Daoud Tyler-Ameen

If past generations saw their wanderlust reflected in Alice peering down a rabbit hole or Luke Skywalker staring down a sunset, the COVID-era equivalent will almost certainly involve a hero gazing into a screen: With most of the U.S. still advised to stay home as much as possible, televisions and smart devices feel more than ever like flickering portals, promising the addled mind passage to anywhere but our own four walls.

A sensitive college dramedy in the age of the teen sex romp, Amy Heckerling's Loser hit theaters in July 2000 with a thud. It failed to earn back its $20 million budget, and by the time stars Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari reunited in American Pie 2 a year later it was as good as forgotten. The film's legacy might have ended there if not for one thing: Tucked into its run-of-the-mill alternarock soundtrack was a song by an unknown New York band, whose self-titled debut wouldn't even be out for another month.

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This story is part of American Anthem, a yearlong series on songs that rouse, unite, celebrate and call to action. Find more at NPR.org/Anthem.

In music and the culture it reflects, 2017 was predictably unpredictable: idols fell, empires shook, consensus was scarce. This conversation is one of five on The Record with artists, makers and thinkers whose work captured something unique about a chaotic year, and hinted at bigger revelations around the bend.