Pop music is certainly getting darker, as many artists are now writing about the realities of mental health.
Back in my day, pop music was a land of stating your love for someone (yeah, yeah, yeah), referencing too-soon sexual conquests dressed in an accident for a second time (oops, I did it again) or talking about Noelle’s dick boyfriend. Since then, it’s got a trifle dark. While referencing the reaper is currently vogue, pop music has moved onto addressing mental health, specifically experiences anxiety and depression.
“I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber is the latest example of a growing trend. They’re two completely inoffensive pop dolts, yes, but in the song, they address their own experiences with social anxiety.
In verse two, Bieber sings: I’m crippled with anxiety/ But I’m told it’s where I’m s’posed to be.
Other chart-topping songs that directly address anxiety and depression include Julia Michaels’s angst-filled ditty “Anxiety” featuring Selena Gomez, in which she warbles: I tell ’em to fuck off, I’m holding hands with my depression/And right when I think I’ve overcome it/ Anxiety starts kicking in to teach that shit a lesson.
There’s also Ella Mai’s “Boo’d up,” which goes: No, this ain’t really like me / Can’t control my anxiety), Post Malone’s “Paranoid”: I wake up every day with this anxiety, and J Cole’s “Friends”: And popping pills due to chronic anxiety.
Lyrics website Genius (which is a laugh riot, make sure you examine the deeper meaning in Will Smith’s Wild Wild West) allows you to gauge the frequency in which words show up in lyrics over a period of time. The data clearly shows that the use of the words “depression” and “anxiety” is growing steadily. The word “peace”, on the other hand, has declined.
It’s unclear what the rising use of these terms in popular music indicates. It’s also unclear whether or not the artists using them are making genuine gestures of vulnerability, or just capitalising on what seems to be a growing conversation around mental health. Either way, they’re certainly tapping into something relevant to their core demographic—young people, a group in which anxiety and depression are on the rise.
So it could be that artists are singing more about anxiety and depression because the conditions themselves are increasing amongst gen-Z and millennials. Seems sane, although any demystification of normal conditions is an absolute boon. Peep Kid Cudi’s lyrics to ‘Wounds’ where he charts his own tangles with depression: We all have times when we weep/ It’s a troubled life, traumatised psychologically /I pray, in the shadows when I’m speakin’ to no one/ Myself, did everything right, didn’t I?