Back in sixth form, I remember being sat in the computer room, and my best friend tapped me on the shoulder. He was pinching in between his eyes, you know, like when you mock cry at something. Except when he looked up, there seemed to be genuine despair etched into his expression. What was wrong?? Had his girlfriend broken up with him?! Had he just gotten a detention?!
He answered my frenzied questioning with a pained point towards his computer screen. It was displaying a YouTube video of some indie rock band song, the visuals being in black and white, the vocalists displaying gloomy expressions, like the cameraman had just told them their budget’s been restricted so they’re having to drain away the colour – along with any life that might once have occupied the singers’ eyes – from the video. As I realised that they were actually the cause of my friend’s distress, a puzzled look stretched across my face.
‘Bro, seriously, what are you doing? Why would you want to listen to music that makes you sad? Music’s supposed to be a form of entertainment,’ I remember complaining as I rolled my eyes and returned to my own work. “It’s a good song though”, I heard a grumbling voice mutter from my left.
And this is where my confusion began. I used to try and limit my phone’s music repertoire to upbeat tracks and albums with a positive message. That stopped when I was introduced to the grimy world of American Hip-Hop and Rap, and as you will have gathered from previous posts, the often moody and melancholic Travis Scott is now one of my favourite artists. The so-called Emo-Rap, although I didn’t initially realise it, has probably been my favourite genre for the past few years now.
However, I often encounter a dilemma regarding the conflict between my old musical habits and my new ones: When we’re feeling a little despondent or upset, should we listen to upbeat music to try and drag ourselves out of our rut? Or, should we listen to music that mirrors our mood, and that we can relate to in that moment?
I used to opt for the first one because I thought this was common sense, but now I almost always go down the second route. Does it make me feel better having someone else reciprocating my mood down my earphones? Ultimately, I’m not sure it does. But in that low space, I definitely don’t feel like putting on some chirpy country music.
I find it interesting that many artists nowadays seem to be at their most creatively productive when they’re feeling their most desolate. Look at Adele, Drake, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. Their most revered work is undoubtedly their most despondent. Is this because critics feel as though they’re seeing the real artist when they lay themselves bare and open up to us about their deepest doubts and fiercest fears? Perhaps despair causes the artist to become more introspective, and subsequently more honest?
But I’m not completely convinced. Pharrell Williams, arguably the most prolific hit-maker of this decade, is almost exclusively positive in tone and in message. Calvin Harris’ latest album saw a return to the days of carefree disco-funk. And my dad’s favourite Country artist at the moment, Zac Brown Band, have a running theme throughout their songs of forgetting your worries and sitting back on a beach deck chair with a cold beer and a guitar, which is certainly a refreshing attitude to life, isn’t it?
It seems, as always, that there are two sides to the story. There are now songs for every mood. But which shade should we go for, brilliant gold or gloomy blue? Does musical wallowing just cause us dive even deeper into our dejection? Should I have stuck to my sixth form guns, is there really any sense in listening to music that makes us sad? Or do these tracks have more artistic value than bright, free-spirited, but perhaps less substantial ones?
Whose side are you on?
Stay down or turn up?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?