Growing up Sarah

Sarah Contreras

I turned 25 last week. This means I’ve spent days on end wrapped up in an intense amount of introspection and nostalgia.

Am I anywhere close to where I thought I’d be at this age? Have I grown? It’s hard to reconcile my new “officially adult” age with the person who still lives for cupcakes, manicures and someone doing the dishes for me.

While I’ve been immersed in this spiral-of-seriousness, I’ve also thought a lot about how my personal tastes have changed. Everything from the food I love to the boys I fall for have undergone major makeovers. I’ve traded in my affinity for greasy fast food for a serious homemade pasta fetish, and I no longer seek out boys dressed in black with bad attitudes and worse guitar skills.

Of course, the most important and defining changes have been musical. I can look back at my life and clearly see the outlines my musical tastes have drawn and how they directly correlate with the person I was at the time. My life is an enormous playlist, and looking back at the featured songs and artists is sort of wild.

Music has always been a large part of my life. No, I’ve never played an instrument or sung in a choir, and my parents weren’t any sort of musicians. But listening to music has been important since pretty much Day One. I was born into the later part of the 1980s, when Livin’ on a Prayer was capital “H” H-u-g-e. It is now 25 years since that song debuted, and I still know all the words. (Tastes may evolve, but Bon Jovi is timeless). Thus, my childhood is a blur of whatever my twenty-something parents and cousins were into at the time—bad hair metal, Al Green’s smooth soul, classic rock and Madonna. Thankfully, Al Green and Tom Petty stuck, Poison and La Isla Bonita did not.

My teenage years are truly when the musical personality-defining really took off.

Eager to shake off my preteen affinity for the Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey (which we all had, so I’m not even going to expand on that), I took to the local rock radio station like Cheetos dust to fingers. There, I found Taking Back Sunday, New Found Glory, The Cure and—most importantly—Weezer.

Weezer, with their horn-rimmed glasses’ed frontman and playful-yet-dark songs, got me through those difficult high school years. Their music was perfect for a girl who was definitely not pretty or cool enough to be widely popular, but also self-assured and fun enough to have a group of friends that loved her. Weezer was my musical equivalent—they didn’t quite fit in, but they were accepted into many groups of people. I think back to the days of checkered Vans, fake glasses, Mary Tyler Moore flipped-out hair and spiked belts with fondness—My Name is Jonas will always have a place in my heart.

And then, there was the period between 18 and 21 where I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I’d flip between John Mayer’s Room For Squares and Fall Out Boy without skipping a beat, belting out whatever James Blunt song was getting airplay at the time and fine-tuning my best Sugarland impression.

Seriously, this time was a veritable jambalaya of genres. Death Cab for Cutie rested right beside my Kings of Leon CDs—a baffling juxtaposition. Except, it isn’t.

My musical contradictions make so much sense given where I was at the time. I’d moved away from my native Los Angeles and was out on my own for the first time. I was attending a Christian college, but was also starting to move away from beliefs and rules I’d always accepted as “correct.” I was cutting my hair and changing boyfriends, getting tattoos and learning to drink. I wasn’t angsty Teen Sarah, but I definitely was not a fully defined adult. I was trying to find myself, to tap into the essence of me.

Now, here I am—25 and finally feeling like the Sarah I was meant to be. I’ve outgrown a lot of songs and artists (not all of them) and have embraced others that I am 100 percent sure I will love well into my older years. Now, I like my music a little more serious and a lot more complex: Radiohead, The Decemberists, Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, Ryan Adams, The Shins and the like. I sifted through a lot of crap to get to where I am today, both musically and metaphorically. I’ve known heartbreak and disappointment, redemption and growth, and the music that blasts through my speakers reflects all of that. So when I scroll past The Ataris to reach The Avett Brothers, I don’t cringe. I smile and think about how lovely it has been to grow up.

Spotify Playlist – Growing Up Sarah

Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi

Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Holiday – Madonna

Miss You – The Rolling Stones

Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison

Always Be My Baby – Mariah Carey

I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys

My Name Is Jonas – Weezer

The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot – Brand New

Timberwolves At New Jersey – Taking Back Sunday

Hum Hallelujah – Fall Out Boy

I’m Real – The Starting Line

Neon – John Mayer

Strawberry Swing – Coldplay

Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Rae

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – Bob Dylan

What Light – Wilco

Little Black Submarines – The Black Keys

Rise To Me – The Decemberists

Modern Man – Arcade Fire

Skinny Love – Bon Iver