Jasmine Harrison is not a musician.
She has never picked up a microphone or downloaded music production software. She's only danced to one song in her entire life, albeit an embarrassing one. But after making history as the youngest woman to row solo across any ocean, she is living proof that music can propel anyone to do extraordinary things.
Accompanied by nothing but a playlist and the mesmeric, repetitive splosh of her oar slicing the ocean's surface, Harrison, 21, traversed the Atlantic Ocean in 70 days, 3 hours and 48 minutes. However, with a bubbly naiveté rarely found in a barnstorming, record-breaking heroine, you wouldn't know it when speaking to her. And after the enormity of her accomplishment finally sunk in, even she can't believe it was her.
"It’s very surreal. I’ve actually talked about it so much now that I feel like it’s not me," Harrison told EDM.com. "I feel like it wasn’t even me that did it."
Music is a time machine
Harrison etched her name in the history books after finishing the 2020 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge having rowed across the Atlantic, a feat that only 17 other women have achieved. Powered by music and unflinching stamina, her journey began in Spain and ended over 3,700 miles away in Antigua.
Music played a pivotal role in her journey, she said. It wore many hats, but perhaps its most visceral function was that of a time machine. "I enjoyed the songs that took me back to a moment in time. So somewhere different, and a memory to think about," Harrison explained. "Because out there, there’s nothing really to see—as much as you’re literally seeing the sea—but I could map imagery from hearing a song and picturing a time in my life where either I first heard that song, or the best time I heard it. It would bring back things that happened so quickly in life, where you don’t always appreciate those memories and moments. So it put me back in a time for me to appreciate that moment a little bit more."
The young Brit found solace in the harmonies that warbled through her boat's speakers, which served as a respite from the nonstop rowing chatter. "[Music] let me hear human voices that actually weren’t about rowing," she added. "It was to hear normality in a song."
Power of P!nk
There were times when music virtually fueled Harrison's tiny 550-pound rowing boat, which was at constant risk of toppling by rogue waves. "It was almost as though my boat knew what songs to put on at a certain time," she said. The timing of those tracks was also vital to her endurance, stemming from her belief in delayed gratification. "I also didn’t want to spoil myself too much, having good things all the time," she added. "Because then you don’t have that pick-me-up, and you need it. You want to put it on repeat all the time, but you know you can’t. Because it’s special and it gives you the boost."
It should come as no surprise that P!nk served as an anchor and a source of élan for Harrison. The pop icon, who has long been championed for her female-empowering generational anthems, was one of the rower's favorite artists to listen to during her voyage. "Everything about [P!nk's music] I find relatable. She doesn’t give a shit," Harrison exulted. "It’s just everything that I was doing represents in that, and so I really, really liked her music. There were maybe only five songs of her that I had with me, and so for one of them to come on after like 160 hours, that’s like, boom."
The bellicose nature of P!nk's music, especially from The Greatest Showman, seemed to have a profound impact on Harrison's determination. "It’s full of dream, ambition, defying the odds," she said. "Like, 'This is me. I don’t care what other people think.' And it was just really nice to have that."
A titanic playlist
A look through Harrison's massive 2,404-track playlist shows a diverse selection of music, which includes a boatload of electronic classics. Among them are Fatboy Slim's legendary "Praise You," The Prodigy's "Out of Space," and Basement Jaxx's timeless house track "Where's Your Head At."
She also took a number of modern EDM favorites for a spin, like Rudimental's global drum & bass hit "Love Me Again" with John Newman and Kygo and Sasha Sloan's "This Town." Fabled dance music trio Swedish House Mafia also made an appearance on Harrison's playlist with the John Martin-assisted festival favorite "Don’t You Worry Child" and "Miami 2 Ibiza," a seminal dance anthem with Tinie Tempah that mirrors the globetrotting nature of her journey.
As for the only song she's ever danced to in her life? That would be S Club 7's inescapable "Reach," the cheesy yet uplifting pop jam that urges its listeners to reach for the stars. "You wouldn’t have thought it, but it really suits ocean rowing and what I was doing," she admitted.
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"I never thought music would take me to the places it has, but I’m most excited to see the places that it will lead me to next."
Harrison, who at times conjured memories of her experience at 2019's Glastonbury Festival to "get pumped up," has an eclectic taste in music. Her go-to songs include The Cure's iconic new wave track "Friday I'm in Love," Pulp's influential Britpop single "Common People," and Imagine Dragons' global electropop smash "Thunder," the latter of which she counts as one of her all-time favorites. "They get it right no matter what mood you’re in," Harrison said of the Grammy Award-winning Imagine Dragons. "They worked. It was always the music where it doesn’t matter how you’re feeling, it works in that situation."
Another song that offered a shot of adrenaline was the aptly-titled "Fight Song," a powerpop chest-thumper by Rachel Platten. The first lyrics Platten utters, "Like a small boat on the ocean / Sending big waves into motion," flung Harrison headlong into a state of existential resolve. "The entire song was just perfect," she gushed. "When I'm rowing at 3AM in the pitch black, it’s like, 'This is my fight song. I am gonna fight.'"
It wasn't all yell-to-the-sky empowerment and zen in nature. Just like the energy of a marathon DJ set, the fire in Harrison ebbed and flowed over the course of her 70 days at sea, which were tumultuous at times. She even capsized at one point, when she was violently catapulted into the water. One of her boat's speakers was also torn asunder.
During times of distress, Harrison says the music that got her back on track wasn't uplifting, but "really sad" songs that "would make [her] know that it could be a lot worse." One song that played not long after she capsized was "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," a brooding ballad from Les Misérables about the pain of absence. "That really makes you feel lucky to be alive, and to have people, and it just put things into perspective," she explained. "And it makes you go, 'Shut up and stop complaining, you chose to be here. And you’re actually enjoying it, compared to other people who have had it a lot worse and never asked for it and don’t deserve it.'"
"So I needed stuff to bring me back down," she continued, using Linkin Park's music as an example. "Linkin Park, of course Chester [Bennington]. There was quite a lot of that. And it made me sort of go, 'Life is so good right now. Wow.' I was actually already pretty low, but I needed to hear something even lower to bring me up."
The motif of absence seemed to have a nostalgic, humbling effect on Harrison's psyche. Even when it was utterly quiet, she found herself evoking her favorite music in the absence of sound—a thought process we can all relate to after a year devoid of concerts. She points to Zac Brown Band's "Knee Deep," a breezy 2010 collaboration with legendary musician Jimmy Buffett, as one of those tunes, which she dubbed her "top favorite song, ever."
"Even in the times of silence, I would sing that in my head because I know it so well," she said. "And I actually think that helped—to not have it with me. To have some of the best songs ever not actually with me at all. It makes you then miss it, and it makes you imagine it."
A new role model
When asked what she would say to a young woman who may think that an accomplishment of this magnitude is impossible, Harrison pointed to self-appreciation and commitment as core values. Becoming the youngest woman to row solo across an ocean may seem like a pie-in-the-sky goal. That's because it is—but improbability and ambition aren't mutually exclusive.
"Dream, but don’t just be a dreamer. Things aren’t going to happen overnight. You also need to do something," she said. "Don’t just share a motivational quote on Facebook and think that then now applies to your life. Actually apply it to your life. Take things onboard, and apply them rather than thinking that just because you’ve seen it, or you’ve read it, or somebody said it, that it will magically happen and work."
"Don’t share your interests either—that’s the other thing," she continued. "Something that you really care about doesn’t need to be told. I never told people I’d entered the race. I’d been entered for seven months before I actually told people. If it’s something that you really want, it should be just for you. Do it for you."
You can listen to Harrison's full playlist below.