TRACK MARKS 2020: Coldplay’s “Orphans,” the Unintentional Pandemic Anthem Released in 2019

Track Marks is a recurring feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. Though they can appear on the site at any time, we always run a bunch of them in December and/or January and/or February, looking back at the year in music.

Coldplay performed “Orphans” on Saturday Night Live on November 2, 2019, when I was more worried about middle age than coronavirus.

“Shit,” I thought. “This is catchy.” As a rock-music fan approaching 40, I’m always worried about showing my decrepitude through the music I like. Ragging on Coldplay is an easy way to keep my bones from turning to dust. It shows I’m still with it enough to discern the difference between corporatized, consciously-coupled-with-the-mainstream dad-rock and truly felt, authentically crafted indie rock. But every once in a while Coldplay manages to slip a song through my defenses and expose my whole view for the lie that it is.

How “Orphans” managed to sneak in is a mystery. There isn’t much to it. It’s mostly chorus, and the lyrics to it are cheesy: “I want to know when I can go back and get drunk with my friends. I want to know when I can go back and be young again.” Even watching the SNL performance, I bristled at the idea that being drunk is the only way to feel young — I had my nights, but my best youthful memories were the sober ones — but I felt the meaning all the same. I wanted to feel as carefree and as bouncy as the song. Even if I wasn’t on the hunt for a tipsy evening, I did want to go out and cavort with my friends, something that rarely happened as the mom of a 4-year-old.

“Orphans” worked its way into my brain. I would hum it when out and about. It followed me home from the pizza place down that previously played Panic at the Disco’s “High Hopes” on a loop.

Now, it’s more than a year later, the 4-year-old is now 5, and, after a global pandemic that’s upended every corner of our lives, I only have one repeating thought: I want to know when I can go back. Back to normal. Back to seeing my friends and loved ones. Back to a time when I could go somewhere without worrying about risk factors and keeping my family from getting sick. If such a day ever returns to me, I will be young again.