You’ve just gone through a gut-wrenching breakup or maybe you’re in the thick of trying to get over that person. So what do you do? You look to music to get you through it, and eventually you come across that perfect, poignant lyric about heartbreak that feels like it was practically written with you in mind.
Using song lyrics to articulate the depths of our heartbreak isn’t anything new, but it seems the available platform through which its done has shifted. Older millennials, for instance, might have put majorly pointed song lyrics as their AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) away messages back in the day, while younger millennials maybe looked to Tumblr to reblog GIFs that also featured #emo song lyrics. With TikTok at their fingertips, Gen Zers, on the other hand, seem to be using the social media platform not only to share lyrics about heartbreak, but to record themselves reacting to them as the song plays.
Last week, a new trend emerged on TikTok following the release of Taylor Swift‘s “1989 (Taylor’s Version).” With the help of “Now That We Don’t Talk,” the 19th track on the deluxe album, Swifties are expressing their gratitude for their failed relationships. Swift launches into the song’s outro, during which she gives examples of things she no longer has to pretend to enjoy with her now ex-flame:
I don’t have to pretend I like acid rock
Or that I’d like to be on a mega yacht
With important men who think important thoughts
Guess maybe I am better off now that we don’t talk
And now, fans are putting their own “spin on it.”
Why do lyrics help during heartbreak?
According to Beth Charbonneau, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker in Maryland, “a good set of lyrics gives us language” for the “swirl of feelings and emotions” within us as we process the demise of a failed relationship.
“A great heartbreak song reflects the intensity and depth of our experience, and we have the small comfort of knowing we aren’t truly alone, that someone else in the world actually gets how truly devastating this feels. This goes for the whole range of feelings that go with heartbreak — it’s not always sadness,” she told In The Know by Yahoo via email. “There’s also intense anger (Many Gen Xers will always have a soft spot for Alanis [Morissette] for giving us ‘You Oughta Know‘), regret, wistfulness, and even relief. In hearing our experiences reflected back to us in song, we aren’t outcasts from the world in our misery, but more like passengers in a very big and crowded boat of all the folks that have loved and lost so hard throughout space and time. Feeling connected like this soothes our hearts, our brains and our nervous systems.”
While it’s evident that “members of Gen Z are in touch with their feelings,” Spotify’s 2019 Cultural Next Trends report revealed that the younger generation actively listens to their “bag playlists” or curated “bag” of songs that Urban Dictionary claims are “listened to when sad.” The report not only found that the listenership of these playlists among Gen Zers is up 45% year over year but that 49% of the study’s participants “said they find camaraderie in sharing their feelings of sadness and loneliness.”
Just a quick glance through TikTok and you’ll likely come across a few, if not many, trends that revolve around the relatability of poignant song lyrics that speak of a broken heart, unrequited love or, in the case of the new Swift track, the beauty of letting someone go.
“The whole effect is relaxing. Sometimes they’re [sung] in a minor key, which people often use when they’re writing sad songs,” Michael Bonshor, PhD, a music psychology expert, told Esquire about the alluring effect of sad songs. “But the major key, which often sounds a bit brighter, can be used too. The interpretation of sad songs is based on the relationship between the lyrics and the music. The lyrics really make a big difference.”
Added Charbonneau: “Every generation has their own take on processing heartbreak through song, but the same principles apply — the music takes the chaos and tumult of intense emotion and gives it shape, structure, language and connection so we can get our hands around it and let it begin to guide us down a path to healing.”
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