Sam Fender’s song ‘Seventeen Going Under’ has only been out for just over a year, but already, it feels like it’s existed for a lifetime. Such is the fervour and love with which the song has been received into people’s lives, it immediately felt woven into the fabric of modern British musical culture following its release in the summer of 2021.
Not many songs get to that place so quickly, and it’s testament to the sheer power and ferocity of the song’s message and delivery that it has become a bonafide classic so quickly. With the open-heartedness of Springsteen and arena-ready bombast of The Killers both evident on the track, it took Fender almost single handedly to the big leagues, with festival headline slots and arena shows immediately selling out.
Since its release, instantly iconic performances of the track have come at Glastonbury, Ally Pally, Finsbury Park and beyond, while it’s also started a TikTok trend that is saving lives, based around its immortal line: “I was far too scared to hit him / but I would hit him in a heartbeat now.” In videos soundtracked by the lyric, young fans reflected on past abusive relationships and how much they have grown since, starting vital discourse all spawned from Fender’s own open-heartedness.
Speaking to DIY in late 2021 for an In Deep cover feature, a slightly perplexed Fender was adjusting to his new role as an ambassador for mental health discourse and man of the people. “What I’m talking about in my songs are very, very normal issues for normal people in this country,” he said at the time. “More often than not, a lot of kids will hear the lyrics and be like, ‘Oh, that kinda reminds me of what’s going on in my house right now’.”
It’s across his second album ‘Seventeen Going Under’ that he continued the manifesto set out with its title track and created a record that can already be considered – after less than a year in the world – a modern classic. Its place on the 2022 Mercury Prize with FREE NOW shortlist was the safest bet you could ever place.
From the parental disputes of ‘Spit Of You’ to the daily grind on ‘Getting Started’, Fender tackled every issue on ‘Seventeen Going Under’ with the same infectious determination; choosing not to sugar coat these working class stories but telling the gritty truth. On closing track ‘The Dying Light’, he revisited the topic of male suicide first broached on his 2018 song ‘Dead Boys’ – “there’s more every year,” he sings on the new track – before a biblical send-off to a one-of-a-kind album. “I’m damned if I give up tonight,” he sings. “I must repel the dying light.” It’s the apex of an album that is already changing lives and opinions, and will continue to do so for many years.
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