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Songs to Listen to as the World Burns


Written by Nina Contreras (she/her) | Contributing Writer

A few days ago I dreamt that it was snowing in my backyard. The sky was a deep, leaving-the-house-at-5am kind of blue. A grey cloud decided to settle by me, before lightning struck three times. It was beautiful, but also eerie - like something was wrong, but it was out of my hands. Interpretations I found online were as vague as horoscopes – which I do enjoy indulging in, for the record – claiming my dream represented new beginnings and emotional turmoil. 

Nevertheless, this scene of meteorological anomalies had me feeling a little more melancholic about the state of the world. Winds and droughts, accelerating wildfires, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, increased rainfall and flooding buildings…

Last year we collectively broke a world record, but not the fun kind that they put in ‘Guinness World Record’ books. In 2023, the average global surface temperature was 1.18 degrees celsius, making it the world’s hottest year in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate analysis since records began in 1850. 

What’s more, there’s a one-in-three chance that this year will be warmer than the last! 

In the wake of these feelings of powerlessness, depressing statistics and surrealist visions, I offer a pacifier. 

When I want to forget, or hyperfixate, music becomes my lifeline. I’m an optimist, but sometimes allowing yourself to feel bad holds catharsis. 

I know that whole explanation was reminiscent of trying to find a recipe and getting some lady’s verbose backstory first, but I hope it made you feel less alone. The world is burning, so here are some of my top picks of songs to listen to as we breathe in the smoke.

XS - Rina Sawayama

You’re familiar with Sharpay Evans’ bop, ‘Fabulous’, yes? Well, XS is that song’s older sister. The title is a play on words, with ‘XS’ referring to the clothing size, as well as the excess that comes with materialism and the insatiable pursuit of wealth. Sawayama explains: “The earth truly is taking in as much as it can hold, and even though we have everything we need we want more, at the cost of finite resources and ecological balance.” Think flexing culture, fast fashion, and hallmarks that make you go: “Damn, so they have money money” (e.g. stacked Cartier bracelets). Of course, we can have nice things, but also have grace, and take care not to girl-boss too close to the sun. 

When the Fire Comes - Kero Kero Bonito

Dude this song is so good it makes my inner monologue shut up. I don’t know what the heck that instrument in the intro is, but it sounds like one of those slider whistles or a pan flute. I digress. The band revealed that ‘When the Fires Comes’ is about the “worldwide wildfires heralding the seemingly imminent climate change apocalypse.” It was partly inspired by their own experience during their 2018 tour when they got caught under smoke from North Carolina’s Camp Fire, which is said to have been the deadliest wildfire in the history of California. This is definitely one to listen to when smoke clouds turn the sky an apocalyptic orange - a throwback to January 2020, when the Australian bushfires did just that to our skies here in New Zealand. What a time to be alive. 

Wild Time - Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood wrote this one for all of the overthinkers coping with the harsh reality we live in that is scattered with environmental crises. She wrote this with the perspective of longing for Mother Nature amidst chaos, articulating: “What if the world has always been ending? What if the sprawl of our cities are just as wild as the forests? We’re animals, we play out a very precarious drama of life… What if climate change and the destruction of our natural habitat is a reflection of the nature within us, however sublimely horrifying and hard to understand?… Maybe getting in touch with that as a culture and society would avert the worst-case scenarios of ecological crisis and existential dread.” Basically, she’s telling us to turn that #worrier energy into #warrior energy and embrace that a lot of our chaos is out of our control, occurring in our “advanced” world just as it does in our natural one. I suppose it’s a call to go wild and do some wicked inward reflection.

Earth - Imogen Heap

With a 6/8 time signature, and strictly acapella nature, this song is Owl City meets Pentatonix. The pitch-perfect vocals scratch an itch in my brain, and I haven't been the same since! It’s seemingly written from the perspective of the planet, as she scolds mankind for acting like we own the place when we’ve only just arrived. I watched Blog #36 on her YouTube Channel where she talks about her process and it was super refreshing. She is an artist. Regarding planetary issues and her role in them, she says: “We’re all a bit in the dark. You know, we take our recycling out and we do all these things, but really, really, really… is that really helping? And, you know, maybe… I don’t know. Anyway, there’s lots of questions and I’ve been doing lots of reading up and talking to people about it all.” This is the way to go. Keep learning and putting in the effort, in spite of the doubt.

I Want Wind to Blow - The Microphones

Now, this one doesn’t necessarily hold intentional ecological connotations, but I think that this song can help fill the void of helplessness. This song encapsulates the feeling of the word ‘aftermath’. As if disaster has struck and it’s put you in a state of inertia. It’s for the end of the movie, when the wounded heroes have made a mess of the city and may have lost their lifelong friends, scattered amongst the wreckage A song for cliffhangers, open endings, uncertainty, and living with “no night, no golden sun”. For when the mundane becomes excruciating and you want to shout: How dare the world keep spinning! Why must we be expected to keep fighting after all this loss, when the fruits of our hard work leave much to be desired? What do I do now? Notably, there is a 3-minute-long instrumental at the end of the song, giving you time to think - the credits roll.

We Didn’t Start the Fire - Fall Out Boy

I could not write this piece without mentioning this banger. If you’re not aware, Fall Out Boy recently rewrote the lyrics to Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, using references from 1989-2023. According to bassist Pete Wentz, they “felt like a little system update would be fun”. Concurring, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Fall Out Boy, for the delicious lyrics, “Fyre Fest, Black Parade, Michael Phelps, Y2K”. I regret to inform you that their rendition of the hit is not in chronological order like the source material, but it is - I promise - an unhinged, wild ride. Both versions of We Didn’t Start the Fire show that detriment in the present day is following a cyclic pattern settled by preceding generations; establishing that the tatters of the modern world aren’t a result of one single generation. And so, the song implores everyone to unify in our shared distress and experiences, as we see parallels between social issues and pop culture across time. 

Honestly, even thinking about 2030 makes me feel a little sick, but I don’t think the future is bleak. Sure, Mother Nature may not need us, but for what it’s worth, we’re here, and we can help her. We’re here and we need each other. We’ve been through so much, yet time passes and we persist. All we can do is care and try – together !!!

I leave you with one of my favourite poems, To Be Alive by Gregory Orr:

To be alive: not just the carcass

But the spark.

That’s crudely put, but…

If we’re not supposed to dance,

Why all this music? 


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