I woke up one day and couldn’t listen to sad music anymore: My complex relationship with the romanticization of sadness

Graphic by Monika Krueger

By Farah Rincon

There’s been a trend in recent years to romanticize your own mental illness, particularly among Gen-Z. I can attest to having fallen victim to this mindset after being exposed to shows that tend to idealize a specific aura of sadness like Skins, Euphoria, and even 13 Reasons Why. With that being said, the most practical outlet for expressing this romanticization of depression would be my never-ending supply of Spotify playlists to listen to while crying out the window or hiding in your room. The vast bulk of these "in my feels" playlists are made up of music I discovered on Tumblr, which famously did a fantastic job of making sadness this mysterious, cool, and quirky trait to uphold. This is when my overexposure to sadness truly began. I found myself lost within the melancholic tones of Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" and Marina's gloomy lyrics in"Teen Idle." I suppose it was only fitting that I sang "I wanna stay inside all day / I want the world to go away" over and over on my way to algebra class. I'd become fully immersed in the idea of putting my misery on a pedestal, and it seriously affected me in all areas of my life.

After overcoming my young pre-teen angst I experienced during middle school, I kept developing this "sad girl" character for the majority of high school. The music, however, was no longer blatantly mopey but more mature and profound in its lyricism. I'd grown fond of Fiona Apple's ballads, Beach House's nostalgic sound, and Thom Yorke's shaky voice that sounds as if he's always on the verge of tears with each note. I had overcome my frenzy of sadness only to feel an overarching cloud of emptiness in my life. These musicians had given me an adequate enough outlet to express my emotions with, and I couldn't figure out how to get out of this rut and move on.

I could no longer allow myself to wallow. My life had been molded to fit the tracklist of a Radiohead album, and I felt as if this phase of my life had overstayed its welcome. I made a rule for myself, no matter how unrealistic it may be, to stop listening to sad music. This took some getting used to, but during the early days of quarantine back in 2020, I found myself falling in love with electro-pop and digitized synths of Crystal Castles and Grimes, something drastically different from what I had previously listened to. Obviously, I came back to my old listening habits from time to time, but I left behind the main character syndrome that gave power to my negative feelings. I didn't want to be the sad girl, drowning in my own misery who insisted on pretending everything was fine because it looked like something out of a Sky Ferreira music video. It was finally time to move on. 

This is not to say that I now despise the genre of sad music. All of these artists have a unique talent for transforming sadness they feel into poetic, beautiful works of art, and perhaps adolescence  is truly about this — dramatizing your emotions, thinking that you’re  the center of the universe, and making beauty out of your own heartache. In that case, it was simply a matter of separating myself from this music for a while, much like a "it's not you, it's me" scenario. After a period of reflecting on my romanticized sadness, I can now listen to these artists and lovingly cherish these past versions of myself. When I put on my headphones and listen to those slow, lyrical melodies, a small part of my fourteen-year-old self tenderly comes back to life.

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