Some might argue that OneRepublic’s “Apologize” is one of the most basic pop songs of the 21st century, but the piece possesses an instrumental and melodic genius that is difficult to find in many of the radio hits of the past 16 years.

My first experience with “Apologize” was just outside the smelly gates of the Detroit Zoo. I am a wee fourth grader, exhausted after a day long field trip filled with scorching sun and caged animals. My friends and I sit in the backseat of our parent chaperone’s car, fervently discussing our favorite exhibits while the unassuming mother looks on, fiddling quietly with the radio knobs of the slightly dusted dashboard. She finally settles on channel 98.7, leaning back as smooth pop rock swells to fill the slightly sweaty interior of the car. I’m silent within seconds, stunned by the beauty of the piece.

I listen intently, picking at the strains of golden cello that weave in and out of the piece, jumping a little bit as I am prodded back to life by my friend, who chuckles at me as she realizes I’m mouthing the lyrics to myself. Our attention slowly shifts from the end of our field trip to the song, and soon the car has transformed into a chorusing, slightly off key rendition of “Apologize,” with the mother even joining in at times.

For the longest time, I didn’t have a very personal connection with music. I never went out of my way to discover songs that I liked, and as a result, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I even enjoyed. If my classmates decided that a song was hip, I’d tag along too. It was a few years before I thought to explore music for myself; I started out surfing YouTube in an avid search for songs to download onto my MP3 player, then eventually graduated to the more streamlined process of Spotify. Discovering music that I loved was a gradual but rewarding process that not only made me happier but also cemented my shaky self esteem by helping me determine key aspects of my personality.

“Apologize” personifies everything I’ve grown to cherish about pop music: A slow buildup contrasted with an intense chorus, a catchy tune and dramatically heart wrenching, yet easily recognizable lyrics. The combination of cello with the faster paced percussion balance each other out perfectly, in a way that keeps the song mellow but ensures the melody never gets so slow that it drags. Tinkling piano notes add a lightness that helps the song move as it unfolds, lending the music a delicate, dancing nature that further flavor the complexity of the melody.

“Apologize” made me nostalgic for things I’d never experienced. Even though I was yet to have a relationship that was even remotely romantic, I’d belt out lyrics with the grace and passion typical of an angsty teen drama. But what I loved most was the cello in the background. Back then, I had no idea that I’d be playing the cello in just a few short years, but even without prior string experience, I loved the rich resonance of the instrument and the depth it added.

Whenever I listen to “Apologize” today, I’m still struck by the artistry of the piece and the same cocktail of emotions I experienced back in elementary school. It never fails to remind me of the way music can impact much more than just the present. 

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