I’ve been called everything from a purveyor of fake news to a “commie” since joining the INDY staff as editorial assistant last year, but the most personally offensive thing I’ve heard on the job is that our own arts editor, Brian Howe, doesn’t like The Beatles. His claim that “so much music has happened since The Beatles” was deeply troubling and borderline irresponsible in my eyes, and he was just as startled to hear that I like them. When I half-sarcastically pitched him a review of Danny Boyle’s new movie,Yesterday, his eyes lit up. But he wanted a personal essay, not a review.

This is how I, a Gen Z Beatles super-fan, ended up at the press screening for a movie about a band that broke up twenty-seven years before I was born, with a mandate to explain why they mattered to me.

To get this out of the way: The movie itself is fine. Performances by Himesh Patel and Lily James are strong. The concept itself is strong enough (if resolved somewhat underwhelmingly), and I even found myself laughing at Ed Sheeran. It won’t go down as my favorite movie, probably not even my favorite music movie, but it was a decent enough two hours. 

Upon leaving the theater, though, I sat in the parking lot and cried harder than I had in a long time. No other music has played as steadily throughout my life as The Beatles, and, flawed or not, Yesterday‘s claim that “a world without The Beatles is a world that’s infinitely worse” resonated deeply with me. 

My earliest memory is of sitting in the back of my family’s white Chevy Suburban, singing “Love Me Do.” This was around the age of four, but already, I knew all the words. Obviously, my parents were Beatles fans. My dad’s first favorite song, according to a baby book his parents brought over from the Philippines, was “She Loves You.” My mom’s love for music extended far past the classic-rock era that my dad still seems stuck in, but she’s the one who fueled my Beatles obsession, buying me and my brother Past Masters Volume Two and Yellow Submarine Songtrack for Christmas before I started kindergarten.

The Beatles came to dominate my life’s list of musical firsts. Just like my dad, my first favorite song was “She Loves You.” The first CD I bought with my own money was Revolver. My first concert was an outdoor gig for a band that played exclusively Beatles and Rolling Stones covers. And when I tried to start a band myself with two friends in middle school, the first song we played was the (admittedly mediocre) “Boys,” from Please Please Me.

Those memories aren’t necessarily contingent on the existence of The Beatles—everyone has a first favorite song, after all—but picking up a guitar allowed me to play on the soundtrack of my own life as I got older. A friend and I performed “In My Life” at our middle school graduation, an event so emotional that we actually forgot the words and had to be bailed out by our math teacher. When I had my first crush in high school, I recorded “I Saw Her Standing There”—her favorite Beatles song—to impress her. Shortly thereafter, I learned that playing along to A Hard Day’s Night over and over again is a decent way to take the sting out of adolescent heartbreak.

Of course, my life wouldn’t just sound different without The Beatles. One of my best friends and I originally bonded over our love for the band in second grade, swapping CDs to import to our family iTunes libraries, back when that was still a thing. We eventually named our group of friends “The Beetles,” assigned ourselves identities as the band members (we made the friend we knew the least be Ringo), and wrote Beatles “opposite songs” like “Purple Limousine,” “Griffin Underground with Moonstones,” and the still-funny “Quarter Street.”

For my twelfth birthday, my parents surprised us with tickets to a North Carolina Symphony tribute to The Beatles. I’d like to say I remember being blown away when they asked different members of the audience to sing along to “Hey Jude” at the end of the concert, but that’s probably a memory from one of the dozen other Beatles tributes I’ve seen over the years. (Abbey Road LIVE!, which plays at Cat’s Cradle a few times a year, is my favorite.)

I still remember the date The Beatles: Rock Band was released—September 9, 2009—and I logged countless hours playing the game with my friends once it arrived at my house from my pre-order. That day also saw the release of the band’s entire remastered catalog, which beefed up a Beatles collection on my iPod that had plateaued as I discovered new music in middle school. Years later, in December 2015, the deciding factor in my decision to retire my iPod and switch to Spotify was the surprise release of The Beatles’ entire catalog on the platform.

While Brian is right in saying that a lot of great music has happened since the sixties, there’s still a deeply inspiring quality to The Beatles’ music for younger fans. Their lyrics are timeless. Their approach to recording influenced most artists on the charts today—some say the first use of drum loops in music was on Revolver, after all—and their songwriting has driven everyone from Queen to Alicia Keys to pick up an instrument. And in a music landscape dominated by dazzling albums that take years to perfect, it can be rewarding to listen to an album like Please Please Me, which was quite clearly recorded in a single day, or “Hey Jude,” which, if you listen carefully, features a frustrated Beatle yelling “fucking hell!” after making a mistake during the vocal tracking.

Conversations I’ve had with friends about music invariably come back to The Beatles, and, coincidentally or not, most of them have their own stories of growing up with the music. Last year, I even got to introduce the band to a roommate who had grown up abroad and never really listened to them. It was a moment of joy but also of deep relief to hear him say, “Yo, I love The Beatles!” while playing The Beatles: Rock Band in our living room.

Hearing Paul McCartney sing “Hey Jude” during Yesterday‘s end credits flooded my mind with a lifetime’s worth of memories. I saw myself bouncing around my living room blasting Abbey Road after an exhausting day of first grade. I saw the face of the first girl I really loved as we listened to “Something,” a song I hoped could help explain all the amazing things I saw in her.

Most of all, I saw myself in the back of my family’s Suburban, singing along to what was surely the best music I would ever hear.


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One reply on “Think Generation Z Doesn’t Love The Beatles? Think Again.”

  1. Um… if you were born 20 years after the Beatles broke up, that would make you Gen Y, not Gen Z. The Beatles broke up in 1970, and the earliest anyone starts Gen Z is 1996.

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