A collection of pixels come together to construct my economics teacher’s face. His disembodied voice egresses from my iPad speakers, fazes through my screen window and lectures the wind on elasticity and inflation. My AirPods are connected to my phone, playing a random hyper pop playlist on Spotify. The subgenre’s distorted vocals and high BPM reminds me of the Nightcore remixes I often enjoyed in middle school, but I cringe at my own comparison. I keep the past iterations of myself locked deep in my memory. Every time the memory of middle school slips into my recollection, it brings with it my own self-hatred and the fear that I will never fit in with any of the friend groups I’ve bounced around over the years. It’s easier to try to forget that I hate myself than to try to stop. The maximalist beats drown out my subconsciousness and become white noise as I half-study for my AP exam and half-scroll blissfully through my Instagram explore page. I don’t interact with any of my peers, but at least I can use my phone in class, so I love virtual learning.
When yeule’s “Veil of Darkness” plays, I don’t even notice it. The song’s soothing piano in its ambient intro almost lulls me to sleep. Yet, the soft instrumental is quickly overtaken by unidentifiable sound bites that I can only describe as robotic screaming. In the moment, the change feels so sudden, but in hindsight, the electronic cacophony always underscored the relaxing melody. The composition is so disturbing that I skip the song before it finishes.
Yeule finds me again several hours into my daily scroll through my TikTok For You page. I am encapsulated by an edit of the music video for their song “Pixel Affection,” a song about the blending of digital and the living self. In the video, yeule sits in front of a computer monitor, staring at a digital version of themself performing the song. When the performance ends, yeule’s computer requires them to get more fuel in order to continue, but yeule is caught off guard by their skin peeling away to reveal a mechanical interior. Meanwhile, digital yeule transports into the real world. The video ends with this digital form breaking into the living yeule’s house and killing them. The last scene depicts a blood-covered digital yeule transported into another world, gradually recreated pixel by pixel, and promptly collapsing.
I close the tab and open Zoom for class. Alone in my dorm room, I stare at the image of a boy with dyed blonde hair and under-eye skin rubbed raw from makeup remover wipes. I don’t recognize myself, and neither do my high school friends commenting under my latest Instagram post. It’s the most we’ve talked since graduation. This too embarrassingly unearths memories of middle school, as most things do apparently. My closest friends were virtual, and I would laugh with them for hours on a Skype call and in group chats, but I was distant from my classmates in person. I wish I didn’t remember this because I want to believe that I’m not the same person I was at 13. But at least I was momentarily happy then.
I open my eyes to the sting of one-night-old eyeliner coagulated in the crevices of my eye socket. The pixel array encompassing my lock screen displays the time “6:45 a.m.” I had only put my computer to sleep an hour earlier, but there is no more time for me to rest. Even though my entire body aches, I force myself to stand up anyway. In the dark, I stumble around the empty energy drink cans, popsicle wrappers and dirty laundry festering on my bedroom floor. I throw on my dining hall uniform, completed by my earbuds. I queue up yeule’s newest release, “Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty” as I drag my feet toward my apartment door.
The occasional droning, drawn-out note harmonizes with the howling wind as I step outside of my building. The distant, echoing vocals gently pierce through the silence of the early morning. In truth, I like the emptiness of South University Avenue at dawn. In the evenings, jovial laughter echoes through the air, seeping through my apartment window as I sit in my bedroom, tapping through Snapchat stories of people living out television fantasies of the college experience. A year ago, I thought I would be much happier when people filled the streets. Yet, I still spend my nights in the company of unfinished math homework and my own bitterness.
The song’s acoustic guitar feels almost out of place compared to the rest of yeule’s discography, but it seems to reflect my feeling of loneliness back at me. I think this is why I keep coming back to yeule. From middle school to high school to even college, the internet has defined my life. From interviews, I know yeule felt the same. I’m still trying to reconcile my resentment of my past selves. And while yeule’s music does not pull me out of my sadness, at least it makes me feel understood, even though I don’t completely understand myself.
MiC Columnist Andrew Nakamura can be reached at email@example.com.