Listen to this track by Stockholm-based indie trio with a self-explanatory and comma-free name, Peter (Morén) Bjorn (Yttling) and John (Eriksson). It’s “Young Folks”, a single as taken from their 2006 record Writer’s Block, a record that served as something of a breakthrough for the band after forming in 1999.
The album title is not in reference to the lack of ideas that often plagues writers.
Rather, it’s a nod to the neighbourhood, Hornstull, in which the band was based at the time, known for a high concentration of writers and artists and for being a hip part of Stockholm. As a result, the sound they reached for on this song and on the whole record was a cooler and slightly detached approach to production and arrangement that brought forward a few more sonic idiosyncrasies than most, like whistling the key hook on this song. That’s a sound a listener might make reproducing it on their way to work. That approach helped to distinguish them, with this song being a standout in various forms on radio, streaming sites, TV shows, movie soundtracks, and beyond.
The song features the guest vocals of Victoria Bergsman of fellow Stockholmers The Concretes playing the role of the would-be lover to which the forthright narrator asks a very direct question.
There’s an interesting contrast in this tune between the way it’s delivered and the subject matter with which it deals. As mentioned, the sound the band strikes is a sort of cool detachment, perhaps the opposite of what one might expect of a love song, which is ultimately what this song is. The lead voices are kind of sleepy and dreamlike, as if floating above the narrative as they’re not emotionally invested. But there is a distinctly earthbound quality about this song that puts its heart on its sleeve, full of rips and tears as it is. “Young Folk” a song of quiet desperation, rather than one of histrionic drama. This enhances its impact.
The setting of “Young Folks” is a gathering of some kind, a crowded room of socializing friends and perhaps strangers, and our narrator who is apart from them all except one. Full of self-doubt and possibly guilt, he puts his question to an object of his affection; if you knew about me and what I’ve been through, and what I’ve done, could you still love me? Would you let me into your world? Would you come into mine? This song is about making a connection, and doing so with a formidable level of candour. But there’s more to it than even that.
This song is about truth and how it intersects with intimacy. In this, maybe there is no setting to this unfolding drama at all. Maybe it is more symbolic than that, a structure by which we are presented with the idea that intimacy has nothing to do with ideal moments and certainly not ideal people. Experiences, mistakes, self-image, perception are all factors, all moving pieces that affect how we connect with someone else or not, with all of those elements churning within them in their own unique way. “Young Folks” boils all of this down to a single exchange, occurring as it does in a crowd; young, old, and those who have come before. It is about the miracle of making a connection with someone in the midst of chaos, and finding that by the end of the night, they’re still there for each other. They really do want to come into each other’s worlds after all, despite who they’ve been or what they’ve done.
I think this points to another important and powerful aspect found in this song; identity and transformation. Anyone who’s really being honest with themselves can pinpoint times when they’ve been cruel, or selfish, or cowardly, or petty. Sometimes, the memories of those things in our lives can keep us up at night. Sometimes, it can make us feel as if we don’t deserve happiness, or another chance to find love. I think there’s a lot of that in this song as well. Yet, this is all a part of the intimacy package, too. That we are all collections of the people we’ve been, choosing to reveal our story, our truth, to someone else in return for theirs.
There is a certain freedom we experience when we take that kind of a risk on someone. It makes our connection with them our own. The rules and judgements of others become immaterial to how we define it. That’s what this song is really about; finding your own “style”, whatever that happens to be, with someone else who’s willing to help forge that style with you.
Peter Bjorn and John is an active band today. You can learn more about them at their website, conveniently found at peterbjornandjohn.com.