Black and White Photo of the Trio "Daughter" looking away

Lamenting Lost Futures through "Youth" by Daughter

6 minutes to read
Clara Daniels

Since its release in 2011, the song "Youth" by Daughter has taken up a journey of its own, being featured in multiple video games, movies and advertisements over the last decade (MarieDrama, 2018). The critically acclaimed British indie-folk trio (Empire, 2020) creates music mainly relying on drum beats and guitar tabs fronted by Elena Tonra's singing. Seemingly minimalist, Daughter produces a sound layered with heavy words and chilling moods.

"Youth" in particular explores themes of dealing with loss and abandonment in a future now drastically different to what the singer thought she was promised. Described as "hauntingly beautiful", "Youth” is an ode to the complicated yet exciting times you experience while growing up" (Woods, n.d.). 

While this is sure to deeply resonate with a lot of listeners, the song reflects a tragic tale of heartbreak that is no pleasure to confront, yet the piece has amassed huge success with over 350 million Spotify streams alone. This poses the question of how a piece of music so emotionally charged can appeal to a wide variety of people and media forms. 

Hauntology and Lost Futures

To understand how the atmosphere and impact of songs like Daughter's are constructed, it is first important to explore what concepts can be used to describe these elements. 

Hauntology, in this case, forms the foundation that leads to an understanding of "lost futures". Described by Fisher (2014), the term has emerged as a symptom of postmodernism and explores "the feeling of belatedness, of living after the gold rush". Simultaneously, it also acknowledges the information age, especially after the introduction of the internet to the broad public, as a period in which "culture has folded back on itself" (Fisher, 2014). Time, now, has become less linear because online life has made it possible for every documented era of human societies of the 20th and 21st Century to become intertwined. Stemming from philosophy "haunt" - "ontology", as described by one of its founders Jacques Derrida (Daniels, 2019), tries to make these "ghosts of the past" tangible, keeping track of when, how and where they make their appearance. According to him, all media takes part in creating ghosts of the future, from video and tape recordings to the disembodied experience of talking to another person over the phone (Huber, 2023).

Hauntology is the catalyst for what Fisher describes as "nostalgia for lost futures" (Daniels, 2019). This feeling of melancholy for promised futures that never materialise, are results of internal and external decision making, choices opposed on individuals by systematic authorities like government restrictions or simply by individuals choosing one slighty life altering option over another (Huber, 2023). The "ghosts" of alternate lives thus produced are what creates the unease described by Derrida's and Fisher's ideas. Dealing with this loss manifests itself in different ways: individuals might lament and be absorbed by the grief of remembering or reclaim, take control and honor what was left behind.

Lamenting "Youth"

The song "Youth" was first featured on "The Wild Youth EP" in 2011 and later re-recorded in 2013. While interpretations of the song vary from listener to listener, there are many elements in the lyrics that point to a lamented future.

We are the reckless, we are the wild youth
Chasing visions of our futures
One day, we'll reveal the truth
That one will die before he gets there

This second verse of the song paints the picture of a hopeful and naive youth, striving to live out their dreams while unknowingly running into an inevitable downfall where disappointment meets death. Interestingly, lead singer Elena Tonra tells this story from a first person perspective implying a certain degree of involvement as somehow both "the youth" and a future perspective that is already aware of the failure that is yet to come. Tearing apart a linear perception of time, she uses this future knowledge as a way to mourn the prior carelessness and adventurous spirit. Yet she sings "we are" instead of "we were", not quite letting go of this ghost of the past, but rather using it to lament a future doomed to be lost. 

Elena Tonra performing "Youth"

"Hauntology", as defined by Mark Fisher, not only describes the feeling that listening to "Youth" leaves behind through its lyrics, but it also addresses its visuals. In their music video, Daughter can be observed performing their song absent-minded, with averted gazes, not acknowledging the viewer until almost the very end. The soft vignette and gentle lighting support this ghostly, dream-like state that feels a lot more like an old movie through its black-and-white, melancholic style. The band plays their song while the viewer floats around them, disembodied and unrecognised, just as Derrida perceives haunting through media (McMullen, 1983).


The piece is also made up of musical components that support this haunting feeling and the message of a lamented lost future. The "melancholic acoustic guitar accompanied by Tonra’s fragile yet strong and unique voice" (Woods, n.d.) add to the songs atmosphere as it plays the same 4 chord tab over and over again, just slightly re-arranging them during the post-chorus that chants "and you caused it" repeatedly to serve for even more unease.

Ghosts Recirculated

"Youth" has made many more media-appearances over the years. Dissembled and recontextualised, its spirit is now also manifested with similar and vastly different new visuals. In the indie-game "Life is Strange: Before the Storm", for example, the song has become soundtrack of an end sequence of a game that explores the past of its pre-release "Life is Strange", just as much playing with non-linear timelines. On the other hand, a British Tour de France advert from 2012 used the same song to showcase the hardships of competitive cycling, removing any sense of sentimental time traveling from Daughter's original work. Yet Derrida's (McMullen, 1983) point stands: remediation reinvents and circulates these haunting voices of the past, manifesting these ghosts in different, new and tangible ways.

The Bitter End

Lamenting one's own youth and the futures that are lost as a consequence of past decisions is nothing new. As Oscar Wilde's character "Lord Henry" dramatically puts it in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (1890): "We never get back our youth. [...] We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to" (page 32). Beyond one's inevitable aging, Daughter's song mourns what could have been if it had been possible; all the different ways life could have panned out if if it hadn't been for "you":

I've lost it all, I'm just a silhouette
I'm a lifeless face that you'll soon forget 

[...] And you caused it

Followed by this silhouette, a ghost of the past remains an integral part of the narrator and even beyond the initial release continues to haunt through media pick-up and recontextualisation. Leaning into this melancholy of lost futures, "Youth" is one form of realising and grieving the past that did (not) shape our futures.


Daniels, A. (2019). A study of hauntology in Berberian sound Studio — Talk Film Society.

Empire, K. (2020, March 26). Daughter review – how to hit the sweet spot. The Guardian.

Fisher, M. (2014). 00: Lost Futures. In Ghosts of my life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. John Hunt Publishing.

Huber, K. (2023). 28Sept2023-DMA-Hauntology.pptx [PowerPoint slides].

MarieDrama. (2018). Youth. Daughter Wiki.

McMullen, K. (Director). (1983). “The Science Of Ghosts” - Derrida In “Ghost Dance” [Video]. YouTube.

Wilde, O. (1890). The picture of Dorian Gray. Chiltern Classic. 2020.

Woods. (n.d.). Daughter - Youth | Beyond The Lyrics. Story of Song.