Music has always been the purest expression of emotion. Often, the things we can’t put into words are sung or rapped in a song so beautifully, we can’t help but think someone wrote the song about us or with us in mind. We glorify the artists we love; deify them even. And thus, sometimes, we are emotionally affected by their every word.
We are so wrapped up in an image, and with how we look to everyone else, and constant and easy access to our most prized artists through Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, it's easy to, unconsciously, model ourselves after our musical heroes.
Musicians use music as their catharsis. Their deepest emotions often bleed through their art, and we will sing along not realizing that these emotions and feelings are real for the creator.
We sing along at the top of our lungs to Lil Uzi Vert's hit single “XO Tour Llif3,” chanting, “She said I’m insane yeah, I might blow my brains out. Xanny for the pain yeah, please Xanny make it go away.” This song is all over the radio. Yet, we gloss over the fact that Uzi is possibly hanging on for dear life, taking Xanax to numb the pain while thoughts of taking his own life run through his head.
When did it become cool to be depressed and fucked up?
On HNDRXX standout "Use Me," Future sings, “Use me what you want me for,” and immediately, we identify with not caring about ourselves and letting someone use us so we can hang on to a shred of happiness or hope. Or both.
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It's unjust to place blame at the feet of artists based on how their work is received. They make the music they want to make, with freedom of speech in their back pocket, and we take it and run. But we must also acknowledge the fact that children—often the core demographic of these artists—will emulate what they see and what they hear and, especially, what they think is cool. And when depression and loneliness come to the forefront of popular music, this becomes a dangerous combination.
Rappers are the new rock stars. They’re infamous. We want to be like them. We want to do the things that they do. We want to be as cool as they are on social media. And when loneliness is what they sing about, it becomes fashionable and, conversely, we too want to be lonely. We get so wrapped up in the image of ourselves that we forget who we are, and whom we want to be. Instead, we mold ourselves around this image, hoping one day we’ll be as liked as the artists we idolize.
I've always wondered why, as they grow up, kids will brag about being able to cut people out of their lives without a second thought. Part of that stems from popular musicians singing about how “it ain’t nothin’ to cut that bitch off,” or the need for "no new friends."
It is not a coincidence that Xanax, a prescription medication used to treat anxiety and panic disorders, has only grown in popularity as it has become more prominent in pop culture, particularly in hip-hop. Like when Brockhampton's Ameer Vann sings, “Swallow all these downers let these problems melt and drown me. Just drown me. JUST DROWN ME.” Or when Uzi belts out, “I’m committed not addicted but it keep control of me, all the pain now I can’t feel it, I swear that it’s slowing me.” Neither Vann nor Vert is forcing their audience to emulate their loneliness or to pop a Xanax. But it happens. And it’s something we need to address.
When The Weeknd sings, “I always fuck my life up,” it suddenly becomes cool to fuck your own life up. Who is cooler than The Weeknd, right? He’s always repping for the low lives. Or just pick any of Father’s songs—particularly, "Suicide Party."
Kids are impressionable. Hell, adults are impressionable. And the music we listen to affects us, especially when we let it passively sink into our brains, singing along with such painfully dark lyrics without being aware of what it is we are saying.
Countless studies have shown that music can affect our mood and thoughts. This means we must pay closer attention to what we are listening to. That’s not to say we should stop listening to music with darker themes, though. Sadness, despair, and grief can produce and inspire beautiful music. Plus, pain is easy to identify with—we all feel pain. But instead of being passive listeners, we must become more active listeners.
We need to not only know what we are listening to but also why we like it. Acknowledgment is always the first step.