Livestreamed and Quarantined: Thundercat

There are few song intros that are as instantly recognizable as the first hit of The Isley Brothers’ iconic sampled drum line in Thundercat’s 2015 track, “Them Changes.” While I’ve only listened to a few of Thundercat’s tracks, I’ve fallen hard for his sarcastic bass lines and sweet vocals. When I stumbled across his performance of “Them Changes” featuring Ariana Grande at the virtual Adult Swim Festival a few weeks ago while aimlessly scrolling through Facebook, I stopped in my tracks and proceeded to watch it four times in a row.

To be honest, I’m usually too caught up in Thundercat’s groove to notice what he’s singing about. But something about this performance (maybe it was the fact that I watched it four times in a row) made me truly listen to the lyrics for the first time.

“Nobody move, there’s blood on the floor / And I can’t find my heart / Where did it go? Did I leave it in the cold? / So please give it back, ’cause it’s not yours to take / It must’ve fell when I lost my mind.”

This isn’t a breakup song about a slow, drawn-out goodbye. There’s no doubt that he’s talking about a heartbreak, but to me it sounds like he’s singing about something a little more jarring and unexpected. Like keys fallen out of a pocket, his heart is something small and dear that got misplaced on the subway ride home. While a puzzled Thundercat stands on his doorstep, I imagine a fist-sized heart hopping around a snow-covered sidewalk in search of its owner.

After sitting with these lyrics for a few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that this brief and unexpected heartbreak that Thundercat sings of rings all too true for our time. With COVID-19 cases rising, and an undeniable wariness around seeing anyone outside of our cohorts, the thought of meeting someone new at this point during the pandemic not only seems scary, but utterly exhausting. And yet, there’s a part of us that is still trying to make some semblance of a connection, whether that be friending your Marriage Pact match on Facebook, redownloading Hinge or even just private messaging your Zoom crush from class. The days are getting shorter and colder, making us crave the closeness of a relationship, physical or emotional, all the more. 

I’ve had countless conversations with friends about how this virus has tossed the idea of reckless, casual meetups out the window for the indefinite future. We now exercise extreme caution in all social activities, painfully careful with whom we choose to invest our time in. The emotional stakes are great, but the uncertainty of our futures are even greater; oftentimes it seems like the moment we finally make a connection, the end is already in sight. Maybe we decided to head home early for break, or maybe we realized we don’t have the capacity to make space for another person in our lives, but more often than not, we find that brevity defines our romances, and perhaps even more so, our farewells.

In his last verse, Thundercat reflects on this same theme: “I’ve been traveling so long, I don’t think I can hold on / Where were you when I needed you the most? / Now I’m sitting here with a black hole in my chest / A heartless, broken mess.”

I can’t seem to get over the irony of it all, to be living in a time where all we want is to be close to others, and yet this is exactly what we have to avoid for our own physical safety. I’m sure this interpretation strays from Thundercat’s original intention, but “Them Changes” undeniably encapsulates the feeling of navigating relationships and heartbreak during a pandemic. It’s surreal, sudden and painful in a way that we couldn’t have ever anticipated. I would’ve never thought an Adult Swim Live Stream would have me contemplating romance, but, in retrospect, who would’ve guessed we’d be in this situation in the first place.