Saddest Songs

I really like sad music, so I was happy to see a study about why people like sad music advertised at OSU – to participate, I have to pick out 20 minutes of really sad songs.

The researcher asked me a lot of questions about why I like sad music – which I don’t exclusively like sad music, but I admit I really like it, in fact, I even named my cat Fancy after the Reba McIntyre song about the prostitute.

I like all sad genres too, from the obvious blues classics classic country music, current country music, indie sad, rock and roll, dance-tastic sad songs, epic soaring vocal sad songs, songs that should be happy but have a weird sad depth to them, the sad music they play in movies when the heroes realize everything they’ve been fighting for is a sham and everyone they love is dead, etc.

I think of myself as a robustly healthy person emotionally, but I do find sad music tends to be more interesting and more honest. Now, there is dishonest sad music – which is trying to jerk around at your emotions – and while I do normally fall for that, I don’t seek it out again and again. Sad music at its best is exploring the deepest areas of the human psyche and revealing things about us as a society. So argument one – sad music tends to be better and more interesting than boring old happy music.

But also, life is really sad! And happy too, but lots of sad. There is a country song (by JoDee Messina) where the singer says, “Bring on the rain, I was thirsty anyway!” Ok, it’s a little cheesy -especially the video – apparently the country music video industry has not yet discovered irony…. But argument two, I think my love of sad music is also my way of leaning into the chaos – getting to know it – which gives me strength over it.

Living in West Virginia – and working on coal mining issues – I have developed a refined taste for horribly sad songs about Mine Disasters – and just sad coal town stories in general
and songs about black lung and songs about people’s homes and health being destroyed by these things. So argument three, these songs are important because they spread the word about a very serious issue in a personal and emotional way – songs speak to people at a deeper level than a powerpoint.

And lastly I also think that sad music gives us a little schadenfreude – or maybe not that exactly, maybe not pleasure at someone else’s misfortune, but more a sense of relief, that whirlwind of adrenaline you get when you almost get into a car crash, but after the squealing tires stop, you realize you’re just fine. The song “Woke Up New” by The Mountain Goats is sad, because it reaches into your chest and rips out your heart, but also makes me grateful for the people who are in my life.

What are your favorite sad songs?

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