By Esther Fultz
Personal growth is something we all experience over time. Artists have both the blessing and curse of being able to showcase it publicly. In 2015, Nate Feuerstein, professionally known as NF, released his first major-label album, “Mansion.” Since then, his success has skyrocketed with five other album releases, including his most recent on April 7, 2023 – “Hope.” Unlike many other fans, I didn’t discover NF until after his release of “Clouds (The Mixtape)” in 2021. I immediately fell in love with his music and spent the past two years catching up on all the songs I missed. While some of the songs on NF’s latest release such as “Suffice,” “Turn My Back” and “Let Em Pray” resemble older content, new themes are also introduced. I could write paragraphs analyzing many songs but I chose to showcase three of my personal favorites below.
As the title track and first single released from this album, Hope sets the tone for the tracks to follow. I watched the music video the first time I listened to the song and was struck by the visual portrayal of NF’s shift from hopelessness to hope, from darkness to light. Dressed in all white instead of his typical black, NF opens the track by addressing someone who has been dragging him down, someone the listener discovers is his past self with the line, “Nate you’ve had a great run but it’s time to give the people something different.”
As the song progresses, NF displays confidence in himself and what he believes, answering the question, “What’s your definition of success?” with a list of actions and attributes describing who NF aspires to be. This is significant because this question was left unanswered when it was first posed in the song “Why,” released in 2019 on NF’s album The Search. The music video references past albums, visually depicting scenes from NF’s journey beginning in “Mansion.” The song climaxes with an intense dialogue between NF’s past self declaring the lies he was told and his current self, who refutes these lies. The song ends abruptly with NF’s current self declaring that he is taking the reins.
For listeners who understand the feeling of being stuck in their past, caught up in pain and resentment, this song is both relatable and empowering. By portraying the conflict with his past self, NF acknowledges the difficulty change can bring, but his decisiveness in pursuing change and his final declaration that he is “taking the reins” proves to his audience that change is indeed possible.
When I first saw the title Mama before the album was released, I was immediately interested. NF’s relationship with his mother has been explored on previous albums, particularly in the song “How Could You Leave Us,” which is characterized by grief, resentment, and disbelief. Seven years later, the lyrics of Mama show healing, forgiveness, and growth.
In the first verse and chorus, NF expresses hope that his mom has found healing and happiness in Heaven, telling her that she doesn’t need to cry anymore. As the song continues, he demonstrates a newfound empathy and ability to relate to his mom in lines like, “Thinking of you, how you grew up trying to cope with your past, were you like me in your relationships and pushed away Dad?” While he admits his mom “might’ve made a mistake in leaving” in verse 2, he tells her that “nobody is perfect, we all fall short” and that he can’t hold unforgiveness in his heart anymore.
In the outro, he explicitly mentions his growth and new maturity with the line, “Yeah, I’m grown now, took me a while to see the bigger picture.” These lines show that NF has moved from denial, anger, bargaining and depression to the final stage of grief – acceptance. Rather than being consumed by his pain or swinging to the opposite extreme and completely moving on, NF has developed the ability to acknowledge his sadness and still look upon the source of it with understanding and love – another skill his audience can admire and learn from.
Of all the songs on this album, this one is my personal favorite. Once again, NF’s growth and maturity are shown here in the ways he frames and processes life experiences. In this duet with Julia Michaels, NF recounts the ending of a former relationship. Throughout the song, I was struck by the ability of both parties to view the situation objectively, speak to and about the other person respectfully, and accept their own responsibility in the ending of the relationship rather than shifting the blame.
The first verse shows a high level of self-awareness on NF’s part. He admits the ways his pessimism, irresponsibility, and lack of a sense of self negatively impacted the relationship. He recognizes the relationship never could have worked out, saying they were holding on to a false hope, and rather than resenting this he accepts it and wishes her the best with lines including “It makes me sad, the way you left, but I’m glad you did, it was for the best” and “I pray someday you find yourself, somehow, some way with someone else.”
In the second verse, Julia Michaels gives the woman’s perspective on the relationship and the thought process behind ending it. Like NF does in the first verse, she accepts responsibility for her decisions, choosing not to blame their age, lack of life experience, or past trauma, and explains the challenges and consequences of continuing a relationship that was not made to be.
I appreciate this song because it highlights a perspective I rarely see in songs written about breakups. Themes of heartbreak, anger, and resentment are common, but themes of acceptance and thankfulness are rare.
Stream “Hope” on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Tidal, Deezer, or Soundcloud
Esther Fultz is a junior Social Work major and the Off-Campus Editor for Cedars. She enjoys thrifting, writing music, hiking and hanging out with friends.