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When a song becomes a love affair

| Wednesday, September 18, 2019

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

Cupid struck me with his arrow at 2 a.m. on a Thursday. He commenced his sneak-attack while I was playing my favorite weeknight game: How late can I stay up without falling asleep in my first class the next day? There are many variations of the game’s rules depending on who you ask, but my only requirement is that I spend the time on my phone. 

Of course, like most engaging games, I played this one with other people. Aided by the University’s semi-reliable wifi connection, I recruited British actor Oliver Thorn to help me push the night’s boundaries. Thorn runs Philosophy Tube, a YouTube channel that aims to “give away a philosophy degree for free.” I capped off my binge session with his video “YouTube: Art or Reality?,” an exploration of ethics on YouTube and the honored subject of my fourth tweet in four years. 

Unlike polished Instagram or cacophonous Twitter, YouTube brought me music. This is where Cupid comes in. Thorn delivers a captivating Socratic dialogue with several caricatured versions of himself, and he concludes the video with a cover of the song “Sleepwalker” by Hey Ocean! The song plays over footage of Thorn wrapping up in his studio, hopping on a train and collapsing into bed in his flat. The meta-type ending felt fitting for a YouTube video about YouTube.

At this point, I was riding the high of a fascinating night of philosophy. (I’m a PLS major.) Thorn’s artful presentation of ideas and riveting performance always delight, but “Sleepwalker” made the video’s ending special. Watching Thorn commute home should’ve been enough to end my game and put me to sleep. Instead, I felt ready to jump down from my loft and run two laps around St. Mary’s Lake. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of my love affair with “Sleepwalker.” My music tastes are provincial. I like to hear 35-year-old vocalists in pop-punk bands yell about how they refuse to grow up. So why was “Sleepwalker,” a soft indie-pop song, blasting through my headphones by 8:15 a.m. the next morning? 

I figured that it’d be over in a day, no harm done. “Sleepwalker” carried me through walks to classes, lunch at North Dining Hall and a trip to the gym. I busted out my bluetooth speaker to fully indulge in the song while I worked on homework. I soaked in every second of synth knowing that I would return to my beloved pop-punk by sunrise the next day.

The sun rose and “Sleepwalker” awoke beside me. I was helpless. Perhaps indie-pop was my thing now? I begrudgingly tested this hypothesis by listening to similar songs, but the same magic failed to materialize. Meanwhile, blink-182 and WSTR had released new singles and I hadn’t even checked them out. I just couldn’t be torn away from “Sleepwalker.” 

After several days, the dopamine bursts of my love-drug began to decrease in potency. It felt like we had been together for an eternity — I didn’t know what life after “Sleepwalker” looked like. Rather than moderating myself to preserve the thrill, I decided to allow the pleasure of “Sleepwalker” to wear thin. Admittedly, I still listen to it at least once a day, but I’ve managed a full recovery from my previous levels of obsession. WSTR’s new single has graciously served as my pint of ice cream throughout the breakup process.

As I reassimilate and work out my apologies to pop-punk, I wonder how I reached such a bewitched state of stupor. To quote my former beloved, “I’ve been using the word love but I don’t know what it means.” I suspect the blame lies with Oliver Thorn, not Cupid. My love affair sprung from his adroit aggregation of artistic elements into a compelling short film. “Sleepwalker” was only one element of this cookery, but unlike the others, it compressed the 30-minute spectacle into an accessible four-minute song. 

My week with Hey Ocean! exceeded in value any experience I’ve had with pop-punk. With this in mind, artistic appreciation might just be the greatest form of love. Love affairs often disappoint with their ephemerality, but perhaps quality should be prized over consistency. Although passion dies out, remembrance of artistic beauty lasts a lifetime.

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