The ages old (maybe a 100 years old) query into why certain songs are more popular than another. Take rock, for instance. Why did Led Zeppelin do so well, with "Immigrant Song" and "Black Dog?" Or Pink Floyd, with "Comfortably Numb," and "Wish you were here?" Talent surely played a large part in many artists' fame. But is that all? I can think of one, talented but not especially so, singer who's won not 10, not 12, but 14 Grammys. Taylor Swift is the one. I apologize to all the Swifties out there, it's not like she's not talented. I myself have "shaken it off" multiple times in reaction to her hit song. But she's not exceptionally talented, in singing that is.
Anyway, I'm getting off topic. The one thing that we can agree on, is that sad songs have always created more of a reaction, more of an uproar even, than their happier counterparts. Just look at Olivia Rodrigo's most recent release: "Driver's License." Mind you, a good bit of that popularity came from TikTok, but nevertheless, people oohed and ahhed over the hidden meaning of "that blonde girl," and "driving alone past your street."
Why do they impact us so? Most people have stuck with "they help you feel your emotions." Well, sure. But all songs elicit an emotional response; why is sadness so much different?
Believe it or not, happiness and sadness are actually located in separate areas of the brain. Well you should probably believe it- it was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Faster imaging methods allowed researchers to capture a snapshot of the fleeting moments of emotion, and how brain activity correlates. They actually found that participants in the study, when feeling happiness, had more activity in the structures of the limbic system, near the face, and decreased activity in left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in planning and forethought.
In contrast, when participants were asked to think about funerals and sad events, their amygdala (the center of the limbic system) became activated. Nearly the opposite was measured in the state of happiness. And likely the most important difference: participants experiencing sadness had activity in their left prefrontal cortex. Yup, that's right. The part of forethought and planning.
Weird, that an emotion can trigger a rational part of brain? I thought so too, at first. But then I kept thinking about it, and it makes sense. Because sadness itself is a rational feeling: there's always a person, event, or external circumstance that triggers it. Keep in mind, there's a difference between sadness and depression, and in this case I'm just talking about the former. We've rationalized that it's ok to feel this way, it's ok to be unhappy, and listening to a sad song simply exacerbates this reassurance. It may sound crazy, but it means that logic actually intensifies the emotion. Rationalizing your feelings allows you to delve deeper in them.
Let's say you're like me, and you're feeling upset because you just had a weird conversation with a stranger and your socially anxiety is kicking in. You're worrying that you said the wrong things, you sounded like a weirdo, and now they don't like you. Well, if you start listening to "when the party's over" by Billie Eilish, you're going to feel justified, feel right in the way that you do. Because Billie does too, and her reasons are just as valid: trust issues with people leaving.
So really, it's not emotion at the heart of the query. It's logic. Turns out even when we're feeling, we're thinking. But I wonder what would happen if we stopped thinking and just felt? What would happen if sure, we let out a good cry without the sad song exacerbating it, and exhausted our emotions? Then we could get back to life, back to reality and start thinking again. Maybe the problem is in the fact that logic and emotion should be separate, distinct entities of our lives.
But, I'm not going to lie, everyone should have a good cry now and again. With a sad song to reaffirm their feelings. To help you in times of need, here is my top 5 sad songs to cry to:
- "Blood Brothers"- Bruce Springsteen
- "The Night We Met"- Lord Huron
-" How To Save A Life"- The Fray
- "O"- Coldplay
- "Sound of Silence" original Simon and Garfunkel