I started this playlist in the earliest days of writing my novel The One, so much so that it predates the novel’s title and is superstitiously just named “project” on my computer. Usually when I write, I listen to songs by very sad people mumbling, and while I love that genre and this playlist includes some songs like that, I knew this novel needed broader kinds of sound. It is set on a reality dating show and the cast of characters is a group of thirty women trapped together in a mansion. I wanted to capture the intensity of that feminine energy when working. The music I listened to served the purpose not only to get me in a meditative frame of mind while writing, but also to evoke a varied rhythm of their own: music for parties, music for falling in love, music for floundering, etc.
“A Burning Hill” by Mitski
I listened to a lot of Mitski when I wrote, so I struggled to narrow down my favorites to one song. The lines “I am a forest fire/ And I am the fire and I am the forest/ And I am a witness watching it” resonated while I was thinking so much about the disembodiment that reality television contestants must feel while performing for the show while simultaneously living their daily lives.
“I Want You To Love Me” by Fiona Apple
This title of this song is effectively the refrain across all reality dating shows, so of course I listened to it repeatedly as I wrote.
“Thot Shit” by Megan Thee Stallion
The characters in the novel are deprived of the ability to listen to music, read the news, text their friends. They have no connection to the outside world, no media to enjoy or revel in. Then, there is a scene in the novel where the contestants are allowed to go to a club for one night. Imagine being stuck inside a house with nothing to do but start interpersonal drama and then suddenly having this song pulsing through your ears. Catharsis at its finest.
“Honey” by Robyn
At the end of the club scene, some of the main characters are dancing together. It’s very late, and they are drunk and the world is blurry and neon. In my mind, this is the song playing. Other shout outs to women singing about honey are Kehlani’s “Honey” and Beyonce’s “PURE/HONEY,” both of which I also listened to while working on this book.
“Seventeen” by Sharon Van Etten
Though Emily, the main character of The One, is not seventeen, there is a part of her that is desperately searching for the freedom that this song captures. She is on the edge of something at 24 years old in the way that many people in their late teens are as well – searching, longing, wanting to scream.
“Los Ageless” by St. Vincent
I had never been to Los Angeles when I wrote the book and very much made things up about what it feels like to be there. This song captures the mythic elements of the city: the heat, the beautiful people, the artificiality. I also love the chorus line, “How can anybody have you and lose you/ And not lose their minds, too?” Another fitting refrain for the philosophies behind reality dating television.
“Flaming Hot Cheetos” by Clairo
My book mentions Flaming Hot Cheetos as they are an iconic snack. The messier the woman, the spicier the cheese puff.
“Dive” by Victoria Monet
I admire Monet’s lyrics on sex, and this song is unabashed in its direct approach (bed springs squeaking in the background!). It was important to me to have on the page sex scenes in my novel, as a fade-to-black approach would simply be mirroring what happens on reality dating shows. Part of the project of the novel was to think about what the intensity of a consciousness rendered in literature can do that television cannot, so listening to songs about sex made me brave when I had to get down to business writing my own scenes.
“Moon River” by Frank Ocean
This song is so beautiful and perfect. No notes.
“Emily I’m Sorry” by boygenius
This came out well after I finished writing my book, but it is getting an honorable mention here because it features the protagonist’s name and is sung by trio Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker.