On Friday, Spotify decided to force everyone to relive their adolescence by dropping a personalized playlist called Time Capsule, and reader, whatever algorithm they used to create these things is astonishingly accurate — and a little rude, if we’re being honest. Stupefied by the specificity, we asked staffers from The Ringer to show themselves and reveal the one Time Capsule song that best defines their teen years.
“I Miss You” by Blink-182
Alison Herman: I grew up in San Diego, where people showed up to school in tears the morning after Blink announced their breakup. The rest of my Time Capsule playlist may be inoffensive, mid-aughts indie that let me bond with other generic posers when I got to college (<3 you, Neutral Milk Hotel). But this is the song that truly says, “Before you ever stumbled onto Pitchfork, you were a San Diego mall rat, and deep down, that is all you will ever be.” Which is probably why it comes first, way before the Beach House kicks in.
“Nothing Better” by the Postal Service
Andrew Gruttadaro: I remember the first time I heard the Postal Service: My high school girlfriend showed them to me and told me all about how Death Cab for Cutie’s lead singer and this guy Jimmy Tamborello would send tracks back and forth to each other, hence the name. I think I said, “Oh wow, cool,” and then we probably watched Garden State. Sometime after that, we broke up, and the Postal Service — specifically the call-and-response duet “Nothing Better” — subsequently scored too many aimless, adolescently emotional drives through suburban Upstate New York. My Time Capsule playlist is way too friendly to me — it’s full of legitimately cool songs like “Return of the Mack” and “Hey Ma” — but “Nothing Better” truly gets at the quasi-emo fuck boy I’m pretty sure I was.
“Informer” by Snow
Matt James: I have no recollection of listening to this song even once on Spotify, but clearly the streaming service somehow knows that it was the first cassette single I ever purchased. I was in second grade, and I wore one side of that tape out despite understanding roughly 20 percent of the lyrics. I vividly remember being teased for liking the “licky boom boom down” song. Whatever, haters. This song was my first taste of a reggae fusion/dancehall sound, and it also prompted a rather formative discussion about cultural appropriation.
Well done, Spotify. I don’t know how you did it, but you really did take me back in time. I can almost taste the fruit snacks and hear the slap bracelets. I’m another (fringe) millennial huffing nostalgia at every opportunity.
“This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan
Amanda Dobbins: Two truths about me: I’m in my 30s, and my ideal music is “songs that would be played during hour three of a multigenerational, open-bar wedding.” My Time Capsule is almost exclusively comprised of songs that would take down a 2004 dance floor — “In Da Club,” “… Baby One More Time,” “Hypnotize,” “Semi-Charmed Life” — but “This Is How We Do It” has to be the most essential wedding song in the mix. P.S., please stop hiring wedding bands; DJs are better, especially if they have my Spotify Time Capsule. Thank you.
“You Found Me” by the Fray
Paolo Uggetti: I truly have no defense for this one. High school was a weird time is all I can say.
“Hands Down” by Dashboard Confessional
Hannah Giorgis: I wanted to pick “Int’l Players Anthem,” “Say My Name,” or even “Trade It All (Pt. 2).” These songs were all in heavy rotation during my awkward teen years, and I felt cooler than usual (which is to say, cool at all) when I belted them in front of a mirror. They are all solid, respectable picks — Fabolous’s clinic reference notwithstanding — but none of these tracks made me shrink down in my seat and whisper “drag me” the moment I saw them prominently displayed in my Time Capsule. That dubious honor belongs to “Hands Down,” the Dashboard Confessional banger that still evokes memories of every torturous crush I’ve ever had. Several years and a few requited (!) crushes later, “Hands Down” continues to hold a special place in my no-longer-teenage-but-still-very-angsty heart. You can take the girl out of Orange County, but you can’t take the Chris Carrabba wail out of the girl.
“I Love Your Smile” by Shanice
Justin Sayles: At some point in the early ’90s, I clipped enough proofs of purchase off of Coca-Cola products (thanks for all the sugar, Mom) and mailed them to the company in exchange for a cassette sampler of hot new music that was likely called something like Hot New Music. It contained some terrible, long-forgotten songs and others that I wouldn’t fully appreciate until a few years later. But I immediately fell in love with Side 1, Track 1:
To this day, Shanice’s “I Love Your Smile” remains one of my (not so) guilty pleasures, and Spotify somehow figured it out. The streaming service snuck it onto my Time Capsule playlist, where it sits alongside some embarrassingly earnest picks. (Seriously, I have Common and Thursday on here.) It may take decades, but the algorithms eventually come for all of us.
“The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)” by 2gether
Juliet Litman: The late ’90s were a boom time for pop music: Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and, of course, all the boy bands. I was (and remain) a Backstreet Boys partisan, but a catchy jam can’t be denied, and 1998 teenyboppers like me accepted all pop confections. MTV capitalized on the moment and made 2gether, a TV mockumentary about the formation of an Orlando boy band, which gave way to a TV show of the same name, and notably, two records. Everyone knows the signature song “U + Me = Us (Calculus)” from the first 2gether record and the TV movie. That song was and is a handy reference point in discussing a pop landscape that was fully saturated by five-piece male vocal groups. Only the most devoted fans listened to their second album, though, which featured a criminally underappreciated break-up song, “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff).” First of all: True. Second of all: No one was supposed to know that I still dip into the 2gether archive from time to time.
“Never Is a Promise” by Fiona Apple
Sean Fennessey: Googling “the world is bullshit” still returns the correct result.
Almost exactly 20 years later, Fiona Apple’s acceptance speech at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards remains a totem for mid-30s hipsters. While accepting the award for Best New Artist following the release of her debut album, Tidal, a then-19-year-old Apple notoriously instructed millions of viewers on the power of independence and the useless, mind-numbing drudgery of the corporate music-entertainment complex. It was a treatise on “bullshit,” like others before it. Depending on your age and gullibility, it was either a rousing moment of reflection, a pathetic screed from a young fool, or both. But I’ve always found the speech’s closing more resonant than its iconic thesis statement:
“It’s just stupid that I’m in this world, but you’re all very cool to me, so thank you very much. And I’m sorry for all the people I didn’t thank, but man, it’s good, bye.”
It’s just stupid that I’m in this world! If there is a more millennial evacuation from an awkward social setting, I haven’t seen it. It’s a little like the Fiona Apple experience writ large — furiously sincere, messy, and endearingly strange. I do and have always loved her, since I first heard “Shadowboxer” in 1996. She is my favorite living musician. “Never Is a Promise” was the B-side of “Shadowboxer” and also the song on a 1994 demo that got her signed to Columbia at just 16 years old. Fiona is dramatic, a condor of candor, swooping down with a powerful voice and pretentious reflection. The legendary composer Van Dyke Parks — who worked with personal heroes Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman — arranged the strings on this song. It’s a fitting endnote, an old sage arranging for a blazing newcomer. It’s the sort of a thing that takes you back in time, and into the future.
“Put It On Me” by Ja Rule
Victor Luckerson: Here’s a dark secret: Ja Rule was my first favorite rapper, and Rule 3:36 was the second rap CD I ever owned (after P. Diddy’s We Invented the Remix). The standout track is “Put It On Me,” a sensitive-thug banger so sweet it’s backed by a xylophone. In an era full of melodic gangsters, Ja Rule was by far the most fun to sing along with, in part because his wounded scowl (that’s “scream” + “growl”; please keep up) was goofy as hell and endearing at the same time. Later, he’d pass on the hook-singing duties to Ashanti and Jennifer Lopez, but never forget that Ja rose to fame singing his own choruses. “Put It On Me” doesn’t get the same shine as “Always on Time” or “I’m Real,” but it’s just as infectious, making it the perfect time capsule track.
“Closing Time” by Semisonic
Katie Baker: Trying to pick a song from my list left me paralyzed by indecision. So I turned to Spotify’s stated mission: “… songs to take you back in time to your teenage years.” By that rubric, when was I my purest teen self? The era when I lay on the living room floor as my dad yelled at me to stop opening and closing the TV cabinet doors with my feet (“Fantasy” by Mariah Carey; “Loser” by Beck) feels too early; the nights spent grinding with a rando on a vile dance floor in college (“Too Close” by Next; “What’s Luv” by a trio of legends) seems too late.
Prime teenhood was, for me, those few dreadful, hopeful years between beginning high school and obtaining a license. Prime teenhood was hearing a song on 97.5 WPST while slumped in the passenger seat of my mom’s car on the way to an Aéropostale. Therefore, the most Time Capsule song on my list is “Closing Time” by Semisonic, that staple of reality TV finales and last nights of camp. In a bout of nostalgia, I even asked that the DJ play it at the end of my wedding. I’m not sure if Spotify knows that, but I imagine it must.
“Crash Into Me” by Dave Matthews Band
Alyssa Bereznak: I still have my iPod from high school, which you can find on my bedside shelf, perpetually charging on the janky Altec Lansing speaker my grandma gave me for my 13th birthday. It contains a whopping 332 Dave Matthews Band songs, a collection that draws from their studio albums, concert bootlegs, and the live CD compilations that the fan club sent to paying members each year. “Crash Into Me” was my gateway drug. I first heard it on a yuppie Bay Area radio station called KFOG in my mom’s car, and I immediately went home, stole it on Napster, and listened to it — no joke — like 300 times. It was the perfect soundtrack to play in the background as I composed gushing journal entries over my latest crush — a gentle melange of trembling drum cymbals, stray saxophone notes, and Dave Matthews’s very melodramatic voice. Fast-forward a few months and I was wearing North Face sweaters, cargo pants, and Birkenstocks, sleeping next to a framed photo of Dave, and attending pretty much every DMB concert within a reasonable vicinity. (And this was before I even started smoking weed!) If Spotify had thrown in any old Dave track — a “Two Step” or a “The Space Between” — I would’ve been mildly impressed. But its ability to choose the exact track that launched a somewhat unhealthy 10-year groupie streak, well, that’s just eerie.
“Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden
Danny Chau: Almost every night of karaoke I’ve ever partaken in for the last decade has started with me warming up to a rendition of “Truly Madly Deeply,” Australia’s greatest ode to transcendental, preapocalyptic romance.
I do so as a tribute to my childhood. Growing up, I was an 8-year-old bystander at my brother’s high school house parties full of karaoke, boba, and Dance Dance Revolution. It was a rich, full look into L.A.’s pre-Y2K Asian American youth culture. Savage Garden was always a go-to karaoke staple — so long as you can get your mouth around the verbosity, the song is simple to sing along to. The fun is in subjecting yourself to the tender torture of replicating lead singer Darren Hayes’s wailing adlibs at the end. Almost two decades later, my sha-laa-ee-daa-eee-daaa-yeah-ahh-oh-ohhhh is both horrifying and flawless. I’ll let you hear it next time.
“Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child
Molly McHugh: I still remember the video. Hell, I still remember the episode of Making the Video on MTV. (The color-coded sets!) There were still four members of Destiny’s Child, and I liked the short one the best because I too was (am) short. Nothing about this song represented me, a Catholic middle-school kid who didn’t really understand the concept of a man not saying your name, but damn if I didn’t know that I liked what I heard! You got me, Spotify.
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem
Danny Heifetz: When I was in fifth grade, 98 percent of the songs on my iPod were corrupted when my brother screwed up our LimeWire account. (He will deny this, but that’s what happened.) The only song I could listen to for months was “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. And aside from constantly playing on my iPod, it also constantly played on the coolest commercial on TV:
I knew so little about Eminem at the time that I thought the third verse was from a different rapper from D12. It didn’t matter. “Lose Yourself” helped me find myself.
“Electric Feel” by MGMT
Jordan Coley: The first time I heard “Electric Feel” by MGMT, it was being performed inside my small Connecticut private day school’s “refectory” by three cool — as far as small Connecticut, private day schools go — seniors at the once semesterly “coffee house.” I was a freshman, and I was riveted. Even in their amateur hands, the song’s piercing cymbal smashes and driving power chords pulsed with a life that was distinctly unlike any of the Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix that crowded my middle school iPod theretofore. It was 2009, and I was having my “indie” awakening. “Electric Feel” was my gateway drug. It opened up a portal to a world of Grizzly Bears and Beach Houses, and for that, I am forever grateful for it. I saw MGMT perform “Electric Feel” at FYF this summer — eight years after I first heard it — and guys, it still slaps.
“2001” by Phish
Jason Concepcion: Phish’s “2001” is a funk-rock arrangement of Richard Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra, Opus 30 (Thus Spake Zarathustra),” best known as the hammer orchestral track from the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This song was the second-set opener of my very first Phish show, and it altered the course of my life for roughly five years. Whether that was for better or worse is, honestly, hard to say.
“Here In My Room” by Incubus
Rubie Edmondson: I’m not ashamed to admit that this deep cut from A Crow Left of the Murder was my no. 1 most played song on iTunes from age 16 clear through age 20 — and that’s not even counting all the times I listened to it via the Alive at Red Rocks video on YouTube. Dreamy Brandon Boyd crooning sex metaphors over haunting guitar and synth chords: Who says no?! This is the song you play when you think you’ve found love at first sight with the guy who offered you a shot of watermelon Smirnoff at Nana’s party. To revisit it now is to revisit every angsty teenage relationship I had in the ’00s, and there are finally enough years in between to make this a delightfully nostalgic Time Capsule addition.
“Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World
Micah Peters: When you’re a dumb middle-schooler, which I was, things like unreturned glances and circled N’s on Y/N notes register emotionally as near-death experiences. Everything is either the best or worst thing ever to happen, and you’re misunderstood, and frustrated, and you don’t wanna talk about it; all you want are some whoas, some ohs, and some contentment. Just to be sure you can still feel it, you know, since “N” is all you can think about. Why would you do that, Sharon?
Anyway, Jimmy Eats World’s “Sweetness” from the 2001 album Bleed American, which I still haven’t heard in full, can’t be sung, only yelled. Those are the rules. It was true when I heard it through Logitech speakers in the bedroom I inherited when my older brother moved out; it’s still true now, when I grip the steering wheel and belt those whoas with my eyes closed, hoping not to crash. “Are you listening?” lead singer Jim Adkins says at the beginning, more demanding than asking. Hell yeah I am, I say aloud, to no one.
“Dilemma” by Nelly Featuring Kelly Rowland
Rodger Sherman: Is “Dilemma” by Nelly and Destiny’s Child second-place finisher, Kelly Rowland, the best song on my Time Capsule? No. Is “Dilemma” by Nelly and Kelly my favorite song on my Time Capsule. No — although I gotta admit, it’s top 10.
But “Dilemma” has a music video in which a headbanded-and-Band-Aid’d Nelly wears an octuple-XL tricolor UConn alternate jersey and steals Kelly Rowland from a headbanded-although-not-Band-Aid’d Larry Hughes (who is wearing a quintuple XL Lance Alworth throwback jersey), and Kelly attempts to send a text via Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. It’s the most Time Capsule song.