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Connected to a Song: Coldplay – ‘Yellow’

“Yellow” helped mark Coldplay’s 2000s debut, painting a scene of bright-eyed wistfulness and dreamy love.

 I first became enamored with Coldplay’s music in 2012 when my dad and I were watching a Palladia episode (now the channel is known as MTV Live) in the living room of my family’s home. The English rock band was performing their 2000 hit song “Yellow” in front of thousands of people at a live concert in Paris. The atmosphere was captivating, with fans singing along amidst a sea of yellow balloons and colorful visuals. The lavish tone of the performance was breathtaking, and bolstered my intrigue in the band’s hypnotic aesthetic. The progression of the guitar riffs and lyrics created a mesmerizing glance into what the band represents in their music. “Yellow” is one of many examples where Coldplay inspires hope and positivity in their songwriting (even if it is a little more commercialized today), which is something critics overlook when judging their style.

The concert was the first real time my dad and I bonded over something musically, which is surprising considering he’s a huge fan of 80s rock, and I’m more into hip hop. After the show, he introduced me to his diverse vinyl collection, which included Coldplay’s classic first album, Parachutes. He told me that “Yellow” was the first track he heard from them during the beginning part of the 2000s. After that, his appreciation for the English rockers increased tremendously.

That appreciation trickled down during freshman year of high school, where my musical tastes were starting to develop outside of just mid-2000s hip hop (which honestly was a lot less exciting than today’s output). Prior to hearing “Yellow,” my only exposure to alternative music was Radiohead, Bon Iver and Arctic Monkeys. With the help of Coldplay’s first successful hit single, I began to take a more in-depth look into the nuances of art outside of rap music. 

The song itself features a beautiful evolution of production, starting first with a simple acoustic pattern, before unfolding into a full-on rock song filled with bombastic drums and exhilarating melodies, namely from the normally subdued Chris Martin. To me, “Yellow” is Coldplay’s greatest achievement when it comes to songwriting, establishing a concept of unrequited love in a time where rock was trying to regain its footing commercially.

“Yellow” was recorded in Rockfield studio in Wales off of the Parlophone label, which has signed bands such as Radiohead, Gorillaz, and The Chemical Brothers. The origin of the track is the stuff of movies, beginning with the band taking a studio break after recording their first single for Parachutes, “Shiver.” While outside, co-prodcer Ken Nelson noticed how beautiful the lights were, and told the band to “look at the stars.” Yeah, it’s corny. 

From there, Martin developed a melody, which eventually turned into the hook. At first, the group was pessimistic about the loose chord progression, which Martin described as a poor impersonation of a Neil Young inflection. Eventually, the track turned into something more palatable, especially after guitarist Johnny Buckland created the riff for the first portion of the song, 

Lyrically, Martin found inspiration from his friend Stephanie, who happened to be in the studio during the night of the recording. According to the lead singer, she possessed a “yellow glow” in the night.

I immediately attached to “Yellow” because of its thoughtful and dreamy aesthetic. The song starts off as a blank canvas with its acoustic arrangements and restrained vocals before eventually painting a picture of passionate love. The track forces listeners to grab hold of that one thing in life that’s not worth letting go. Martin and company keep this overwhelming infatuation open for perspective, thus providing people with the luxury of finding their own ways to emotionally attach to this euphoric experience.

Coldplay’s first successful hit brought my dad and I together and gave us something to talk about musically, despite our different tastes. Love tends to do that, even in the worst of times. The band continued to explore this universal theme after their initial success, and still do to this day. 

Even while trading old-fashioned guitars for synthesized pop, Coldplay still stays genuine. To me, it’s hard not to like them, especially considering their impact on the current state of alternative music, which is filled with bands like OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons trying to copy their happy-go-lucky style. Coldplay has still found cult success, even through mixed reviews from big-name music sites (namely Pitchfork), all because of “Yellow.”

At the end of the day, I don’t care how “basic” they’ve become recently; they still mean a lot to me, and to so many others who wanted rock to re-establish its identity. The bond my dad and I formed over that one special song represents Coldplay’s uncanny ability to link generations of music fans together, even in an era where taste is more widespread than ever. That’s a huge accomplishment in itself, regardless of what some critics think. 

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