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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Never Forget You" captures the emotions of remembering past friends

The memories will always be there, and Zara Larsson and MNEK's presentation of working through them really resonates with me.

I don't know why, but I really thought my selection for today was from longer ago than the summer of 2015. I don't know if that speaks more to how much music I've listened to since then, to how much my musical tastes have changed, or just to how long these past few years have felt.

Regardless of how I'd answer that question, I know this song speaks to me because of the way it addresses lost friendship and love. In the time since its release, I've definitely lost connection with a fair amount of people, whether that came from being in different larger social circles, geographic separation from going away to college, or other factors. Sometimes these people come to mind, and I always end up really indecisive as to whether I should reach out to them. I hope they're doing well, and I always second-guess myself when it comes to whether me checking in with them will make them happy or not. At the end of the day, they're people I'll always remember and for whom I'll continue to wish the best, and that's why I associate memories of them with the song "Never Forget You," by Zara Larsson and MNEK.

"Never Forget You" is a song that's always impressed me, and it first did so from a production standpoint. The first verse and chorus present a soundscape I hear as vast, as if it's being cast over a very wide area. The strong piano definitely helps give me that feeling, but the combination of the synths and Zara Larsson's voice do much more in that regard. I feel the sound growing in scope and area with the mid-range synth fading in during the verse, while Larsson's voice remains at a normal energy level, almost conversational in its casual delivery. When the chorus enters, the intensity is ramped up on all fronts: a string-like pad and the high bell above it elicit a greater sense of drama and emotion, a sense furthered by Larsson's more forward and double-tracked vocals.

Then, just as the energy peaks at the end of the chorus with a reverse cymbal to add that high-end crescendo — it gets brought down, then is transformed. Everything drops out for Larsson's delivery of "til the day I die," before the song enters a new chapter with a bass-heavy, half-time groove. I still remember being so shocked by that change when I first stumbled on the song in 2015 (even though it feels like longer ago), and remaining shocked even when the high bell synth came back in to glue the sections together. The new beat is hard and driving, and I love the reverb-heavy sound at the top of it, but I also love how it stays at a lower energy level than the previous section. It's so easy to just keep increasing intensity and energy the first time you go through a song's form, but holding back the post-chorus break and making the chorus the high point even when it doesn't have the percussion with it does much more for the track's character than the other way would have done. It also allows for the drop and break to feel more like a release, which definitely falls in line with the lyrics.

Ah, yes, the lyrics — the reason I ended up choosing the song today. I hate that quote about enjoying the music when you're happy, but understanding the lyrics when you're sad... but that was kind of the case with "Never Forget You" at first. Back in 2015, I was a high school underclassman, and I hadn't experienced any real sort of separation from old friends like I have since. In the past three years, I've definitely been more emotional and introspective when listening and singing along with Zara Larsson and MNEK. Even though the lyrics speak more to a lost love than a lost friend, there's enough there to get me thinking about many friends with whom I was once very close, and with some nearly inseparable. Larsson hits right in delicate emotional territory when she sings, "It's clear that time hasn't changed a thing / It's buried deep inside me..." As I stated above, I won't ever stop caring for these people, and when I think about them those feelings and memories resurface. Indeed, I'll never forget them "til the day I die," because these people were really good to me and I don't want to forget their kindness. Maybe one day I'll even repay that kindness.

Whereas Larsson's verse and chorus swells as she explores the memories of the bygone subject through the pain it causes her, MNEK's verse speaks to feelings of wondering why those thoughts persist and wondering if the other person feels the same way. In opening his section with "Funny how we both end up here," he implies the feelings are shared, or maybe even that the people see each other again and each reminisce in their own head on how they once were. These memories aren't as painful, but they leave more questions in the narrator's mind, and therefore in the listener's as well. What would happen? Might reaching out not be the worst thing? As the final bridge and chorus reflect, those memories don't ever go away, and you can never truly suppress that connection even if you dedicated all your efforts to it.

In listening to "Never Forget You" again to inform my writing, I gained an appreciation for how MNEK and his co-producer Astronomy held back on the instrumental payoff to 1) match the lyrics and 2) make the song's end that much more rewarding. The energy building in the second verse and chorus is nearly entirely because of the vocals, leaving lots of space for the final chorus to be grand. Before is reaches that chorus, though, the song retreats to an intensity even lower than that of the first verse for the bridge. The piano is softer, and even with a new chord progression for the first and only time, it takes until the repetition of the bridge lyrics for things to build up again. That build, using all previous elements and then some, sets the stage for the massive final chorus and the cathartic drop and ending which follows. All the while, Larsson and MNEK's lyrics complicate said catharsis with the complex memories of good times gone by.

Especially with being back home for my winter break, I hear "Never Forget You" as a song of missed opportunities in addressing undeniable feelings one still harbors for someone who might just be within reach. Maybe the song will inspire me to take that chance and reach out after all... or maybe it'll continue to reflect my state of mind regardless of whether or not I write up that text. Only time will tell as to what I do and how I feel.


Postscript — MNEK VIP remix: When I was putting the song's title into the YouTube search bar to pull up the video so that I could embed it within this article, I saw that one of the suggestions was for a VIP mix of the track. Intrigued, I searched it after listening to the original, and I was blown away by how MNEK repurposed "Never Forget You" into a UK garage tune. It also has brand new vocal takes with different melodies and syncopation. All in all, definitely a different way to hear the song if not enjoy it (which I do). Take a listen:


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