Why is Adele one of the world’s most popular singers when most everything out of her mouth is heart wrenching? And why do we sometimes crave sad music, even if we’re not in the throws of a breakup? Lucky for you there are also some moody, Adele loving social scientists who have insight to shed on the subject and as moody piñata who truly loves sad music I have uncovered something known as the "Adele Effect."
Hello from the other side…the sad side
Have you ever noticed that our culture has eliminated most of the safe, socially acceptable places to be sad? Adults still have funerals, sad movies and reasonable periods of time after breakups and significant deaths. Kids get a bit more wiggle room, though they are often encouraged to still their quavering lips and get on with things as soon as possible. Only teenagers are really allowed to be sullen and moody as they listen to the Cure in their bedrooms (and then encouraged to channel that angst into a really good college admissions essay).
It seems like sadness must be controlled and contained because our economy is customer service based and who wants to deal with a weepy Wal-Mart greeter? The wealth of our nation and most of our livelihoods depend on a certain eternal sunshine that is difficult to achieve without strong medications and lots of emotional suppression.
But a sad song can temporarily release us for this emotional imperative and allow us to feel deep, dark things that would not help move porcelain unicorns on the Home Shopping Network. For 3 ½ minutes while safely ensconced in our own little sound world we can feel gloriously tragic or just workaday glum.
There's such a difference between us
Have you ever noticed that when someone starts to cry they often apologize to anyone around them? Everyone knows that sadness and vulnerability are associated with weakness and if you show weakness the terrorists win. These two underdog two emotions are some of the least celebrated in our culture and as a result many of us have learned to shut parts of ourselves off. Another sad example happened when President Obama shed tears during a gun control speech while recalling the mass murder of six year olds and conservative websites called him weak, not a real man, irrational and worse.
Yet, sad songs can be tiny life rafts of true emotion in our increasingly reactionary, defensive world. Like ninjas who know how to sneak into the most closed and locked down parts of our hearts sad songs allow us to feel deeply and access our most tender parts.
Time’s supposed to heal ya
Sad songs don’t judge or belittle you. They are content to let you howl along and project yourself all over them like free, very loud therapy sessions. Sad song are a convenient way to move through difficult emotions and connect to the human condition. One sad music listener said it well:
I enjoy sad music when I'm feeling a little sad. I know I'll feel better after a cry and listening to a sad song will be a nudge to start crying. Listening to a sad song reminds me that feelings are universal and that I'm not alone. Someone has given the gift of expressing their sadness through music, and I am blessed to receive their gift.
I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be
If you’re still wondering why anyone would choose to listen to depressing music, so were the authors of “The paradox of music-evoked sadness: an online survey.” They found that people were most likely to crank up the Adele when they were experiencing emotional distress, needing to feel loved or understood and wanting to wallow in past memories a bit. Listeners used sad music to release negative feelings, deal with frustration, loss and disappointment and to help them have a good old fashioned cry. People who chose to listen to sad music found that nostalgia (76%) was by far the most common emotion cited, followed by peacefulness (57.5%), tenderness (51.6%) and sadness (44.9%). Wonder (38.3%) and transcendence (37%) were also mentioned, demonstrating that sad music can evoke emotions far beyond the everyday. This study found that sad music fans tend to be more open to experience, empathetic, imaginative and have difficulties with emotional regulation (the classic definition of a moody piñata).
So put on your sad pants, get out the Kleenex and crank up the Adele. You deserve the full range of human emotions and to feel terribly good.
What are your favorite sad songs and why?