It’s pretty much a general consensus that 2017 was an amazing year for music. It seemed like every week, a new album would emerge, challenging the way people think about and make music. But even with an endless ocean of new songs being fed to me every day, I kept coming back to the same album time and time again: Are We There, by Sharon Van Etten.
I wish I could say I have no idea how this record slipped through the cracks of my discovery in 2014, but I know all too well. To put it kindly, I was a late bloomer when it comes to my taste in music. Growing up, my parents would listen to Top 40 radio or, in my Dad’s car, Air Supply’s Greatest Hits album on repeat. The only saving grace was my mom’s love for Carole King, whose Tapestry album will be forever ingrained in my memory. So it was left up to me to broaden my own musical horizons, and I didn’t always do the best job. Let’s just say, I was listening to a lot of Trey Songz in 2014.
Fast forward to early 2017 and I’m 22-years-old, fresh out of college, living 3,000 miles away from home, trying (and failing) to cope with a recent breakup. Needless to say, shit hit the fan. In this scenario, there wasn’t enough wine, phone calls to my mom, or meaningless Tinder hook-ups to make me feel better. But there was Sharon Van Etten. I first heard her music while sitting in a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, half-reading The Old Man and the Sea, half staring mindlessly at strangers – yes, it got that bad. “Holding Out,” from Because I Was in Love came on, and I was mesmerized – thank god for Shazam.
From that moment on, I delved into Sharon’s enchanting body of work and never looked back. Each record served a different purpose, reaching into a different part of me that needed healing. Because I Was in Love gave me permission to wallow in self-pity while offering a glimmer of hope and resolve in the distance. It actually felt good to let myself cry, pretending every word was written just for me, and letting Sharon’s infallible voice give me comfort.
If Because I Was in Love was my tool for confronting the pain of loss and loneliness, Tramp helped me to forget about it altogether. Van Etten’s more warbly and airy tracks like “Warsaw” and “Serpents” acted as a numbing potion for my emotions, while “We Are Fine,” eased me back into reality, telling me everything was going to be okay. Somehow, I believed that sentiment more when it was sung by Sharon, rather than offered with a pity smile by a friend. You know the look.
When the pity party and escapism were over, Are We There was left to pick up the pieces. Sharon’s revealing descriptions of abusive relationships helped me understand how you can continuously be drawn to something that you know is wrong for you. In my case, that was holding on to a person that didn’t love me anymore. I got to a point where I was so enraptured with my partner, that when he was gone, part of my identity was, too. It was hard for me to admit this to myself at first, but “You Know Me Well,” taught me how to “turn into yourself again and reach on out to become your true self.” And that’s what I did.
Are We There gave me the gift of self-awareness; admitting that I was giving someone else power over me is what ultimately gave me the strength to change it. It gave me time to grieve over my breakup, but then urged me to cut toxic behaviors and people out of my life – with my fair share of relapses. But most of all, it reassured me that I’m not the only idiot out there who let myself become completely overwhelmed by love.
Thank you, Sharon.