The Album That Saved My Life, 1 Year On

When I was younger, I remember my mom constantly telling me — usually with my face staring blankly at whatever screen was in front of me — to go outside, to try something new, to meet someone new. And I wish I listened to her more than I did.

In my experience, as technology has become more and more rooted in our daily lives, the world — paradoxically — has become increasingly isolating. The majority of our interactions today, especially those on social media, fail to satisfy our fundamental human desire to belong, to feel accepted. They are a crutch, for me and for so many others like me. They represent a readily available, yet superficial escape from the all-too-real fear of actually putting yourself out there.

Coming to terms with this (and learning how to cope with it) is incredibly daunting. Lacking a sense of belonging is emotionally and psychologically trying, especially during high school and college, when specific events (like homecoming and prom) and the overall experience are so heavily shaped by group involvement. The obvious fix is inclusion: in something, in anything. However, isolation creates a powerful disillusionment with the world that makes escaping its grasp a virtual impossibility.

Yet in the midst of this uncertainty, music serves as a viable outlet. It welcomes the listener in unconditionally, giving them the sense of meaningful involvement they’ve been longing for. This ability to seamlessly engage is the greatest strength of Texas artist Kevin Abstract’s most recent album, American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, ahead of technical ability or production quality. The project was originally released on November 18, 2016, almost exactly one year ago, but its insights remain as relevant — and as empowering — as ever.

Throughout the 16-track album, Abstract details the struggles of his youth, from falling in love, to being ostracized by his own family, and everything in between. Within the first 45 seconds of the opening song “Empty,” he confesses, “I hate my last name / I hate everything it stands for.”

On the harrowing “Blink,” he builds on this theme of hatred (both internal and external):

“I don’t wanna take the bus, they hate me on the bus, they push me on the bus / That’s why I never wake up, that’s why I snooze when my fucking phone go off.”

And on the electric guitar ballad “Papercut,” he attempts to come to terms with the consequences of his own sexuality:

“The harshest of all times / Can’t tell my family I’m bi, can’t tell my mother I’m gay / The hardest part of my day is wishing I was fucking straight / Life could be so fucking easy, man.”

It’s in these candid revelations that the album gets its true power. Abstract proudly refuses to concede to society’s stigmatization of vulnerability and open expression. He encourages others to explore their own emotions with similar conviction, and in doing so, guides them towards self-acceptance. The final track of the project, “I Do (End Credits),” is a fitting culmination.

I remember listening to this album for the first time, floored by what Abstract had endured. Battling then-undiagnosed depression and anxiety, I was constantly trying to figure out how I fit in, how I mattered. I was convinced that I didn’t deserve the attention and concern others showed me, that I somehow wasn’t capable of reciprocating the care that others were giving me. And still, despite being caught in such a dangerous downward spiral, American Boyfriend, and “I Do” in particular, managed to make each and every one of my problems seem conquerable.

Throughout the closing song’s chorus, the altered, high-pitched voice of Abstract repeats, “This is exactly who I’m supposed to be. This is me.” He maintains this defiance for the remainder of the track, ending the song (and the entire album) by proclaiming, “Say that shit with pride and all. You can’t take shit away from me.”

Amidst so much negativity, Abstract still remains aware of — and appreciative of — everything that has made him who he is, flaws and all. During my first listen, this mindfulness was admirable, and not much more. However, today, it holds a much greater significance. It serves as both a representation of the challenges I’ve overcome, and as a continued source of inspiration moving forward.

This past spring, I took a semester off from school to focus on my own health. It was, quite frankly, a terrifying decision to have to make, and it came with plenty of loneliness and self-doubt. Yet at the same time, it was also an incredibly valuable experience. It taught me so much about myself and my place in this world, and it has helped me form (and strengthen) some of the most important relationships in my life. And I wouldn’t trade the stories, the laughter, or even the tears from these past six months for anything.

And yet I still listen to American Boyfriend on a daily basis. This album, by shedding light on the issues that often get overlooked in society, or those that we aren’t properly taught how to cope with, constantly reminds me of all that I’ve overcome, and how these experiences have changed me for the better. It’s a tangible link between the darkness of the past and the optimism I have for the future. It’s the support I needed — and still need — to tell myself, unapologetically: “This is me.”