Stupid We Sing: In Defense of Y-Songs

We all hate them, secretly. We all groan a little when they start. We look side to side, grinning sheepishly and shrugging at each other as if in apology. Even those of us who act like we enjoy them really cringe a little inside every time.

Obviously, I’m describing Y songs, those most embarrassing of ear worms. If you’ve ever been to a Y conference, you’ve heard one; if you’re new, just wait. It won’t be long. Soon you’ll be muddling your way through terrible lyrics and worse dances.

The first time is the hardest. You feel isolated and idiotic, like the only person in the world without a clue. Everyone else knows the words and is chanting along with such fervor you can’t help but wonder what kind of cult you’ve stumbled upon. It takes time and whatever they put in the smoothies to get the hang of it. Eventually, you’ll know the words and the dances, but that internal question — What am I even doing? — never really gets answered.

Once learning the songs stops being a problem, the songs themselves become one. The more experienced Y-kid might feel the need to respond to the songs: Yes, I know why I can’t ride in your little red wagon; you don’t have to scream. Of course I’m very sorry about all those terrible injuries Tarzan & Co. have received; they have my condolences, and I hear aloe is good for sunburn. There are no answers, kids. Have another smoothie.

If you observe the room during a Y-song, you’ll notice different kinds of Y-singers. There’s the pretenders, shouting louder than necessary, hiding a inner, screaming voice of terror under decibels of bravado. They make everyone a little uncomfortable. There’s the triers, looking for meaning in the nonsense, attempting and failing to memorize the words. That’s where I fall, and why I’m writing this; we triers tend to overthink things. There’s the nay-sayers, arms-folded and lips only opening to say, “This is stupid, man.” We don’t like nay-sayers. They ruin the charade. Drink more smoothies, nay-sayers.

There are variations and aberrations on those themes, of course, but that’s not what matters. If you, while casing the room for a possible exit from the madness or for a bathroom to deal with all those smoothies, stop for a second to feel the atmosphere of the room during a Y-song. There’s a feeling in the air, churning underneath the lyrics and hiding in the recesses of every mind. It almost electric. It’s…embarrassment.

There is no denying it. All of us — pretenders, triers, nay-sayers, everyone — think that Y-songs are the stupidest, most awkward things on the planet. We are high-schoolers, and this is for babies and clowns. We are the future leaders of Kentucky, and this is potential blackmail material. It’s that eternal questions, playing on repeat in our heads: What am I even doing?

I have struggled with Y-songs for a long time, but I think I finally have an answer to that question. I may not be able to tell you what a rigabamboo is, but I can tell you this: Y-songs are embarrassing for a reason. We need them to truly understand the Y.

The Y is about unity; Y programs like KYA work to unite people from different backgrounds and interests in order to show them that they have a common goal. Y conferences can be scary because they ask so much of you. They ask you to be informed and outgoing and prepared and flexible. They ask you to look past differences, not to ignore individuality, but rather to allow room for similarities to be found. Y-songs are a visceral, socially traumatic way of preparing you for these demands.

Y-song require you to learn silly words and silly dances and then do them in front of other people. They force you to set aside any semblance of pride or ego and work with your peers. Y-songs use our mutual embarrassment to grow us as people and to unite us as an organization.

You don’t have to like Y-songs. You can fake it, if you want. You can sit out for them, too. But no matter how you feel about them, they are an integral part to our development as Y-members and as citizens of a greater community. So, maybe, if you’re feeling brave, if you’re feeling like part of the Y, embrace the awkwardness. It’s there. It’s not going away. But the way it hinders you can be overcome if you stop letting it consume you, and you consume it instead, like so many smoothies.

Enjoy the embarrassment. Sing all the Y-songs, even the weird ones, and savor it. Even stupidity can serve its purpose when its part of the Y.