My son’s remix went viral on TikTok. It happened the week his lease in Boulder ended, the week he moved back home with a crisp college diploma, the week his employer told the newcomers, “Might as well stay put, everyone’s still working remotely.”
Instead of moving to San Francisco to start his career as a 22-year-old software engineer surrounded by a dynamic team and a view of the fireball-orange Golden Gate Bridge, he was set up in our basement in south Denver surrounded by my husband’s collection of dusty model cars and a view of the window well.
When Thadeus showed up on a Sunday in July, the first thing the youngest boy did was get the oldest boy’s name on the chore chart. Mathias used the permanent black marker to write “T” in every fourth block on the kitchen calendar indicating “it’s your kitchen night.”
On Monday, Thadeus’s track began to get noticed on TikTok.
“Mom, over ten thousand people have made videos with my song,” he said.
That night, I scrolled through clip after clip of people dancing to his upbeat remix of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.”
On Tuesday he said, “It’s one hundred thousand now.”
I was more impressed by how much he had matured since we moved him into the dorms. It was nice to have him home, to be close again.
In high school, Thadeus ditched the piano to learn Ableton Live, a software program for producing music on a computer. The hip hop beats he composed, amplified by the stereo speakers in his room, rocked the entire house, drowning out the noise of a Whirlpool washing machine working overtime, my husband’s favorite sports radio broadcast, and a family of five squabbling over who left the wet towels on the floor, the lunch meat out on the counter, the gate open, and the dog out.
As his remix gained momentum, so did his schedule. The day the smell of sizzling bacon wafted into my office—his former room—I overheard him on the phone with his soon-to-be artist manager, then in a virtual work meeting, then back on the phone. When I went downstairs to make a cup of tea, I found grease splattered all over the stovetop and my turquoise tea kettle. I called him into the kitchen, gesturing toward the stove.
“Could you please clean this up?”
The following day, his interview with Rolling Stone appeared online. Elias Leight wrote, “Disco Lines’ unofficial remix of Swift’s 2008 single ‘Love Story’ has torched through TikTok, soundtracking over a million videos in just a week.”
I was just about to share the article with my team at work when I noticed that the first link in the piece took readers to a YouTube tutorial video my son created featuring a popular meme with the f-word.
The next day, Liz Richardson with BuzzFeed stated that “Taylor Swift’s ‘Love Story’ Is Now a Viral Challenge on TikTok.” I watched more trending videos, realized I had TikTok fatigue, and closed the app.
Turns out, a cover of the original song, instead of a remix, could actually be streamed for profit. While Thadeus awaited permission to create a single with a new vocalist, our family got back into a routine, faithfully following Mathias’s chore chart.
One quiet evening, Thadeus joined my husband and me on the front porch.
“We’re talking with a record label,” he said.
“Don’t quit your job,” my husband said.
“Don’t quit your job,” I said.
In September, his official cover showed up on music streaming apps, backed by a record label.
That same week, my husband and I attended a funeral for his colleague of 30 years. Standing on the grass in the cemetery six feet apart from the other mourners, I heard my husband crying behind his mask. I held his hand tightly, saddened by his deep loss. I thought about all the people who have lost loved ones this year, all our relationships, tested and stressed with a tension that wouldn’t let up.
When we got home, I changed into workout clothes, headed to the trail on the canal, opened my playlist, and tapped on Disco Lines’ “Love Story.” The tempo energized me. The song lifted my spirits. A light breeze blew in and a giant canopy of leaves on the massive cottonwood trees around me shimmered with sunlight. I looked ahead. The path seemed wider and more welcoming than I had ever seen it, like an invitation to something extraordinary.
Julie Labuszewski is a senior copywriter in Denver and currently pursuing her low residency MFA in Writing at University of Nebraska Omaha.