seismic shifts, the world changed utterly. Fashion is purposely incohesive, alternative aesthetics are mainstream now, and Kim Kardashian is dating Pete Davidson! I don’t know what’s up and what’s down here. I feel as though — at any moment — I’ll discover I mistakenly entered an alternate universe and — any moment now — I’ll be ushered back to my real life, where things make sense and UGGs aren’t trendy again.
Yet, as every day passes, I keep vowing to do my silly little tasks and perform a 2022 version of adulthood until it feels real, I realize it might be like this forever. I might feel dated and defined by nostalgia for the whole rest of my life.
My suspicions have only been furthered by a viral article on The Cut about the coming Vibe Shift. Cultural critic Sean Monahan confirms that this alienating feeling of being in flux is a shared one, and once it has settled the vibe will have fully shifted. The article explains it all: “A vibe shift is the catchy but sort of too-cool term Monahan uses for a relatively simple idea: In the culture, sometimes things change, and a once-dominant social wavelength starts to feel dated.”
Monahan breaks down a few of the vibe shifts we’ve experienced over the past decade. From Williamsburg Hipster/Indie Music in the early 2010s — when he earned himself a name by coining the term normcore, if that brings up any Tumblr-esque images that help you visualize this — to the post-2016 Hypebeast/Woke era of sneakers, virtue signaling, and Drake.
The article identifies the anxious energy of the moment. “It is unnerving because when you really consider it, you can feel people flocking to a new thing. You can see that he’s right; something has shifted … This is to say, not everyone survives a vibe shift.” As the current vibe crashes over our culture like a tidal wave, some emerge anew and others are flailing about in the undertow.
The Soundtrack To My Existential Crisis
As the upcoming trends solidify — I assume they’ll be both maximalist, post-ironic, and kitschy — I’m overwhelmed by compounded feelings of isolation and nostalgia. If I don’t connect to culture — a phenomenon that’s defined a generation raised on iPhones — then who am I? And if my moment has passed, did the pandemic eradicate two years in the prime of my life?
I’ve been contemplating these questions as I figure out what life will look like and who I will be in it. My soundtrack for this moment in time is what I call my Sad Disco Playlist. It’s a collection of recently released songs that vibrate with this same nostalgic anxiety — this yearning for the past while struggling to adjust to the energy of the future. Many of these are quarantine bangers, existential dance tracks born of the combination of cabin fever and existential dread.
Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia — which came out right at the beginning of the pandemic — contributes to much of this playlist. Other features include tracks from Aly and AJ’s 2021 album a touch of the beat gets you up off your feet gets you out and then into the sun, which I lovingly refer to as Desert Depression Dance Music. Another highlight is a selection of Troye Sivan songs, which are about living life to the fullest while longing for something just beyond your grasp — namely his poppy Kasey Musgrave feature, Easy.
The freshest track on this playlist is likely the most apt of them all: Harry Styles’s brand new single, “As It Was.” The 80s-inspired, synth-heavy production gives way to Style’s most confessional lyrics yet.
Harry Styles - As It Was (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Rolling Stone declared: “It’s a daring change-up for Styles, unlike anything he’s done before musically. He kicked off his first two album eras with grand statements, “Sign of the Times” and “Lights Up.” But “As It Was” is more nakedly vulnerable, a straight-from-the-heart cry that’s also an irresistible dance-floor challenge.”
NPR agrees, surmising that “As It Was”: “bottles sunshine in a song, but with a dreary melancholy. The synth-heavy intro is perfect for racing down Pacific Coast Highway with the top down. The groovy electric guitar licks inject the song with infectious energy … But take a closer listen to the first single from Harry's House (out May 20) and you'll find a poignant lyrical exploration of loss and loneliness.”
The song’s refrain is one of unrestrained yearning: “you know it’s not the same as it was,” he repeats over and over and over. I’ve been listening to this song on repeat because there’s something so true about it — the stagnant truth, the reluctant acceptance, feeling all alone even when you’re with other people in the chorus lyrics “in this world, it’s just us.”
Harry has his finger on the pulse, as always. But while he usually floats through the cultural atmosphere with a cheeky grin, this earnest openness is yet another sign of the vibe shift. It’s time to be serious, he’s signaling. To be an adult, and accept that things really aren’t as they were.
So, okay. Harry. I’m listening. I’ll stop checking over my shoulder for some semblance of normal to return and acknowledge that there’s no going back to how things were before. There’s only this, and we all must adjust.
The Solution to My Existential Crisis: A Good Morning Routine
One major step I’ve taken is establishing routines again, rather than using the chaos of the moment as an excuse to live a chaotic life. I’m not trying to conform to TikTok’s That Girl morning routine, but I am striving to live a more intentional life.
By focusing on little rituals I can stop overthinking about big things like the vibe shift, the future, and my existential dread. Instead, I can focus on small things: keeping my plants alive, immersing myself in songs that bring me comfort, and brewing a cheering cup of coffee to start my day.
What really drives the enjoyment of my morning ritual is a coffee subscription from Maud's Coffee & Tea. With 20% sitewide available now, Maud's Coffee & Tea is the best place to grab your daily cuppa joe. Rather than hitting that overpriced, mega-corpo-coffee shop packed with trendy people who remind me how outdated I am, I’m getting my caffeine fix in the comfort of my very own cozy home.
Maud's Coffee & Tea’s wide range of options gives me a true sense of freedom. I get in tune with my mood each morning by picking a new flavor, starting each day by feeling empowered by my own choices. It may seem small, but the secret to success is rituals, and the secret to happiness is non-comparison. My morning Maud's Coffee & Tea ritual combines the two, and it seems to be working. I feel most at peace — and most like an adult — in the morning with my freshly brewed coffee from Maud's Coffee & Tea.
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