The End Times

What Song Will You Play As You Await The Apocalypse?

Ruby Thelot presents four options through the looming end times.


The End Times is a column cataloging the omens of the Apocalypse as they occur in culture.

You have a few minutes left. Melancholia is approaching. You have the aux.

Your fingers grasp the phone, its brightness dull due to low battery. It recognizes your face and unlocks. What app do you choose? Is your final song on a streaming service? Do you have it downloaded in case there is no service? Is the song an unreleased deep cut only available on Youtube or in the Soulseek folder in your iCloud files?

I’m anxiously waiting; time ticks as the impact nears. The dark screen is lightly shattered, the consequence of an unfortunate fall earlier that day caused by the oddly sized debris now all over the streets. Polygonal pans of office windows, sides of buildings that once scraped the clouds. The remaining moon rays shine around the approaching rogue planet and refract into the thousand fissures in the glass. I see your thumb slide as you search, its dry epidermis catching in the cracks, slowing its repetitive upward motion. Up then down, down then up, searching, still searching. I look over your shoulder as I try to make out the name in bright white of the artist who will accompany us to the end. You seek the nearest cement bench and sit, eyes still glued on the screen. You hand me back the phone for me to pick, indecisive until the end.

It took me a while to figure out what I would play, but I’ve been thinking about it. Take this opportunity to prepare. The first option is to play a song about the end times, on theme. I’ve always loved the song “City of Angels” by Miguel, from his 2017 album War & Leisure. It tells the story of a man who, while some surprise apocalyptic-style war event is happening, is at a bar in Venice Beach with a past love interest instead of being with his current lover. A one-sided account of a remorseful lover, vignettes of war, and imperfect goodbyes.

When the City of Angels fell

I was nowhere to be found

“You have a few minutes left. Melancholia is approaching. You have the aux.”

The roaring guitar, the rhythmic drums, and the repetitive chorus coalesce to make a sad yet slightly upbeat song about such a tragic moment. The song is tainted by its bittersweet narrative: America, presumably, has won the war, but Miguel has lost his love and missed his chance to spend his last minutes with her.

We won the war but not a day goes by

That I don't think I shoulda been with you

I’d probably lay down and immerse myself in the song, passively awaiting impact. But maybe I’d want to dance. In my last moments, perhaps, I’d like to get up, break a sweat, and move my body one last time with the reckless abandon of a drunk teenager. You could join me. The dancy/apocalyptic banger is a storied genre. “4 Minutes” by Madonna (2008) comes to mind. 4 minutes and 4 seconds of Timbaland’s frenetic beat, punctuated by drums, brass, cowbells, and Justin Timberlake’s crooning voice. A crowd favorite, too. Impossible not to dance to.

We only got four minutes to save the world

We, of course, would not. “Till the World Ends” by Britney (2012) is another great choice. The song seems to be a direct reaction to the apocalyptic fears we had surrounding the Mayan Armageddon scheduled for December 21, 2012. Another throwback. The entrancing claps and the immaculate electro-pop production are sure to make for an iconic signoff. I imagine the wet and filtered bridge, when Britney’s voice is muffled before the loud bass returns, will occur as we feel the heat of Melancholia entering the atmosphere.

Actually, Prince’s "1999" would be perfect way to end in dancing. The 80’s synth, the groovy bass. Truly hard to go wrong with that song.

But when I woke up this mornin', could've sworn it was judgment day

The tune is buoyant with the human exuberance that seeks to defy death. 17 years before Y2K, Prince anticipates the panic, exhorts all to dance like the world is about to end and graciously provides the ideal soundtrack to do so.

We hurry towards a car, a headless four-wheeler heading towards the wall, wheels kicking up sepia dust, slowly maneuvering through the terrain made uneven by objects left behind, fragments of invincible plastic and scraps of colored eternal polyester all around us. The city is now a valley of ruins and fluorescent puddles. Nothing besides remains. Noise is coming from over there. No. Here. Closer. Drive slow. Not to be heard. Make as little sound as possible. Your skin is dry from the stale air. I see the decapitated cityscape in your blue eyes. We turn onto a formerly residential street.

The alarm ruptures the greying silence: a voice, mechanical, automated, and computerized reminds us that the future does not need humans. Another hit is coming. The end. My iPhone is at 1%. I play our favorite song.

Hope there's someone

Who'll take care of me

When I die, will I go?

Hope there's someone

Who'll set my heart free

Nice to hold, when I'm tired

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