Victoria debates the merits and pitfalls of the ubiquity of the sad girl genre.
“I’m not like other girls”, she claims, while Lana Del Rey, Phoebe Bridgers and Lorde fill the ‘liked’ playlist on Spotify. I suppose we can all accept in today’s climate that no one’s taste is completely unique.
The ‘sad girl’ phenomenon in music encapsulates trauma, obsession, break-ups and one’s mental health, in a decorative display of what we feel but don’t say. It’s chic allure covers images of mascara smudges from crying alone in a room, or the shaking chipped nail polish fingers clasped desperately to a cigarette. These images are presented as appealing, to the extent that listeners crave to be one of them and feel a part of this trope. It’s a lonely sense of belonging.
We all can say, myself especially, that a therapeutic cry whilst attempting to get the lyrics out through snivels and cleanex is a harmonious and revitalising experience. The acceptance of feeling low is reinforced by the songs and lyrics we use to guide our life in moments of self-reflection. Phoebe Bridgers can say “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time” in her song Funeral as if it’s both a sighed comment in a passing conversation, and the greatest anthem line to be sung on repeat. It’s astounding to me that music can recycle these same themes and tastes while staying original and fresh with every new generation that joins.
For anyone wanting to divulge into this seismic wave of raw emotions, I recommend July by Noah Cyrus, or Lorde’s 2013 album Pure Heroine. Lorde has an innate ability to emphasise the lyrics in her songs which give her message power, strengthening her listeners and emphasising ‘sad girl’ songs to be a form of empowerment, endearment and escape. In their writing, these artists do not repress their actual emotions, stay in the dark or suffer alone. Lana Del Rey is a perfect example of this unfiltered honesty, cathartically dumping her damage on us to wallow in. No one has ever felt more comforted on social media by a comment or repost saying relatable, or same. For better or worse, the romanticisation of suffering brought to listeners’ ears provides a source of comfort unmatched by other genres.
For further evidence of this, look no further than Billie Eilish’s sold out stadiums. A most recent release of Happier Than Ever had the most absorbing wave (quite literally on the music video) of released anger and scars being screamed to the world to scream back, which Youtube clips of her concerts show they did (perhaps even more than the ‘leave America’ lyric belted at Harry Styles’ recent tour of Europe).
And yet artists within this genre often risk losing the originality of their craft through the ‘sad girl’ label. How can an artist be expected to be authentic and honest if the full force of fans and media storms deem them geniuses of a single style? The connotations of ‘sad girl’ music are an unhinged woman incapable of restraining feelings, whose only drive is relationships and love. The patronising and misogynistic undertones of female artists being successful when struggling or broken is a topic Taylor Swift has been fighting against for the better part of her career, saying that she “wants to wear pink and tell you how [she] feels about politics”, asserting that these two concepts shouldn’t be juxtaposing or surprising.
What to take away from all this, then? Although it’s undeniable that the influx of relatable, emotional media connects with the hearts and minds of people struggling, really, the sad girl starter pack should be dependent on the listener. It should remind the minds connected to the headphones that there’s beauty in their specific struggle, and they are not alone.