I may not be a teenager anymore, but I refuse to enter the “twenty-something-I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life” genre just yet. Please reference Evan McKenna’s “22 songs about being 22” for such musings. Twenty is an age still ripe for blissful ignorance, and these songs are doing their best to tap into that.
Raise a glass (of North Dining Hall Powerade) to being 20 years young. Is there a poignant sense of the impending doom of adulthood? Absolutely. That is your exact motivation to stir up mayhem. Just like the age, these 20 songs about age 20 have a fair bit of genre whiplash. You’re welcome.
#1 – “The Spins” by Mac Miller
“Ummmmm… follow your dreams. Yeah!” Name something more year 20. You can’t.
“If your girl loves me, let her love me. You feel me?”
Responsibility is an illusion.
#2 – “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and Pharell Williams
Play this on repeat when you want to celebrate everything you’ve achieved (you know, like not flunking out of college), but you still don’t quite have life figured out.
“We’ve come too far / To give up who we are / So let’s raise the bar / And our cups to the stars.”
If dorm party toasts were a thing, those lyrics would be next level.
“We’re up all night ‘til the sun / We’re up all night to get some / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to get lucky”
If your friends are anything like mine, you never know where the night may end up. That’s half the fun. Nick’s Patio likely would not exist without this attitude.
#3 – “Firecracker” by Ryan Adams
Give the harmonica a chance. Embrace the Americana.
“Well everybody wants to go forever / I just want to burn up hard and bright / I just want to be your firecracker / And maybe be your baby tonight.”
Or perhaps you prefer the more literary Jack London?
“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a super meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.”
I, too, would rather be ashes than dust. This song sounds just like living in the moment.
#4 – “As It Was” by Harry Styles
I am fully convinced Harry Styles released this song just for 20-year-olds. Is it happy? Is it sad? Both? Neither? Who really cares — we all love listening to it. Welcome to 20. By this age, you’ve seen things change for better and for worse, and “you know it’s not the same as it was.”
#5 – “Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys
I have not been 20 for very long, but so far I’ve learned that there’s a beautiful, familiar order to the chaos. Or to the rock-and-roll tune of this song — “Everything’s in order in a black hole.”
When you’re 20, those conflicting emotions should most definitely be sounded out against a drum beat. Also, if you can’t legally drink, you are still an adolescent. Thus, the song title applies.
“Remember when you used to be a rascal?” Oh wait, that was last night.
#6 – “Time of Our Lives” by Pitbull, Ne-Yo
If you need me to explain this one, why are you even reading this article? More importantly, have you been to a single social function on the tri-campus?
#7 – “Reflections” by The Neighborhood
This song is a little more emo and reflective than some of the party jams, but it’s still a banger. The beat drop is next level.
Here’s how I imagine it playing out: It’s midnight on Tuesday. You’ve been studying for an accounting exam in the library for four hours, and you’re itching to leave. So, you lace up the running shoes and embark on the ideal weeknight adrenaline rush — a manic sprint around the lakes, alone and in the dark.
Amid the deafening cry of your feet against the gravel and the fear-induced drum of your heart, there’s the beat drop.
“We were too close to the stars.”
Is that a person, a shadow or a vicious goose?
“I see my reflection in your eyes.”
You are the dramatic main character — conflicted, but energized. It’s just dripping 20 years old.
#8 – “Rich Girl” by Daryl Hall & John Oats
This one’s a groovy song to vibe to while drinking two-week-old refrigerated dining hall “iced coffee” out of a reused Starbucks cup. Trust me, you’ll feel like a millionaire. Use with caution.
“You’re goin too far / ‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway (rich girl) / You can rely on the old man’s money.”
It’s the perfect pick-me-up when you’re feeling like the broke young adult you are. Just channel your inner “I-have-a-trust-fund.” The magic only works if you are actively updating an Excel spreadsheet of your student debt. I do not make the rules.
#9 – “summer&cigarettes” by sammy rash
“Say you don’t have no regrets, but you gon’ regret that tomorrow”
Now who gave you permission to write something that hit so close to home, Sammy? They deserve a raise and a slap across the face.
“Underpaid and overstressed.”
“City lights and conversations / People you don’t like / Waste your nights in strangers basements / Say you’re doing fine.”
I’m banging my fist on the table right now.
This song is enough to make any adventurous, sometimes introverted, occasionally cynical, “misunderstood” 20-year-old feel angrily understood.
#10 – “Crash and Burn” by Thomas Rhett
Is this song a chaotic, danceable fire set to a catchy country tune that makes you feel like a 15-year-old outlaw driving a pick-up truck on a country road the day before getting your license? Yes. This is the essence of 20 years old.
“A slammin’ door and lesson learned / I let another lover crash and burn.”
The lyrics may leave you questioning why the song sounds so happy. Precisely. This is not a year for stability.
#11 – “Learning to Fly” by Tom Petty
It’s a classic for a reason. Shall we call it an iconic anthem of perseverance and grit?
The lyrics have something for all ages, but if I have not figured out how to fly by age 30, I’m retiring.
#12 – “Something Super Sweet” by Rory Webley
This one is a bit more obscure, I’ll admit. It’s a song about blissful anesthesia that sounds like anesthesia in your ears.
“You give me ten CC’s of something super sweet.”
There’s a lot of excitement and bliss at age 20, but this song will have you questioning if it’s all just as fabricated as an anesthetic drug.
“Didn’t Frankenstein teach you anything? Don’t revive dead things.”
You just have to listen. It’s a lyrical masterpiece. Again, the words are a bit dark and twisty, but the cadence of the music is euphoric. I hope you’re sensing a theme.
#13 – “Under 21” by Save Ferris
It wouldn’t be a playlist compilation about age 20 without an actual song reference to the age. This “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”-inspired song will definitely scratch that itch.
“I only want to have a little fun, but every time I try they tell me, ‘You’re not 21.’”
I have not heard something so relatable in a long time. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is also a cultural touchstone for 20-year-olds through the decades. He stands the test of time.
#14 – “Shower” by Becky G
This makes the list purely for the nostalgia factor. Any 20-year-old who grew up watching even a few minutes of Disney Channel must have an appreciation for this late 2000s pop hit.
#15 – “New Romantics” by Taylor Swift
The Observer would fire me if I didn’t include a Taylor Swift song on this playlist. (Seriously, I am at gunpoint.)
“Baby I could build a castle/ Out of all the things they threw at me.”
I think I speak for all my two-decade-old commiserators when I say we are the new romantics, and “we are too busy dancing / to get knocked off our feet.”
#16 – “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
This song really does it all — Friday night, morning workouts, afternoon dance seshes, late night studying and everything in between. It’s also coming up on its own twentieth birthday. A little Shakira has never made my day worse.
#17 – “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest
Sometimes you’re 20, and you just need to be cast as the main character for a minute, or two minutes and 50 seconds. Plus, most college students are fast and quick friends with the moon.
#18 – “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is not just for the middle-aged. You are missing out.
“Hey, what else can we do now? / Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.”
Petition to start playing this at CJ’s again.
#19 – “Kilby Girl” by Bazzi
Falling at the perfect number in the list, Kilby Girl is great for channeling the one-year-ago nostalgia factor.
“I overheard that she was nineteen / She’s got a fake ID and a nose ring / Those kind of girls tend to know things / better than I do.”
See, now that you’re 20, you’re basically the epitome of wisdom.
#20 – “When I’m 64” by The Beatles
Something about singing along to this song is so cathartic for an upbeat yet washed-up 20-year-old.
“Yours sincerely, wasting away.”
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