Last Halloween, a prominent LA radio station dropped a bonus track from Drake’s 2011 platinum album Take Care. And with this world premiere of “The Motto,” the masses fell under the seductive spell of YOLO. YOLO — which, for those of you over 35, stands for “you only live once” — is hotter than Hansel right now, asserting itself at the ends of millions of sentences and tweets over recent weeks. With a sound that rolls off the tongue like Jell-O and a versatile message that can excuse away a range of risqué behaviors from snorting an illicit drug to wearing non-matching socks to class, YOLO is becoming as ubiquitous in youth culture as yoga pants. It’s the “carpe diem” for young people too busy living to learn Latin. And while YOLO is experiencing a bit of negative blowback on social media sites, I generally remain supportive of any phrase or fad, like planking or Kony, that reaches widespread viral prominence in this age of copious internet content, even if the premise of the fad — like Kony — is a little suspect.
YOLO is a very powerful term, and as Uncle Ben taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. Like war and peace, there is a specific time to use YOLO, and as the phrase has increased in popularity, its improper usage is threatening the very fabric of an individual’s outlook on life.
As I see it, there are three versions of YOLO. The first is the facetious usage of the acronym, when somebody adds in a YOLO to the end of an otherwise mundane or trivial action. Just ate an apple #YOLO or Illegally streaming Hot Tub Time Machine, YOLO are such examples. This type of YOLO is similar to Ka-blamo, the catchphrase and title of one of Lonely Island’s first hit songs. In Ka-blamo, the Samberg-led trio exclaims, “That’s Ka-blamo” after such silly statements as “Your mouthwash is gargly” and “You joined a sorority.” And while the humor-to-obnoxious ratio is up for debate, there is no real detrimental effect to society when someone culminates a statement like “peeing with the seat down” with a good ol’ fashion YOLO.
The second type of YOLO is what I’ll coin the “Fuck it YOLO.” Should you go bungee jump off the bridge? Fuck it, YOLO. Go streaking past a cop car? Fuck it, YOLO. Get that second serving of Wow-Cow? Eff’in YOLO. But like red meats and Libertarian philosophies, the “Fuck it, YOLO” is healthiest when taken in moderation. For when used on a proper basis, the “Fuck it, YOLO” has the ability to add extra spice to some of life’s drudgeries. Sleep through that class every once in a while. Try rocking muttonchop sideburns for a month. When out in Collegetown, accept the brownie that the friendly stranger offers you, transforming your otherwise humdrum night into a magical voyage of shapes, colors and time that ends with you lying peacefully in a field outside of Trumansburg. None of these id-appeasing actions are good strategies on a daily basis, and must be undertaken with caution, for the equivalent counterpart to YOLO is that you only die once (#YODO). Yet when the stars align, the occasional “Fuck it, YOLO” can improve your wellbeing and create a memory that lasts a lifetime.
While the first two versions of YOLO have either positive or neutral effects on the individual and society, there lies a third, more insidious YOLO. This sinister YOLO is the “Live everyday like it’s your last,” 24/7 type of YOLOing. Originally popularized via fortune cookies, motivational calendars and sappy/crappy pop songs like Kris Allen’s “Live Like We’re Dying,” this abhorred form of YOLO makes the calm man crazy and the studious man lazy by highlighting the fact that all of us will eventually be reduced to worm food one day.
While the “live today like it’s your last” logic seems optimistic on the surface, it’s actually a rather pessimistic view on life, the universe and everything. To live like you’re dying is to view the metaphorical glass of life as being half-empty, and thus needing to be chugged quickly before it runs out. But feeling like one needs to constantly be “chugging life” is an exhausting task that puts quite a bit of stress on the individual. It is like taking a timed test with a giant hourglass placed right in front of you. You will fixate on the dwindling sands of the hourglass and rush through the questions on the paper. For it is rather difficult to endure much of Life’s inherit monotonous grind when you’re set on constantly living the YOLO lifestyle.
This is why the YOLO-inspired “life is short” mantra falls short for the ordinary Joe. For while Drake and his “25 mil” are all about YOLO “every day, every day, every day,” you are not Drake nor are you sitting on a cool $25 million. Thus to live a perpetual life of YOLO is simply unrealistic. Instead, as Kevin Spacey’s character philosophizes at the end of American Beauty, one should simply let the immense beauty of the world “flow through you like rain” as opposed to “fill you up like a balloon that’s about to burst.” For while life is short, life is also very long, and it’s kind of cool that we get to live it at all.