Maggie Rogers is like half my age, and I'm listening to "Light On" yet again, thinking how does she know all this. To be fair, I'm in my own world, imagining the song to be about a relationship gone wrong. There's a lot I don't know: I must have been 35 when I realized people went on dates. 36 when they went on dates with other people. Her public remarks about the song talk about it coming from the moment of going "viral," becoming a "public figure." If the fans leave the light on, she's ready to leave the light on too.
I take "Light On" to be about two people ghosting each other. Cutting off contact cold, leaving nothing but a light on or off, the vaguest sense of "reaching out." If this is true, it's the perfect encapsulation of our age. Two people leveraging neglect—abandonment—as power. When I hear "I'll leave the light on," I don't feel like there's simply forgiveness after a break. I feel like she relates to her former partner deeply, so much so she might have left them herself.
What does this have to do with "our age," you ask. —People have terrible relationships and communicate badly all the time! There's nothing new about that.— No, there's nothing at stake when put that way. But how we utilize neglect is important. A lot of times, we do have to cut off contact with other people. They're criminal or dangerous. Or toxic or controlling. Or cruel and insensitive. Or completely inappropriate and invasive. These are extreme cases, and there's a lot of them. We have to shun others to get on with our lives.
But then there are cases where we cut off contact which feel more ambiguous. Years of not being fully appreciated can mean the one not appreciated feels guilt. You can't communicate what you stand for to someone who can't see it at all. And then, there's being frustrated and quitting—this can turn into a habit, especially when we believe nothing can be said.
Abandonment doesn't look like power. It looks like the only option. That's true a lot of the time.
Except when it is power. The light is on, recording has started, someone has a YouTube video up and 300k likes follow. And someone else watches the video and thinks the personality on the screen is no less than a trusted friend. Neglect is built into fame. Someone has to see someone else, and the other probably won't see them.
There are famous people who revel in this, who love the fact they don't know anyone and don't have to feel responsible. They'll sell their audiences anything and everything.
And now I'm back to the moment of the song. What does it mean that two use a light to talk to each other? Or leave as much as stay? If power is involved, it doesn't seem to be achieving anything.
I feel like a better world is where we can say what we want and be understood. I feel like we're lightyears from that world. We know how to be nice; that's about all. For other humans at other times, appreciating each other took everything. Religion. Poetry. Music. Dance. Books. Drama. Crafts. Sculptures. Paintings. Nature. It wasn't having a job and using an app. It was whether you could love life enough to see what others saw. Whether, you could say, you wanted the light on.