In 2019, it’s more acceptable than ever for boys and men to show their sadness. Be that a condition of the internet age or simply evolution, the fact is that some of the most interesting music around is being made and produced by the musicians who take pride in being sad– even in the traditional hypermasculine world that is hip-hop, where showing the kinks in their armour was once a sign of weakness.
Artists undergo a musical and personal evolution, meaning that one album’s heartbreak might soon be replaced with euphoria; Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak,” for example, was followed by the epic “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” a complete musical reinvention which, though still at times melancholic, saw him freed from the now-reductive “sad boi” label. Kanye’s personal musical evolution gave us the golden phrase “closed on Sunday, you’re my chick-fil-a”. Thank you Kanye, very cool.
Not necessarily every artist will undergo that personal evolution and channel it wonderfully through music, but overall it is undeniable that the genre itself is changing. Male angst no longer dominates the music industry as it used to. It’s interesting to see us no longer solely bonding over the darkness of the deep ambience of Frank Ocean’s music, but also connected to Khalid’s carefreeness and Rex Orange County’s songs about best friends. We are witnessing the growth and development of these artists because society is finally allowing this expression.
There’s no doubt we still crave the candlelit laser precise description of our heartbreak from Frank Ocean (I’m looking at you Camp Flog Gnaw crowd). We will always need an outlet to be in our feels. The deaths of Lil Peep and Xxxtencion certainly threw a spotlight towards the edgy “sad boi.” Their deaths catapulted a theme of dark SoundCloud music into the mainstream media while this happy theme was emerging.
Tyler the Creator, for example, no longer raps about rancid and frankly absurd themes that had him banned from first world countries, but of lighter personable themes as we saw on “IGOR.” Rex Orange County no longer ventures through the themes of his hatred for his previous ex relationships, but now sings about friendship and appreciates the growth said relationships gave him.
Music is a more common outlet to display raw emotion. Take Juice Wrld, his music is phenomenally dark and will inevitably catch you thinking of the former relationship you were never in. Still, the desire for someone who vocalizes emotions in such a raw and effortless way shows that there is now and always will be a cultural need for artists to explore these themes.
Society’s de-stigmatisation of discussions about mental health, heartbreak and the raw male emotion has made us open to themes of that go beyond the binary. The freedom to create music that’s neutral, complex and representative of the wide spectrum of possible human emotion is something that we should truly appreciate and aim to emulate.
Iman Sami is a freshman majoring in political science.