I never thought I would get a tattoo until last Saturday. It wasn’t because I didn’t like them — I was just afraid of having something permanently marked on my body for the rest of my life. However, after seeing Lorde perform for the third time this year at Life is Beautiful, I knew it was time.
I spent some of my final hours that weekend as a walk-in customer at a tattoo parlor on the Las Vegas Strip. I was nervous and worried, but nevertheless I managed to assert a confident “yes” every time my friends asked me if I was sure about my decision. After watching a couple get matching tattoos at 1 a.m., I finally embraced the point of no return.
Surprisingly, watching the tattoo artist etch the words onto my skin with a needle was an invigorating feeling. I had never felt such euphoria before, and as exhausted as I was after being at a music festival all day, my heart continued to beat rapidly as each letter was written. An hour later, my wrist was officially inked with the words “green light.” I was liberated.
When I came back to campus on Monday, many people asked me what the tattoo meant. For brevity, I simply told them it was my favorite song of all time. And it was. But it also carried a much deeper meaning than I could ever casually explain in a two-minute conversation, so now here I am coming forward with the reason behind my choice.
In retrospect, 2017 has been the most difficult year of my life — and even now, I’m still in the process of recovering from everything that’s happened. In March, I was confronted by both the death of a high school friend and a forced revelation of my sexuality to my family. As these events unraveled, I had also been threatened with the termination of my resident assistant contract.
My mental health took a hit and I fell into a deep state of depression as the semester went on. I wasn’t on speaking terms with my parents for at least a month; I withdrew from a class because I couldn’t handle the course load; I missed half of my internship to stay in bed; and I used drugs to escape the reality I was forced to face everyday. On the outside, I seemed fine to my residents, classmates and colleagues. But deep down, I was living a personal hell, not knowing where to go or who to ask for help.
By pure serendipity, Lorde released “Green Light” as this stage of my life took its course. When the song first came out, I listened to it because I loved the production — the octave leaps, the instrumental rush, the piano notes, the incongruity and complexity, everything. It was different from what Lorde had created since Pure Heroine, and I saw it as an indication of a new, unique direction she was headed in. But as I found myself listening to the song every day, I discovered many more reasons to love it as much as I do now.
“Green Light” became my personal anthem for empowerment.
The brief moments of happiness that I truly enjoyed during this time were listening to the song on late-night car rides by myself. Every time Lorde chanted, “I’m waiting for it, that green light, I want it,” I chanted with her. No one to judge me for screaming to the top of my lungs, nothing else to think about. No interruptions. Just the melody blaring from the pulled-down windows of my red Toyota RAV4, and the reminder to keep moving forward.
Lorde even said it herself in an interview with Beats 1: “The song is really about those moments kind of immediately after your life changes and about all the silly little things that you gravitate toward … And I realized this is that drunk girl at the party dancing around crying about her ex-boyfriend who everyone thinks is a mess. That’s her tonight and tomorrow she starts to rebuild. And that’s the song for me.”
It’s strange how music can play such a big role in people’s lives. For me, “Green Light” was much more than just a breakup hit or a lead single. It was a reminder to keep pushing for the change I wanted to see in myself and in my life.
I was tired of being sad. Of feeling lonely. Of worrying about what people thought of me. Of trying to fix every problem alone in the dark. Listening to “Green Light,” I realized I had to want that change — to fight for it, to angry dance for it — to do whatever it takes to make myself stronger and better, while also understanding that it’s OK to be upset at the things that brought me down.
When I look at my wrist now, I see the words “green light” permanently etched onto my skin. But in my mind, I’m reminded of my own strength, my resilience — as well as my love for Lorde. I now know I’m going to make it through life, and I’m prepared to overcome any struggle, heartbreak or pain that comes my way. I’ll continue to fight for my own happiness no matter what. All it takes is a simple song.
Thank you, Lorde, for allowing me to find myself. And also: Melodrama forever.
Allen Pham is a junior majoring in public relations. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “The A Game,” runs every other Monday.