Tracking the Trend: Why Have Mainstream Pop Lyrics Become So Depressing?

Why Have Mainstream Pop Lyrics Become So Depressing?


Sadness has always been fuel for great music, and without personal hardships, it’s probably safe to say that many great artists’ music would not be quite what it is. One of the hardships that is often central to music is love, because almost everyone can relate, and another is struggle. The ups and downs of love are understandable, but generally when one has been down for a while (think Carrie Underwood’s ‘Before He Cheats’), they tend to come back up (think Carrie Underwood’s ‘Love Wins’). It’s worth noting she didn’t write the first one, but she sure sang it with emotion.

A trend today, however, seems to be a constant barrage of sad and depressing music from pop artists… and it seems to be (sadly) pretty genuine, even long after success. When artists who got fame writing about overcoming hardships of being poor, it’s difficult to take them as genuine if they keep singing about it after buying a jet. Jay-Z was genuine on “Hard Knock Life,” and then he wrote a hundred songs about being rich, too… also genuine (and well-received by critics and fans for decades).

Why is it that the young pop generation, both as artists and consumers, seem to have an obsession with the sad these days? There are many reasons, and always infinite exceptions when taking about an entire generation, but it seems, for the most part, the musicians are reflections of their generations, just as the Hendrix’s were for progressive hippies, and the Cobain’s were for the angry generation of the 90s.

Anxiety in Teens

Anxiety in teens is nothing new, but it is higher among this generation than most recent generations when they were teens. Though the root reasons may be similar, the social media wave has certainly had an effect on this. Popularity (or a lack thereof) was a non-issue when kids would leave school and go home, prior to social media. Now, it takes a very disciplined child to be able to go home and stay away from social media if he or she is bummed out about thinking other kids are “cooler.”

Artists don’t have any sort of special escape means when it comes to social media, and as sad teens become artists, those artists can become icons… but that transformation to an icon doesn’t change the artist’s exposure to the negativity that is rampant on social media, and thus, it’s understandable that the lyrics don’t sway too much.

With school stress management being even more difficult due to COVID-19’s changes, the trend is spiking even higher due to the current uncertainty surrounding education, and the world in general. With this, kids may be able to experience a hint of relief from the in-class stressors that were making them anxious, but a whole new set of issues comes with the digital classroom setting, with the primary one being a “new normal” and adapting to the changes.

Looking Forward

To call sad music an “issue” would be unfair, and often those in “funks” look to music for someone that can relate to them. The need for sad music from sad consumers, however, is something that is worth keeping an eye on. As negativity in the media, both mainstream and social, is becoming more and more difficult to avoid, supporting anti-bullying campaigns, and promoting positivity to your teens and teens around you is very important to counteract the effects. Until then, though, Billie Eilish should have no issues keeping fans!

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