This August—normally a bountiful month in which tomatoes ripen on the vine, hydrangea bushes sag with extravagant blooms, and the sunsets can be nearly psychedelic—I have found it difficult to hold on to a good feeling. For a lot of Americans, this particular summer has been a season of fear and concern—or, at best, a kind of endless, anxious boredom. But one small, pure, reliable pleasure remains: the giddiness of hearing a completely awesome song for the very first time.


For almost a year, Tim and Fred Williams, twenty-one-year-old twins from Gary, Indiana, have made videos of themselves listening to famous songs, and then uploading the videos to their YouTube channel. They sit in elaborate, side-by-side desk chairs, situated in front of a sometimes-unmade bed. Posters of the rapper Tupac Shakur and the boxer Deontay Wilder are taped to a wood-panelled wall behind them. Most of the songs that they choose to play have been suggested by subscribers, and they range from very recent hits to genuine oldies. When I was a teen-ager, certain songs were simply inescapable—they were played endlessly on the radio, or at the mall, or on boom boxes at the community pool—but now listening has become a far more individual and bespoke experience. It’s not unusual for a young person never to have heard a hit that people in their thirties or forties might believe to be ubiquitous. (Earlier this summer, a TikTok video of two young women unable to identify pop singles, mostly from the late nineteen-nineties and early two-thousands, caused a brief explosion of consternation and pearl-clutching on Twitter.)

Even when the Williams twins do not seem especially worked up about a track, they listen carefully, with a kind of openhearted earnestness. They recently cued up the country singer Blake Shelton’s “Happy Anywhere,” a love song featuring backing vocals from his girlfriend, Gwen Stefani. Part of the song’s video appears to have been filmed in a cornfield on Shelton’s ranch in Oklahoma, where the couple have been isolating. Tim pauses the video. “Grass is really that big?” he asks, incredulous. “It’s as tall as them! Hold up! And he’s, like, six-something—bro, you would not see me in a cornfield. For real, bro.” Usually, by the end, they agree that whatever track they have been listening to is pretty great.

In mid-June, they tried Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Tim has the kind of face that collapses fully into happiness, like a baby’s expression after he successfully knocks down a tower of wooden blocks. He pauses the song halfway through. “Dolly—you got it. You got it!” he announces. “This is a banger.” He and Fred resume the video. By the end, Fred has grown quiet and vaguely melancholy. “Don’t take her man, man,” he says. There is a whisper of “Beavis and Butt-Head” in the twins’ videos, but instead of a knee-jerk cynicism and a deep fear of excitement—the exaltation of apathy was a cornerstone of the nineties gestalt—the twins seem eager to be thrilled by something new.


Which is all to say—if you are feeling especially bummed or burned out, fully exhausted by the contents of your home or your own mind, take a moment to watch the twins listen to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight,” from 1981. (It’s their most popular video to date, and on Friday it briefly caused “Phil Collins” to start trending on Twitter.) If you know the song, you know to wait for the very loud and excellent drum fill that arrives, unexpectedly, a little over three minutes in. (“We were playing with psychological things. The audience is there going along with you, and then suddenly you knock them on the head with this thing: Bvoom-bvoom!” Collins said in a recent interview.) The drum fill on “In the Air Tonight” is one of the most dependable thrills I know—a very quick path to a certain kind of heady, metaphysical elation. I wish that I had a video of the first time I heard it—what my face did, whether I made a noise. Connecting instantaneously with a piece of music can feel like happening upon a different world. The twins like the song almost immediately. “Yeah,” they say, bobbing their heads. “O.K.”


“Phil Collins, he’s killing it,” Fred declares. They each periodically pound their hearts, as if to reiterate, “I feel this.”

Eventually, the drum fill arrives. It takes a moment for Tim to process it. He gasps as if he’s seen a ghost and then rolls back in his chair. Fred’s response is more understated, but not by much. Now they’re deep in the pocket, dancing, exhilarated, happy. They pause the clip to gather their thoughts.

“That was cold! I ain’t gonna lie, Phil—you got me on that,” Tim says, laughing.

“I have never seen anybody drop a beat three minutes into the song,” Fred adds. “That’s unique!”

I have rewound this particular sequence many times, simply to revel in its hope. What if there is a song you have never heard before that could still topple you? Maybe it’s out there, waiting, the twins suggest—just keep listening.