mental health
From rap to rock to 80s-influenced pop, artists across the board are addressing their struggles. (Illustration by Julianne Griepp, Laguna College of Art and Design)
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mental health

These artists are shedding light on a subject that is often left in the dark.

Many artists have bravely shared personal stories of their battles with mental health through their life’s work. By getting gritty with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and other mental illnesses, these songs have helped many people cope with and understand their own state of mental health.

1. “Fake Happy” by Paramore

“Fake Happy” lyrically describes the act of putting up a facade and hiding underlying emotions. Filmed through the busy streets of New York City, the music video showcases a jumpy, care-free Hayley Williams, Paramore’s stellar frontwoman, walking through crowds of people who have yellow, upside-down smiley faces placed over their real expressions. Depicting inner sadness, “Fake Happy” brings light to how people hide their emotions and put on a happy face despite what they may be facing.

Revealing Lyrics: “So I been doin’ a good job / Of makin’ ’em think / I’m quite alright / Better hope I don’t blink / You see, it’s easy when I’m stompin’ on a beat / But no one sees me when I crawl back underneath”

2. “Leave Out All The Rest” by Linkin Park

“Leave Out All The Rest” is nothing short of an anthem for those with a mental illness. Released by Linkin Park in 2008, Chester Bennington’s voice blends with the guitar and drums to create an interchange between slow, light sounds with low vocals and louder instrumental with raspier singing.

The tone of the song builds upon the lyrics to give a saddening, yet demanding tone. Taking place during a dream, the lyricist ponders how he would be remembered when he passed, requesting those who know him to leave the bad qualities and memories out.

Revealing Lyrics: “After my dreaming / I woke with this fear / What am I leaving / When I’m done here?”

3. “Breathe Me” by Sia

“Breath Me” is a truly beautiful and vulnerable song that highlights the loneliness that accompanies mental illness and self-harm. Within the lyrics, Sia uses repetition and wordplay to reflect the reoccurrence of mental illness and thoughts of self-harm. Interwoven into this theme is the need to be understood, which is revealed through the song’s repeated words, “breathe me.”

Revealing Lyrics: “Help / I have done it again / I have been here many times before / Hurt myself again today / And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame”

4. “Anziety” by Logic

In “Anziety,” Logic depicts anxiety in a refreshing way by embracing every quality the mental health disorder has to offer. Throughout the song, Logic switches between personal narrative and the perspective of anxiety as if it were a human being.

“Anziety” heavily mirrors the abruptness and confusion that accompanies anxiety, but in the end, Logic says, “We will accept ourselves and live with anxiety,” suggesting complete self-acceptance is key to understanding and overcoming this feeling.

Revealing Lyrics: “As my body began to fade / In this moment my mind was full of clarity / But my body insisted it was in danger / I looked around and I told myself I was safe, I was fine”

5. “Migraine” by Twenty One Pilots

The reference to a migraine in Twenty One Pilots“Migraine” is meant to stand as a metaphor for there being something wrong with a person’s physical or mental self that results in pain.

Blending electropop and alternative hip hop, “Migraine” tackles depression with a more upbeat tempo, with tinges of depression, death and loneliness strewn throughout the song. “Migraine” also pays heavy tribute to how confusing a developing mental illness can be.

Revealing Lyrics: “It will not let me sleep, I’ll get some sleep when I’m dead/  And sometimes death seems better than the migraine in my head”

6. “Smile” by Jay-Z

“Smile” by Jay-Z demands action through the use of a smile as a way to cover your true emotions. The song includes a subtle reference to seeking help for mental illness, “My therapist said I relapsed.” This line alone drew praise and promoted therapy as a means of overcoming and managing a mental illness.

Revealing Lyrics: “But life is short, and it’s time to be free / Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed / Smile”

7. “About Today” by The National

“About Today” has many meanings, but one in particular brings a unique perspective to depression by mirroring the thoughts of a person witnessing someone slowly becoming lost in their mental illness. The instrumentals and vocals of Matt Berninger combine to create a sad tone with a faster-than-average paced beat.

The lyrics powerfully detail the distance and isolation depression creates within a relationship. While this song could be interpreted in other ways, “About Today” is a deep cut into an outsider’s view of what depression looks and feels like.

Revealing Lyrics: “Today you were far away / and I didn’t ask you why / What could I say / I was far away”

8. “Spirits” by The Strumbellas

“Spirits” seamlessly shares what fighting an inner battle is like: relentless, explosive and seemingly permanent. This song’s upbeat tempo and dark metaphors combine to hit upon inner strife and sadness. The Strumbellas, by touching upon mental battles, have created a ballad for those dealing with similar internal issues.

Revealing Lyrics: “I got guns in my head and they won’t go / Spirits in my head and they won’t go”

9. “Gasoline” by Halsey

“Gasoline” is a dark pop hit centered around Halsey’s continual struggle with bipolar disorder and her harmful coping mechanisms. In describing her self-proclaimed insanity and desire to cope, Halsey brings a raw, unhinged visual to this otherwise overlooked disorder.

Many of the lines suggest her mental health status left her feeling dehumanized and machine-like. In portraying her life as chaotic and leading into a constant downward spiral, Halsey has stayed true to the realities of the effect of mental health on an individual’s life.

Revealing Lyrics: “You’re part of a machine, you are not a human being / With your face all made up, living on a screen / Low on self-esteem, so you run on gasoline”

10. “How Are You True” by Cage the Elephant

A slow yet undeniably revealing song, “How Are You True” was inspired by a young man named True, who singer Matt Schultz met on an airplane. True’s label was sending him to rehab, and the song’s lyrics feature thoughts and reflections of a life’s work gone to waste. The low, seemingly dragging beat accentuates the song’s meaning.

Cage the Elephant hints at symptoms of depression and an unfulfilling life while also providing hope and a possible solution to leading a dreary, boring life: love.

Revealing Lyrics: “And I try to find the will to carry on / Wonder how much longer I can carry on / Cause these days they take so long, yes they do”

11. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine

“Shake It Out,” a soulful indie rock song, is the ultimate conquering song. This uplifting, mindset-flipping composition reeks of the need to get rid of any regrets and sorrows. Having an addictive, high-noted chorus intertwined with generic clichés and strong revelations, Florence has crafted a song seemingly designed to overcome mental illness.

Revealing Lyrics: “And every demon wants his pound of flesh / But I like to keep some things to myself”

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