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  • Dan Connors

Mental Health Music Jam part 2- The Millennials Strike Back

Updated: May 21, 2022

In the documentary Alive Inside, a dementia patient who is barely there anymore is given a headphone with some of his old favorite music. Suddenly, while listening to the music he comes alive, moving and singing along with the music. When asked immediately afterwards about what music means to him, the man says "It gives me the feeling of love." He starts to remember who he is as his brain lights up more than it has in years.

No one understands why, but music makes the brain activate like nothing else. Music therapy has been shown to help stroke patients and Alzheimer's patients recover functioning, and it famously helped congresswoman Gabby Giffords recover her speech abilities after being shot in the head.

In this second look at the power of music and the mind, we'll be looking at contemporary musicians from the years 2000-2020. There's some striking differences between the types of music that has come out in this period regarding mental health, and what came before. For one thing, stigma, while still a problem, has loosened significantly enough that musicians aren't shy about writing and singing about their emotional struggles. Where songs of the 20th century might have danced around the subjects of anxiety and depression, some 21st century musicians dive right in. The honesty with which these artists approach the subject has helped listeners deal with their own struggles, and helped many to overcome stigma and seek help for themselves. Sure, there are still escapist, feel-good songs like in any era, and those are helpful too, but the emotional depths at which some musicians are willing to go today is amazing.

As a Baby Boomer myself, it was instructive to compile this list. I'm not as familiar with some of these performers, and I learned more about what the new generation is experiencing. Looking back, I think that Boomers had things pretty easy compared to Millennials. College was more affordable, jobs more plentiful, families more nuclear, and the future seemed more promising. Today's youth face enormous uncertainty, be it with the gig economy, climate change, healthcare, increased racial and economic divisions, and two crippling recessions in 2008 and again in 2020. I can see how mental health could be a huge issue for Millennials (and Generation Y) going forward.

Another difference that I've noticed is the prevalence of female performers when it comes to honest looks at mental health in music. This isn't too surprising since women report more symptoms of anxiety and depression, and have become much more visible and vocal in the music world in the past 50 years. Finally, there is the power of music videos, which only started realizing their power in the end of the 20th century. Music videos on You Tube are how many people experience music today, and the visuals are as important as the vocals and instrumentals in getting the message across. I invite you sit through the videos showcased below.

So here, in no particular order, are ten songs that struck me as pertinent to mental health from the viewpoint of the 21st century.

1- Beautiful Written by Linda Perry, performed by Christina Aguilera 2002

Embraced by LGTB community as an anthem, the music video prominently features gay and transgender people. They lyrics, however, can apply to anybody. This moving ballad is one of Aguilera's most popular hits. The video below has been seen a whopping 125 million times.

'Cause we are beautiful No matter what they say Yes words won't bring us down Oh no We are beautiful In every single way Yes words can't bring us down Oh no So don't you bring me down today

2- Rainbow- written by Kasey Musgraves, Shane McAnally, Natalie Hemby, performed by Kasey Musgraves 2019

Country artist Kasey Musgraves won a Country Music Award for this ballad. It's been adopted by the LGBT community, but it's also become popular during the Covid epidemic as a calming song that promises hope.

Well, the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin' But you're stuck out in the same ol' storm again You hold tight to your umbrella, well, darlin' I'm just tryin' to tell ya That there's always been a rainbow hangin' over your head

If you could see what I see, you'd be blinded by the colors Yellow, red, and orange, and green, and at least a million others So tie up the bow, take off your coat, and take a look around

3- Anxiety Written by Julia Michaels, Selena Gomez, Scott Harris and Ian Kirkpatrick. Performed by Julia Michaels with Selena Gomez. 2019

Gomez and Michaels have both reported struggling with anxiety, and this song that came out right before the pandemic has gained strength as it says the things in a lot of people's minds right now.

I got all these thoughts, running through my mind All the damn time and I can't seem to shut it off I think I'm doing fine most of the time I think that I'm alright, but I can't seem to shut it off I got all these thoughts, running through my mind All the damn time and I can't seem to shut it off I think I'm doing fine most of the time I say that I'm alright, but I can't seem to shut it off Shut it, shut it, yeah

4- Born This Way Written by Lady Gaga and Jeppe Laursen, performed by Lady Gaga 2011

Lady Gaga is a larger than life performer who unabashedly dresses and performs in ways to stand out. This song stands out in a big way, not just an an anthem for LGBT people, but for anyone who is judged and cast out because of how they were born. This strong, melodic anthem tells listeners they are loved just the way they are. The Born This Way foundation was created by Gaga and is "committed to supporting the wellness of young people, and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world."

Don't be a drag, just be a queen Whether you're broke or evergreen You're black, white, beige, chola descent You're Lebanese, you're Orient Whether life's disabilities Left you outcast, bullied, or teased Rejoice and love yourself today 'Cause baby you were born this way

5- Survivor. Written by Beyonce, Anthony Dent and Mathew Knowles, performed by Destiny's Child 2001

The group Destiny's Child lost 3 members before this song was written, prompting radio hosts to mock them with comparisons to the popular Survivor television show. This song is Beyonce's response to the doubters, and it became a mega hit and propelled Knowles into superstardom. It's a stirring anthem to how people can do okay after being left or abandoned by abusive people.

Now that you're outta my life, I'm so much better You thought that I'd be weak without ya, but I'm stronger You thought that I'd be broke without ya, but I'm richer You thought that I'd be sad without ya, I love harder You thought I wouldn't grow without ya, now I'm wiser! You thought that I'd be helpless without ya but I'm smarter You thought that I'd be stressed without ya, but I'm chillin' You thought I wouldn't sell without ya, sold nine million

6- Fight Song Written by Rachel Platten and David Bassett, performed by Rachel Platten 2015

Rachel Platten was nearing her 30th birthday and had endured nearly a decade of rejection and failure in the music industry. It inspired her to write this song, which then became her biggest commercial hit. Fight Song has become an anthem of strength, especially for people fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. On Twitter the #MyFightSong hashtag is a home for fans to post inspirational photos and videos about their struggles.

This is my fight song Take back my life song Prove I'm alright song My power's turned on Starting right now I'll be strong I'll play my fight song And I don't really care if nobody else believes 'Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me

7- 1-800-273-8255 Written by Logic performed by Logic with Khalid and Alessia Cara 2017

The title of this rap song is also the telephone number of the national suicide prevention lifeline. Calls to the hotline and visits to the NSPL website went up over 25% the weeks after this song's release.

I know where you been, where you are, where you goin' I know you're the reason I believe in life What's the day without a little night? I'm just tryna shed a little light It can be hard It can be so hard But you gotta live right now You got everything to give right now

8- Skyscraper Written by Toby Gad, Lindy Robbins, and Kerli, performed by Demi Lovato. 2011

Demi Lovato is an outspoken mental health advocate, and has been open about her struggles with bipolar disorder and other troubles. The song Skyscraper was inspired by a painting of a city that's been destroyed, save one skyscraper that was left standing. The song is now celebrated as a tribute to mental and emotional resilience. The You Tube video below has 265 million views worldwide.

You can take everything I have You can break everything I am Like I'm made of glass Like I'm made of paper Go on and try to tear me down I will be rising from the ground Like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper

9- Fake Happy, written by Hayley Williams and Taylor York, performed by Paramore. 2017

The music video for this films says it all. People put on fake persona to hide the real struggles inside, and lead singer Hayley Williams dances circles around them as they pretend to be "fake happy."

I love making you believe What you get is what you see But I'm so fake happy I feel so fake happy And I bet everybody here Is just as insincere We're all so fake happy And I know fake happy

I been doing a good job of makin' 'em think I'm quite alright But I hope I don't blink You see its easy when I'm stomping on a beat But no one sees me when I crawl back underneath

10- Can't Stop The Feeling Written and performed by Justin Timberlake 2016

I end this list with a feel-good, escapist song that made its mark in an animated movie about trolls. It won a number of awards and topped the charts in its first year of release. If you watch the video, it celebrates everyday people like a lady in a laundromat, a donut maker, a shop owner, an auto mechanic, and more, dancing with glorious abandon and joy. This video has over one billion!! views (1,288,522,168 and counting)

I got that sunshine in my pocket Got that good soul in my feet I feel that hot blood in my body when it drops (ooh) I can't take my eyes up off it, movin' so phenomenally Room on lock, the way we rock it, so don't stop

And under the lights when everything goes Nowhere to hide when I'm gettin' you close When we move, well, you already know So just imagine, just imagine, just imagine

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