A Personal History of Music, Day 2: “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

John Scalzi

“Maps” may or may not be the best rock song of the 21st Century (it was released as a single in September of 2003), but I can say that when I heard it for the first time, my reaction to was “Holy shit, that one’s a keeper.” The song had the quality in which it felt simultaneously fresh and like it had been around forever, a gut-punch heartbreaker (to mix metaphors) with a punk-rock wall of sound, and singer Karen O above all of it, opening a vein into her microphone.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have gone on to do more artful things since “Maps” (and after a long absence, they look to be returning with a new album later in the year, which is great), but they’ve never done anything as immediate, as arresting, and as visceral. And when Karen O drops that tear in the video (the song was written for her then-boyfriend, who was supposed to be at the shoot and was very late to it, and the singer was in a state), you know that she means every single word in that song. I was 34 and happily married for nearly a decade when I heard the song, and I still felt shattered by it. That’s power. That’s a hell of a song.

— JS

12 Comments on “A Personal History of Music, Day 2: “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs”

  1. I don’t think I ever knew the name of the song or the band, but hearing it takes me directly to like, Newberry Comics in Harvard Square…. or maybe a coffeeshop on the other coast.

  2. When their new song came out yesterday, I was so thrilled. Their first album was the soundtrack
    to all the passion, anger, and hope I was feeling at that age. Amazing artists.

  3. How is it I don’t remember ever having heard this song? It is pretty good. Do they still use electric guitar? From what I can tell from the music my daughter listens to no one uses electric guitars anymore. Okay, I’m an old fart!

  4. I wasn’t aware of this song until you posted it amongst a list of your favorite music a few years back. It is now one of my favorites and I thank you.

  5. It’s in the rotation on my local alternative radio station (Indie 88 in Toronto) so I hear it on a regular basis. Definitely one of my all-time favourites.
    And does it remind anyone else of ‘Til Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry’?

  6. I came a bit late to the party on this song, hearing it in Rock Band for the first time in spring of 2008. It immediately became one of my favorites on that game’s soundtrack, and I am so happy that I hadn’t heard it a few months before when I was going through the most emotionally destructive breakup of my life that coincided with the planned course of my life taking a turn as I finished up my undergraduate degree.

  7. Somewhat oddly, I came to this song through Rock Band…it was an odd time for me and personal relationships, and I was re-engaging with some old college buddies, who would often play Rock Band.

    …so the first time I heard the actual Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I was like “wait, that’s not [Kate]* singing, what the hell?”

    *Actual name is a) redacted and b) a deadname now.