Youth Lagoon’s “Football” is a jubilant ode to failure

Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon). Photo by Tyler T. Williams.


High school sports take up an outsized portion of the American mind. Our nation is full of middle managers and salesmen who spend their leisure time reliving the moments on the field when they were gods. And those of us who tried but failed to summit the Mount Olympus of pre-collegiate athletics, whether due to a lack of talent or an injury, tend to carry those chips on our shoulders in ways we may not even realize.

Take Tony Soprano, for example: a man who commands respect and fear wherever he goes but is riddled with insecurity stemming from his underwhelming performance on the gridiron as an adolescent. This inner tension boils over in a famous scene from The Sopranos’ fifth season, in which Tony flips out over his senile Uncle Junior repeating that he “never had the makings of a varsity athlete” one too many times. Tony storms out of the family dinner, causing Junior to call him a “hothouse flower.”

Trevor Powers’ new Youth Lagoon track, “Football,” may have helped Tony ease his varsity blues, had he lived to hear it. (If, contrary to popular wisdom, he is still alive and well in his fictional timeline, it may be soothing him at time of publication.) The structurally simple, thematically wistful ballad is for those of us who never scored the big touchdown under Friday night lights but are still somehow getting by as adults, if just barely.

The song’s characters are surviving, not thriving: There’s Donnie, whose “face is wearin’ thin like an old shoe sole”; Mary, whose faith is similarly thin, so thin that she’d “fuck the preacher if he only paid enough”; and Momma, who’s “turned to dust” and is “on the train tracks waitin’ for the blood to rush.” In the middle of it all, there’s Trevor, chiming in over unassuming piano accompaniment with the simple request that these troubled souls refrain from unloading their pent-up emotional ammunition on him. Instead, he says, save it for “another person who caught the football,” maybe, if it’s not too much to ask.

“‘Football’ is really a celebration of failure,” Powers explains. “Society has a terrible habit of only recognizing achievement while glossing over the greatness in the shadows. We’re so distracted trying to earn love, worth, and value that we forget it’s something we inherently already have. I wanted to play with this idea through the lens of sports ‘cuz, in a lot of ways, sports are the truest religion. When I was young, it was the only way I knew how to connect with my dad. We didn’t have a lot in common, but we could both throw the ball. There were rules and rituals we could see eye-to-eye on. We didn’t have to argue over who was right or wrong. The difference in my family was, it didn’t matter how good I was. The act of just throwing a ball was communion. It didn’t matter if I caught it. I love my Dad for that.”

Watch Caleb Halter’s archival video treatment for “Football” or listen the track on its own below.