A couple months ago I started an Instagram account to post my poetry on. My words are something I hold incredibly close to my chest, and I spent days and weeks and months afraid of ever sharing anything. My mind raced with thoughts of not being good enough, of nobody liking it, of the world not needing it. I didn’t want to take up space that doesn’t belong to me and I didn’t want to let go of something so personal and revealing and telling. But I felt like I had to do it, so I did it anyway. I still feel scared every single time I upload a new piece, but posting also feels like freedom, and I’m going to run with that feeling for as long as I can.
Sharing my poetry is a daily act of vulnerability, which is something I’ve been working on. The world makes us hard in places we should be soft, and I gave into that for a long time. I put walls up and kept my mouth shut and wore armour around like it didn’t add an extra hundred pounds of weight to my back. Despite all those bricks, everything ended up crumbling, and I gave up neutrality and blank faces and unshared emotion. I learned that being vulnerable means being brave and being vulnerable equates to strength and being vulnerable opens my heart up to the world in ways I still can’t quite fathom. Vulnerability feels good.
Art is inherently vulnerable. It has to be. Artists reach deep into their souls and pull out their lives and put their secrets on display for the whole world. Artists tell stories of pain and sometimes of triumph, of mistakes and sometimes of success. Artists peel back layers of themselves and reveal their flesh and bones without anything to protect them. And if we want to have any hope of turning our lives into art, we have to learn how to be vulnerable too.
Vulnerability shows up in painting and literature and film. Sometimes I find it in all of those things, but mostly I find it in music. I find it in the strained voice of a lead singer, in the way faces contort during performances, in the way words hang in the air and take shape and tell an unspoken story. It’s a beautiful thing to listen to your favourite bands and hear them sing about things that you understand, that you’ve gone through, that you know deeply. Musicians lay themselves out to the world for the sake of connection, for the sake of being honest, for the sake of letting go and finding a bit of the freedom that they once lost. And that’s really powerful.
So many of my favourite songs are vulnerable. Maybe that’s not on purpose, but I like that it shows up anyway. MUNA’s breathtaking debut album, About U, is the first thing that made me stop and think about it. Every track is raw and honest and open in a way that I hadn’t really heard before. They sing about what’s important and real and they make me feel less alone.
Out of all of MUNA’s tracks, I chose “I Know A Place” for this playlist, mostly because I bawled my eyes out the first time I heard it before proceeded to send a link to everyone I love. Months later, I saw them perform it live, and I cried again. Standing near the back of Massey Hall, Abby and I singing at the top of our lungs, flailing our arms around and feeling every word. The track fits into my heart like it doesn’t belong anywhere else. It reminds me to keep showing up. It reminds me that my past is not my present or my future. It reminds me that there are people in my life who love me better than I’ve ever been loved and that I don’t have to be afraid that they’ll leave, because they won’t. The track is a gift, and I carry it around proudly.
After MUNA, it became easier to notice how sincere music is as an art form. The tracks on this playlist are some of my favourite examples of an artist putting trust in their audience, knowing their fans will keep their secrets safe under their skin. There’s Lorde’s “Writer in the Dark,” which sends chills up my spine with each listen. Melodrama is steeped in vulnerability, but this song has always stood out – the vocals that make my heart ache, the lyrics that express anger and sadness and everything in between all at once. From Patti Smith I added “Pissing in a River” because of the way it expresses putting everything you have into a relationship and never getting the same thing back. Patti is always honest, sometimes almost alarmingly so, but I love the power and heartache here. It begs and pleads and maybe it comes up empty, but at least she got her feelings out there.
It was difficult to narrow it down when it came to Florence + the Machine, but “Too Much is Never Enough” starts quietly and builds in strength and it comes across like an audible representation of how it feels to be vulnerable. It’s difficult at first, words nothing but whispers, but you do it often enough and eventually you feel as if you have the power to scream your innermost thoughts from New York City rooftops. After Florence is “Terrible Love” by The National, a song that makes my heart clench each time I play it. The entire thing is tender, but I especially adore the pleading repetition of “it takes an ocean not to break.” If I could choose to be swallowed up by those words, I probably would.
One of my favourite tracks of all time is “All The Sad Young Men” by Spector. It has been the soundtrack to a lot of my most candid moments – friendships falling apart and friendships beginning, driving down Bathurst at night in the rain feeling every word soak into my soul. It exposes truths and it speaks to things that a lot of us are hiding and it feels like real life. Following that, Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” is there mostly because I remember hearing it for the first time and being captivated by the integrity of the lyrics. It’s the kind of song that puts weight in your heart, and I really like that.
It wouldn’t really be one of my playlists if I didn’t include The Vaccines, and I love how frank they are in their tracks. I spent a lot of high school scrawling the lyrics to “A Lack of Understanding” into the margins of my politics notebook, repeating “is this everything you always hoped that it would be?” over and over again in my mind. Sometimes being vulnerable just means having the courage to ask that question. The penultimate track is HAIM’s “Night So Long.” It’s lonely and it hurts and the emotions are palpable, and that’s why I love it so much.
I had to end the playlist with Harry Styles. “From the Dining Table” is a song that I stop what I’m doing to absorb, a track so simple and stripped back that nothing can be hidden. I’m struggling to say more than just “this song makes me feel things,” but it does. It feels like everything all at once – the happiness that once consumed a relationship, the pain of the unravelling, the loneliness of loss. I like that Harry’s solo career means we get to hear more of him. More emotion, more experience, more life. More vulnerability.
Being vulnerable is difficult. It always will be. As hard as it is, though, it’s equally important. Nothing feels quite as rewarding as pulling the skin away from your chest and pushing your lungs aside and revealing your heart to the people who matter. It breaks down walls and brings us closer and builds up our power, and I think it’s something we should all tap into more often. Here’s to vulnerability and it being one of the best weapons we have.