Who Smiles 24/7? : Mental Health and its Emergence in Recent Music  

The idea of truly expressing oneself in music is something that has become synonymous with successful artists who delve into their own experiences. It can be seen in Eminem’s (Marshall Mathers) rise to stardom rapping about his Detroit upbringing or in NWA’s (N***** With Attitude) ballads about the injustices and inequalities in the greater Los Angeles area. But is the idea of truly expressing oneself in music acceptable when the the topic of focus is seen as a social stigma?

Mental health has long held a stigma in American society and music with concepts like depression and suicide being “shunned” from songs and dinner table conversations. Who wants to listen to a sad man sing about his struggles? This was seen as the common thought process at the time. By having artists like Kurt Cobain openly talking about his struggle with mental illness in the lyrics of numerous Nirvana songs, it caused a shift in American thought and an emergence in this “sensitive” side of music that was previously considered taboo. The role of mental health in American music and pop culture was largely ignored and seen as undesirable throughout most of American music history until the 1990s rolled around. Kurt Cobain heavily influenced the mental health movement in music through drawing on his relationship experiences and crafting beautiful imagery with Nirvana’s textually-layered songs such as “Lithium.” Through using both descriptive lyrics and effective diegetic sounds, heard in songs such as Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicksor Kehlani’s “24/7,” artists in general were able to turn this serious issue into a productive social conversation in many households throughout the United States during this era of music.

Therapy revolved around music and music in general has a tremendous effect on the mental health of an individual. According to research on the effects of music therapy published to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews last year, “Findings of the present meta‐analysis indicate that music therapy provides short‐term beneficial effects for people with depression. Music therapy added to treatment as usual (TAU) seems to improve depressive symptoms compared with TAU alone…Music therapy also shows efficacy in decreasing anxiety levels and improving functioning of depressed individuals” (Music Therapy for Depression). Listening and playing music has real effects on a human’s mood and state of mind by decreasing anxiety and depressive symptoms. For myself, I definitely listen to music as a mood-relaxer and to “unwind.” For depressed artists, music’s therapeutic qualities can be seen as their way to connect with other people, or their outlet to the outside world.  


Aalbers, Sonja. “Music Therapy for Depression.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 16 Nov. 2017, www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004517.pub3/full