"It was in Cambridge that I learned to love music."Rachel Imrie

I should preface this piece with the disclaimer that, like any person with even a shred of humility, I am ashamed of my taste in music. Perhaps more so than the average person, having been raised in Glasgow where the two main sports growing up were football and music, and, if you know anything about the Glasgow football scene, I can tell you that music is enjoyed with a similar tribalistic fervour. Not only that, but I am also one of the few people who can say with any conviction that they liked Taylor Swift before she was cool (or however much conviction such a statement can behold).

So, no, my music taste is not cool. Yet upon my arrival at Cambridge I acquired two things: a sudden need to make friends and an Apple Music subscription. And the latter seemed to solve the problem of the former; at my fingertips was a conversation starter and a relationship builder, all for the low price of £4.99 a month. Gone were the days when I could sit in the corner at house parties, and swiftly pass the Bluetooth-ed phone to the person opposite, saying I could think of nothing to add to the queue. Now I must listen to music and, what’s worse, have opinions on it, know my Ryan Adams from Bryan Adams, my Catfishes from my Bottlemans, etc.

Now, with two years of university under my belt, there are several songs which have forged an indelible link with Cambridge in my head. The city itself, its culture of gossip and open secrets, is, for me, perfectly captured by Kacey Musgraves’s ‘This Town’. Not everyone likes country music – on one unfortunate first date I went on last year my drinking buddy groaned and rolled his eyes when I lied that it was merely a ‘guilty pleasure’ of mine. But, for anyone who’s wondered whether the cobbled streets have eyes and ears, Kacey has the answer: ‘This town’s too small to be mean.’

We may not be able to be together in Cambridge, but these strange vibrations, these accidents of sound that talented people have learned to master, are a gift.

With other songs, come flashes of memories of fleeting moments and passing acquaintances. I haven’t been able to listen to Scouting for Girls’s ‘She’s So Lovely’ the same way since a particularly regrettable evening in Fez (is there any other kind of evening in Fez?). And I’m pretty sure that everyone at Cambridge has a specific college character in mind when they hear ‘Common People’ by Pulp, and, if you don’t, you’re probably that person for someone else.

The songs, however, which form the core of my Cambridge playlist are those which are attached to memories of the people I have grown to love. Tessa Violet’s ‘Crush’, our bop of Michaelmas term, discovered by accident on a YouTube spiral and the first song that I cultivated the courage to recommend to my new, cool university friends (who I have since learned are neither cool nor would they claim to do much university-ing). Or SZA’s ‘Supermodel’ that we screeched throughout our first year, deciding that the lyrics were about whoever was currently relevant. Or even the Hamilton cast’s ‘Satisfied’, which a friend and I performed on a weekly basis prior to Wednesday Cindies, and for that 5 minutes and 29 seconds I swear that we are Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.

The bulk of the playlist is constituted of what the less cultured among us may call ‘basic bitch pop’. These songs, forensically clean in their production, warm my cynic’s heart despite their corporate sheen. Our pres playlists are dominated by Britney. When we found out that the line in ‘Womanizer’ was not, ‘You must mistake me for a sucker,’ but ‘Must mistake me, you’re the sucker’ we only belted it louder. It must be Britney who got it wrong. Yet another friend and I applied a lyrical precision to Ariana’s ‘7 rings’ which led us to memorising the bridge in hall, running the lyrics far too many times and far too publicly for two women who at least aspired to adult status. 


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But, strangely, the song which evokes my strongest memory of Cambridge is Hozier’s ‘Someone New’. Sat studying by my window, when that song came on shuffle the other day, suddenly I was transported back to my little first year room. Although great, Scottish clouds brewed overhead, I could feel the hot June sun against my skin, even taste the lingering flavour of Jack’s Gelato’s mango sorbet on my tongue. As I nodded my head to that forgotten beat, I remembered who I was when I first fell in love with that song, how happy I was to be there, in Cambridge, with everyone I had shared a year laughing, dancing and singing.

It was in Cambridge that I learned to love music. There, I realised it didn’t need to be something snobs used to assert their intellectual currency, but something which is best enjoyed when it is shared. We may not be able to be together in Cambridge, but these strange vibrations, these accidents of sound that talented people have learned to master, are a gift. They might help us feel a bit closer to the places and people from which we are distanced, reminding us not to take them for granted in the future.

And no, after two years of loving music, my music taste has not got any cooler.

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