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Love Letter: What Was Your Teenage Anthem?

Today’s Love Letter is written by Anna Martin, the host and a producer of the Modern Love podcast.

I spent most of middle school listening to Usher’s “U Got It Bad.” It was almost uncanny; the ballad seemed to have been written expressly for me and my debilitating obsession with a drummer in a church band. (To be clear: by “listening to,” I mean “crying to, loudly,” because the drummer didn’t even know my name.)

I feel like everyone has that song. The song that imprinted on them during their lovelorn, hormone-fueled formative years. So for the finale of this season of the Modern Love podcast, we asked listeners about theirs. We wanted to know: What’s the song that taught you about love when you were a teenager? (You can listen to the results here).

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The responses poured in from across continents, genres and generations: Laura from Sydney, Australia, sobbed to “Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie because her best friend had a new girlfriend. It made her realize that her feelings went way beyond friendship. Years later, Laura and her best friend are married.

What’s Love Got to Do With It” was a “heartbreak anthem” for Courtney, calling from Nashville. At 16, she had a boyfriend named Kevin who chose the song as “theirs.” But Courtney later discovered he was only using her as a rebound. (Boo, Kevin!) For Ruth in St. Louis, that same song was the electric soundtrack to a thrilling, secret college relationship, her first with another woman.

Noelia, from Spain, recalled driving with her host mother, on the last day of her stay in America before returning home. Noelia described the moment “I’ve Got a Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas came on the radio. Summer air through the open window, they screamed the lyrics together — formerly strangers, now family.

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And then, there was this one email, from a listener in Canada. Brief. Direct. And for me, an emotional gut punch.

“Girl” by the Beatles. After 55 years that song still makes me blue and yes, I still love her and no, she’s not here but with another man.

There was something about the specificity of the years: 55, more than half a century. Something about the clarity of its emotion, a couplet of unrequited affection: Yes, I still love her; no, she is not mine. Something about a blue that still lingers, even after so long.

I asked the listener for a follow-up conversation. He politely declined. I was disappointed, but now I see he was right to do so. His original email ended exactly how he needed it to:

As long as she’s happy, I’m happy. She’ll be 67 in a couple of weeks and I will send her a love song.

So many listeners sent us their love songs, and I like to think of this podcast season finale as our way of sending listeners a love song back.

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Listen to our finale, “First Love Mixtape: Side B,” and follow our Spotify playlist of listeners’ teenage anthems. We’ll be back in June with new episodes.

Anna Martin

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