The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
Sitting here 24 years after it was released, the most interesting thing to me about The Matrix is the idea of the mental projection of your digital self. When Morpheus hooks Neo into the system for the first time, he’s no longer bald, covered in metallic ports, and wearing tattered clothing aboard a rickety ship. He looks the way he remembers himself from before he escaped the matrix. This idea interests me for a number of reasons.
First, it turns out both Wachowskis are trans women, which recontextualizes the entirety of how we understand what this movie actually represents. It’s impossible for me, a cisgendered man, to understand what it must feel like to be born into the wrong body, yet The Matrix tackles the idea in a very thought-provoking way without ever directly addressing the subject at all.
Second, since 1999 we all live our lives much more fully online than at any point before. With that comes abundant opportunity to mold and manicure one’s own image in any variety of formats. Whether you’re someone staring into a camera with a light right attached to it and holding court on social media, or you’ve created a successful video gamer persona on Twitch, or even if you fancy yourself a real cut-up on Twitter or Reddit, you get to be a version of yourself closest (or maybe just closer) to whatever your internal idealized one is.
Third, one of the most absolutely savage headlines from The Hard Times is “40-Something-Year Old Man’s Entire Identity Based on Two-Year Span from His 20s.” It’s easy – and fun! – to overly romanticize one period of your life or another, but do it too much and you risk turning out like the loser this satire news site is lampooning. Self-awareness is pretty much never a bad thing.
The music video for 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood” sees an elderly couple in their final moments take a pill that allows them to relive their youth for 24 hours. They immediately turn into younger versions of themselves and the video spends the rest of its runtime exploring Japanese rockabilly culture. Wearing their leather jackets and poodle skirts respectively, dancing around to Bill Haley and the Comets, drinking beers, getting tattoos and hanging out with other greasers is obviously their most cherished era of life.
It’s an almost unfathomably great video in sensibility, style, and execution, and one of my all-time favorites. It’s also pretty high-concept and a bold, avant-garde choice for a group of dudes who were in their early 20s at the time who frequently got painted with the “boy band” brush. There had to be some fear that a good chunk of their core audience wouldn’t get it or that people new to them thought they were k-pop or some shit. But whatever. It does exist, it’s fantastic, and it’s representative of two extremely important things in my life.
The first is that during the depths of the pandemic I began to feel like a different person. I didn’t – couldn’t – know what was on the other side of the panic, the lockdowns, the isolation, the sickness, and the despair, but I knew if we ever came out of it, if I felt like a different person, I was going to look like a different person. Between January of 2021 and May of 2023, a span of 29 months, I got 16 tattoos. I have one on my right thigh, one on my right shoulder blade, one on my right forearm, one on my left forearm, and twelve on my left arm. When I do things, I don’t do them half-assed.
People like to ask what tattoos mean. My favorite snarky answer is they mean I can sit still for a long time. The real answer is that each one means something different to me that I’ll happily explain if you’re genuinely interested, one of which I’ll get into here in a second. But generally speaking, they represent me leaning fully into the version of myself I most want to be. I love these tattoos and am grateful for the boldness with which I got them.
The tattoo of a lighthouse on my left forearm matches one Kristin has on her right forearm, which brings me to the second reason I love this song so much. I’m not ashamed to admit we were directly inspired by this music video to get matching tattoos at this spot on our forearms. It’s one of the beats of the video, and the vibe of the couple at the story’s center matches our own pretty remarkably. The video begins with them sitting in wheelchairs and cheerfully thanking each other presumably for being the other’s favorite person for decades, sees them take a pill together, and then sees them transform into their idealized forms one last time for one last perfect day. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.
None of us can know what the future holds or how much time we ultimately have left, but what we can control is how we see ourselves, who we choose to take our journeys with, and what we call home. The lighthouse is a beacon in the darkness and stands as (sometimes the only) light that guides us home.
I sometimes wonder if the premise of the video were presented to Kristin and me, which phase of our life together would we transform into for 24 hours? It’s a fun thought experiment to reflect on the different eras of our life because we’re fortunate that generally they’re overwhelmingly happy. But I’m also not 100% convinced we’ve even lived through that ideal version yet.
That’s an even better feeling.
Up next: Beep, beep. Who got the keys to the Jeep? Vrooooooooom.