No phone bills. The weight of figuring out what to wear to school tomorrow. Having a crush in your class who doesn’t notice you beside them, so you’re scared to make the first move. Owning an unfamiliar body that stretches and morphs when you’re not paying attention, only to be informed by family and friends and subsequently blushing after being told that you’re changing. Whether you’re anticipating it, currently going through it, or have gone through it and came out on the other side, being a teenager is quite the challenge. It’s literally a mind-altering event that causes one to become on the road to the person that they’ll ultimately become, both physically and mentally.
But in this stressful time of clenched fists, purple faces, and salty tears, there are weightless times without responsibility that are later looked back on with a smile on the face. Ellie Goulding‘s latest tune, “Sixteen,” is dedicated to this period defined by acne. Her memories are crystal-clear sequences as she looks back in this mid-tempo jam and fondly recalls simpler times — simple as in fewer bills, because in terms of emotions, being a teenager is much more difficult than being a child or an adult.
“Sixteen” is cheery in a sad way, like the graduation music that scores the final day of high school. While the soft production is sunny and friendly, Goulding sounds somber beneath her vibrant disposition as she stares into the night sky on a cliff outside of town, eyes misty while she’s lost in her memories. It feels personal, like we’re listening into a private conversation between two conflicted souls desperate for backward time travel.
She recalls wise words from teachers and moving away from town with a smile on her face that you can hear. Then a tear slinks down the face. The chorus is only three lines, but “sixteen” is the last of each one. Sixteen was when it all made sense. Sixteen was when the smiles were unforced and the attraction was electric and authentic. For now, her and the person she’s singing to can only think of what that connection felt like as they try to explain to themselves that it just isn’t there anymore.
Goulding will appear on the Game of Thrones album For the Throne – Music Inspired by the HBO Series when it comes out on April 26. Last month, she released the delicate single “Flux” with an accompanying somber and intricate black-and-white-video.