On young love and the enduring perfection Sleeping With Sirens' first hit.
THIS ESSAY WAS ORIGINALLY SHARED ON MARCH 30, 2021
The universe blessed Sleeping With Sirens with the gift of perfect timing. When they burst onto the alternative rock scene with their 2010 debut album, With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear (the kind of title that makes you triple-check your writing), their young target audience was embracing social media in a big way. Frontman Kellin Quinn's swooping bangs and heartfelt lyrics made the perfect fodder for blogs, tweets, Facebook posts, and fan-driven content platform Tumblr. People created original content for the band and spread their music throughout the internet long before the word influencer was commonplace in marketing meetings.
Describing Sleeping With Sirens' sound, especially early on, is a difficult task. The simplest explanation is perhaps that they were a band made for — and made possible by — Warped Tour. They play fast-paced alternative rock that leverages the catchiest elements of pop-punk and metal to convey emotionally-gripping tales of self-discovery and growth. Their music creates a space where you can discuss trauma and compassion with unflinching honesty. It's the kind of thing that incites mosh pits and fills the opening main stage slot of any worthwhile rock festival. You can sing in the shower to it, cry to it, workout to it, mosh to it, or drive fast while screaming along—it’s versatile.
One of the band's breakout songs, "If I'm James Dean, You're Audrey Hepburn," is perhaps the closest any modern songwriter has come to distilling the sensations of young love into music. It's a straightforward song about falling in love and feeling self-conscious about your emotions. As Quinn sings about his anxieties and feelings of inadequacy, the music builds to a cathartic, sing-a-long ready chorus with a borderline cringe promise:
They say that love is forever
Your forever is all that I need (It's all that I need)
Please stay as long as you need
Can't promise that things won't be broken
But I swear that I will never leave (I will never leave)
Please stay forever with me
The beauty of great songwriting is that it transforms complex thoughts and emotions into ideas you immediately recognize. You can feel however you want about the words chosen to express these common ideas, but you cannot tell me you don't understand the message. As much as you may have developed preferences for certain behaviors or looks in partners, you know that all you really need in this life is someone to love you. That is a universal truth among humans. It is a lesson that we repeatedly learn throughout our lives, and it has fueled the creation of countless songs.
"If I'm James Dean, You're Audrey Hepburn" conveys that lesson in a way that even a child can understand. It tells us the same message about love being all we need that The Beatles sold to fans more than half a century ago, and it does so without shying away from the sometimes awkward act of discussing emotions in public. The music of Sleeping with Sirens reinforces the idea that loving and accepting love in return is what matters most. They're telling us to be comfortable with love because it is normal and acceptable and, above all else — good.
Listeners can interpret "If I'm James Dean, You're Audrey Hepburn" a hundred ways, and each one makes a case for Sleeping With Sirens' enduring popularity. They wrote the perfect song for young love in all forms. You can make it about the romance you never think will end or the journey of self-love and acceptance that we all experience. You can make it about feeling worthy or overcoming past traumas. You can make it yours, and that's what makes any song great.
There is no drug as potent or addicting as young love. The excitement that rushes throughout your body in those moments when you first connect with another human at the same point in life where you feel as though you may be able to live forever is an intoxicating high that cannot be captured or manufactured. It's an all too brief part of life that many of us spend the rest of our existence trying to duplicate. That's why every song and every movie seem to be about doing just that. More than money, more than glory, more than virtually anything — achieving the feeling of young love all over again is something most people will do anything to experience.
Young love simplifies romance. If you love someone, you should be with them. That is the equation that most teens and young adults adhere to when pursuing a romantic interest. We tell one another that they are our person before we even know ourselves. We believe that the bond we share with someone else can withstand anything before we've withstood a single thing. We buy into the cinematic idea of romance even though most of us learn from an early age that movies do not convey the truth. Young love tells us that sometimes — when the stars align just right — two souls meet, and the universe comes to a standstill so that they can bask in the glow of their love and share it with others for the rest of time.
"If I'm James Dean" was my entry point to Sleeping With Sirens, and yes, I immediately sent it to my crush. Quinn's vocals sell the promise of enduring love like no other. The song's energy mirrors the racing of your heart when endorphins flood your blood at the sight of your crush. It's intoxicating in all the best ways, making believers out of the coldest hearts.
Even now, eleven years since the song's release, "If I'm James Dean" is an emotional time machine. Whether it's a stream on Spotify or a performance at a raging concert, this silly love song has the power to make me believe in love the way Huey Lewis did in 1985. For three-minutes and forty-seconds, you cannot convince me that soulmates do not exist. The track's conviction is all the proof I need to believe we are all one breath away from being enough for the perfect companion to balance out all the weird things that me us unique. No past heartaches can hurt me. To hell with what you claim — love is real.
But of course, you knew that. You know these sensations because you feel them too. If not about this song, then another. As much as we strive to be in the present and work towards achieving various goals, there is a part of us that always longs to return to a simpler time when happiness took priority over work and taxes. We yearn for freedom, which we associate with feeling alive, and most of us have never felt more of either one than during our formative years. Music can take us there, at least on some level.
Think about the music you discovered between the ages of 13 and 19 and how it shaped your tastes, thoughts, and feelings ever since. During that period of our lives, the artists we love often serve as the soundtrack to some of our most pivotal developmental moments. Their continuing existence serves as a tool that, in one way or another, allow us to live in those memories once more. When you hear a song that meant a lot to you as a teenager, you can briefly reconnect with points in time when you felt alive. It is your brain’s way of doing whatever it can to replicate sensations long past because it wants us to be happy as much as we do—at least, for a moment.