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Alice Merton on ‘No Roots’: A Ballad for TCKs

Alice Merton - No Roots
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When the single “No Roots” by Alice Merton came out in 2017, it reached number two on the alternative charts.

For Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and other culturally mobile individuals, the title suggests a feeling with which they may be familiar.

Merton and her nomadic childhood

Merton wrote the song in response to her nomadic childhood. She was born in Canada and then moved to Germany at the age of 13. Later, she moved to the United States.

While her family moved around due to her dad’s job in the mining industry, she also recognizes that her parents were “restless people” and didn’t want to stay in one place for too long.

The move from Canada to Germany was the hardest for her because she had to leave her friends and she didn’t speak German or understand the culture.

Alice Merton at SWR3 New Pop Festival 2017
Alice Merton at SWR3 New Pop Festival 2017 CC BY-SA 4.0

Brain development

“Your brain development totally depends on who you are surrounded by and what interactions you have,” said Julia Tegethoff, who is studying neuroscience at Colorado State University. “Every day they are reinforced.”

Although moving to different cultures might not affect the anatomical structures of the brain, the psyche can be changed forever.

Your brain development totally depends on who you are surrounded by and what interactions you have.

“When you hit age 10 or 12, your brain undergoes a huge re-growth and pruning process,” Tegethoff said. “If someone was going to be in a place where they were surrounded by another culture it can have big effects on whether or not they develop depression or anxiety. What you practice at that age is what is kept in the limbic reward system.”

The limbic system, or the reward system of the brain, determines what makes you happy. Cells and pathways based on the outside environment will be kept and be transformed into strong pathways.

Alice Merton (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

“At a preteen age, everything in your brain is changing and preparing for what is going to be used for the rest of your life,” Tegethoff said. “Going through a really huge change could leave a teenager forever self-conscious.”

Merton dove into music. “No Roots” was her first hit single and people were receptive to the idea behind the song. It brought mainstream attention to a feeling that globally mobile people face daily.

“At some point I would like to find a home,” said Merton in an interview with the Red Light District Show. “Not going to be a certain place that I feel at home at. For now, I’m quite happy to just be a nomad.”

Merton embraces her past in a way that others can relate. Beyond her song’s notoriety, Merton is given a platform to talk about her TCK past. She acknowledges the pain that came from it but also can see the fame and attention she is receiving from her talents along with her ability to ask new questions about a globally mobile population.

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10 comments

  1. This article is very well written and sourced. I appreciated the use of primary sources directly from a person studying neuroscience at Colorado State. The article did a good job at explaining the story of Alice Merton and her story, and how many can relate to her as she is a Third Culture Kid. As third culture kids are moved out of the home country at a young age, they experience confusion, culture shock, and a sense of not belonging. Reading “Third Culture Kids” by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van, and Micheal V. Pollock, I have better understood the hardships Third Culture Kids go through and how they feel like they have no roots, as Merton’s song explains. I have started to notice more in social media, television, and real-life how many people are Third Culture Kids and have experienced rich diversity but are often conflicted with where they fit in. This article did a good job at sharing a sorry of a third culture kid and how their brains are affected by this huge change so early in their lives.

  2. I like this article a lot. I loved the song; I related a little bit to this song. I moved to this country when I was 11 years old and often it felt like I had no roots I did not feel planted. I know firsthand what is like to move to a country where you don’t speak the language. Leaving everything behind made me feel very different about moving. I don’t like change, I like the safety of a home and settling down in one place. I now make roots everywhere I go I plant myself there. I like that Alice calls herself a nomad and that eventually she wants to have a home. I think I am very far from a nomad and because of this I like to hear the stories that make me feel uncomfortable to go make.

  3. I’ve been a fan of Alice Merton and this song in particular ever since it came out, although I never realized what it was about. The author did a good job at communicating Mertons’ story and linking it with the research and thoughts by Tagethoff, which helped expand the meaning of the song which is something a lot of people can relate to. I played the music video as I was reading this, and when I looked at the comments under it there were a lot of people of different nationalities talking about how they related to the song, being TCKs themselves. The song itself has a positive message about growing up differently compared to other people, and this article does a good job at taking that message and going into depth about the science and brain development of TCKs and how it affects them.

  4. I’ve been a fan of Alice Merton on this song ever since it came out, although admittedly I never knew the full meaning behind it. I don’t think TCKs don’t really get talked about that often in the mainstream media, and this song has a positive message for them and shows representation. Adding the research and comments of Tegethoff bolsters the message as well, and I think the author did a good job at connecting the meaning of the song and the science behind it, and how the brain develops based on those circumstances. As I was reading the article, I played the music video in the background and checked the comments underneath it, and I saw of people talking about how they related to the song and message, as they were TCKs themselves. Good song, and good article as well.

  5. I’ve loved this song since the first time I heard it, and I’m happy to see it featured in this article! Growing up as a Domestic TCK and spending a large part of my adult life being globally mobile, I feel a deep sense of connection to this song. This is a great example of the challenges and triumphs that TCKs and cross-cultural individuals experience quite commonly. I’m always touched by moments of triumph where such people are able to harness their experience to create a piece of art that is celebrated and brings them success. I also appreciate that you included a discussion about the neural developments in our upbringing and their life-long effects on people. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that the cros-cultural experience is more than just something that happens to someone – it’s something that is hard-wired into their being.

  6. “No Roots” is a fantastic song and one that I have listened to multiple times, but I’ve never stopped to consider the deeper meaning behind Alice Merton’s lyrics. It becomes so clear when you realize that Merton is a TCK! I’ve noticed that some of the best art comes from struggle, and I wouldn’t consider Merton to be an outlier from this notion; the struggle of not finding a place where you feel that you belong is a struggle in and of itself, so it’s clear to me that Merton channeled her own experiences into her music. This makes me want to take a deeper look into the music of my favorite artists to see if they might have similar experiences.

  7. I found this article very interesting. I have heard this song multiple times, but I didn’t know that the artist was a TCK. Merton being a TCK adds another layer to her lyrics that many people can already relate to. Knowing she is a TCK makes me wonder how many other TCKs listened to this sing and found it a point of comfort and understanding. I always love to see artists create work that brings people with similar experiences together.

  8. It hadn’t clicked to me before that this is where the song really originated from. As someone who listened to that song constantly for a time, to see the story behind it makes so much more sense and adds to my appreciation for it. We very much are creatures that can be heavily influenced and wired by our environments. I’m glad Merton can embrace that and encourage other TCKs to embrace that aspect of their lives as well.

  9. Music can be such a wonderful way to illustrate one’s feelings. I personally am the type to find a song that speaks to me and play it on repeat. I had actually out this song on my playlist before reading the article, but after reading I felt I gained a new insight on the meaning. Moving to a country where you can’t speak the language is hard on it’s own, and I am glad Alice Merton found an outlet for expressing those tough experiences.

  10. Wow, what an interesting story! Delving into the psychology aspect of how a TCK is feeling was really cool. And I love how that was also able to connect to music! I think it’s so awesome that music has become a medium for emotional expression. It’s such a beautiful concept, channeling your sad and uncertain feelings into something beautiful, for others to enjoy and relate to as well…if you think about it, I believe the most successful music is the most relatable music. People love relating to lyrics, myself included. This was a great and enjoyable story.

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