Music has always been one of the purest forms of expression.
While many have utilized the medium to push an ideology or promote a product, the most powerful songs come from larger-than-life stars opening up about their own problems. Instead of listening to their heroes sing of riches and lovers, listeners gain an appreciation for just how similar these artists are to their own fans, which simultaneously raises recognition for these problems while reminding people that sometimes, it’s OK not to be OK.
For anyone feeling lonely, weird or out of touch with the world, the songs below tell the truth about this grisly ailment:
Despite building a career as a rapper, Mac actually covered a lowkey gem of a 2005 song with the same name by the band Bright Eyes. Mac sings about adventures with a lover as he navigates the loneliness plaguing his mind over a beautifully reflective guitar.
Lines like “the mask I polish in the evenings by the morning looks like s--t” are a clear reference to masking, a technique used by people with autism and other social developmental disorders to hide behaviors and mannerisms which they are all-too self-aware of. But despite getting ready to present himself to his peers with the “mask” he has prepared, he can’t even look in the mirror by the time he gets home.
With the voice of a grizzled but loving individual, Mac provides an open and honest portrait of a man whose mind has been tragically dragged through the wringer, giving listeners a genuine peek into a heartbreakingly sad brain:
“When everything is lonely I can be my own best friend / I get a coffee and a paper, have my own conversations.”
As the song draws to a close, it becomes clear Mac feels he has little control over his life, finding solitude only in friends and drugs. Of course, this only adds on to that pain, and his final line only confirms that the beloved musician wants to be better, but day-by-day life only pulls him back:
“And I’m not sure what the trouble was, that started all of this / The reasons all have run away, but the feeling, never did / It’s not something I would recommend, but it is one way to live / ‘Cause what is simple in the moonlight by the morning never is.”
Few songs capture seemingly unexplainable depression like “Mr. Blue.” Across a playfully chime-filled production, Feeney sings about the titular Mr. Blue and his endless sadness. Even with Feeney giving Blue constant love and affection, there’s nothing she can do to help him. But as anyone who has experienced depression knows, sometimes one can’t internally justify their feelings, making them feel even worse, which subsequently shuts the individual out from loved ones to an even greater degree:
“Mr. Blue / I have to go now, darling / Don’t be angry / I know that you’re tired / Know that you’re sore and sick and sad for some reason / So I leave you with a smile / Kiss you on the cheek / And you will call it treason.”
But, over the course of two short minutes, Feeney offers Blue a beautifully hopeful solution to his problems, reminding listeners that even in their worst moments, there was happiness in their lives before, and there will certainly be more to come in the future:
“Mr. Blue, Don’t hold your head so low that you can’t see the sky / Mr. Blue, it ain’t so long since you were flyin’ high.”
Even with the song’s limitlessly sad topics, these lyrics can’t help but spark hope, hinting that the best days might not even be behind us, but right around the corner.
Heart of a Lion
While many artists discuss their mental health experiences, “Heart of a Lion” details Kid Cudi’s internal fight to break through an invisible bubble. Serving as an anthem for the fighter in everyone, Cudi reflects on the personal challenges he’s experienced across his life, making some expertly placed references while refusing to let anything get in his way:
“But the weed is guaranteed, indeed, just what I need / How I feel, upon a time, so recent in time, made me sad / When I recollect how it used to be like / Like David and Goliath kinda like me / And the Devil tryna rip out my soul / Tryna catch a n---a on sleep, no-no / You can try again and I’ll be ready / Won’t let you kill me in my dream like Freddy Krueger / No, I’m not no loser, I’ll see you in Hell.”
As Cudi emphatically states his mom’s imploration to let no one break his spirit, the song’s chorus rockets from a previously fast-paced rap beat into an epic sound that will make even the most discouraged individuals hold their heads up high and drown out the sounds of their doubters:
“My mama told me don’t let no one break me, let no one break me / At the end of the day, day / Nobody, nobody ever could stop me, ever could stop me / At the end of the day, day / You can’t regret it if you were trying, if you were trying / At the end of the day, day / I’m walking with a heart of a lion, yeah.”
This is one of many fascinating songs in the Cleveland rapper’s discography that touches upon the trials of mental health, with other essentials including “Love” and “Soundtrack 2 My Life.”
One of the most iconic metal songs to ever grace the speakers, “Paranoid” is a foray into insanity. Across Tommy Iommi’s legendary riff, Ozzy Osbourne screams his problems for the world to hear, admitting his mental state is aggressively falling apart as he desperately tries to keep it together:
“Finished with my woman ‘cause she couldn’t help me with my mind / People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time / All day long, I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy / Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify.”
Few other songs have lyrics and production that complement each other so perfectly, as the increasingly frantic lyrics symbolize a mind that becomes more decrepit with each verse, before finally crashing to a point of dark acceptance, where Ozzy can only advise others to not take his path:
“And so, as you hear these words telling you now of my state / I tell you to enjoy life, I wish I could, but it’s too late.”
Halsey’s “Gasoline” is centered around her own experience with bipolar disorder and takes an unflinching look at the unparalleled torture of mental illness that can shake the human mind. Halsey asks the audience if they relate to her struggles at all, highlighting the toll being famous has taken on her with substance abuse and constant judgment from others:
“Are you high enough without the Mary Jane like me? / Do you tear yourself apart to entertain like me? / Do the people whisper ‘bout you on the train like me?”
The root of her problems eventually becomes clear in the chorus, with Halsey pouring her heart out into an emotional ballad of revelation. Despite becoming a beloved star, Halsey is no longer seen as one of “them.” They see her as just a celebrity, stripping her of her humanity, which only furthers her own insanity:
“And all the people say / You can’t wake up, this is not a dream / You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being / With your face all made up, living on a screen / Low on self-esteem, so you run on gasoline.”
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org