Depressing misunderstood music

People have often criticised sections of the music I like, because it’s ‘depressing’. There is no such thing as “depressing’ music, only music that you don’t get or don’t understand, perhaps people don’t want to say: “Turn this off because I don’t understand it”, which would be more accurate.

Generally the music referred to, lyrically, deals with sad topics, the plight of the alienated from society, with the expression of quite specific negative feelings. Such music concerns the feelings of a minority in society. This music has very positive functions. Most importantly it allows the listener to recognise and relate to an expressed emotion, from this comes a sense of validation, that those thoughts are not unique and are those of a wider community of people. This association with the negative actually helps allow the listener to escape from negative feelings as a focal point for the negativity is provided, so the feelings can be appropriately compartmentalised. it is no surprise that the purveyors of such music, never achieve super stardom, but often have large, loyal very dedicated groups of fans. for example Leonard Cohen sang “We are ugly, but we have the music”, to me this means that whilst outsiders may feel outside society, at least they/we have understanding of a great collection of music.

I stressed in a recent post, how human feelings consists of happiness, sadness and a neutrality. Art should concern all possible states of human conciousness. I don’t understand the call for more happy music. It is harder to express happiness artistically I feel. However you can’t force happiness on people (though it would be wonderful if this was actually possible!). I am a massive fan of ‘The Cure‘, In the late 1980s they suddenly started producing a string of poppy, happy songs, that gained more widespread success, ‘Lovecats’ reached the giddy heights of number 7 in the singles chart in the UK. These worked wonderfully as very rare expression and explorations of happiness. More recently with ‘Happy’ by Marina and the Diamonds

It would be wrong to suggest that this music is better or worse than other music, by which I mean music that concerns more general widely felt thoughts and feelings about the human condition. Whilst this kind of music can be amazing it will always fail to provide the keenness of resonance of a more rare or specific emotion. However, good music of this variety is harder to distinguish. Often an artist will write lyrics that are so general and lacking any real insight, that they are dull and boring.

What has always flummoxed me, is that pop music that becomes hugely successful, seems to bare little relation to it’s quality, whether lyrically or musically. I’m aware that music lovers and lovers of insightful lyrics are the minority and don’t determine popularity. I wonder whether there is something special that people who don’t feel like outsiders or a developed sense of music pick up on?

However it may be something less profound. sometimes an artist will emerge for popularising a new style of music. Usually the new style will already have developed in the underground by experimental artists. To fans of the experimental sound, the popularisation will sound dull and boring, but to the uninitiated it may present the expression of that musical idea for the masses.

I’ve mainly been discussing lyrical content in this discussion, as i hinted almost the exact same argument apples to musicality. However musicality is different. Being an outsider is something that happens to an individual. Musicality can be developed by anyone, through active listening to music. For example, the popular works of a classical composer, most people will like, you then play another less popular work by that artist, and the listener won’t get it. However if they have developed musicality, they will be able to appreciate the less popular work  just as much as the popular one. Composers, don’t know what is going to be popular. Perhaps popularity occurs when a musical idea is very simple, it is the simplicity that resonates, to the composer the simplicity may not be apparent at the time of writing.


5 thoughts on “Depressing misunderstood music

  1. I agree. In fact, for some of us, depressing music is actually happy music in that it is cathartic. I always feel better after listening to the Cure’s Pornography, even though it is “depressing.”


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