Opinion: Vulnerability is rewarded with hatred

By Griffin Brammer, Digital Communications Manager

At the time I am writing this, Mitski has produced her sixth studio album, Laurel Hell. Though I long awaited the return of Mitski, I found the rest of her fan base fighting tooth and nail, angry and disappointed at the upbeat approach she took in some of her new songs.

Musicians don’t owe us an explanation for why their music is happier, and they most certainly don’t owe it to us to remain depressed either.

Mitski has a reputation for being a “sad girl”: a female artist who creates overwhelmingly sad songs to which their fans can relate. However, Mitski is over it. In a video with Crack Magazine, she said the sad girl aesthetic was “ reductive and tired.” 

“Let’s retire the sad girl schtick,” she said. 

It’s clear where these sentiments come from. We demand so much of these artists, forcing them to stick to an image for the sake of their fans, but this specific image is self-destructive. We’re causing musicians to maintain a terrible headspace purely because we like what comes out of it, with little regard to what it does mentally to artists like Mitski.

It’s all very akin to the ignorant parent telling the depressed child to “stop being so sad all the time.” The same way a smile cannot be forced, neither can a frown. We’re forcing our favorite artists to be what they’re not, and if it continues, their content won’t be the only thing that suffers.

Lorde is another example of an ex-sad girl, who is a tad more well known. Her 2021 album Solar Power was criticized by fans who demanded much the same as Melodrama and Pure Heroine. The bright, summery vocals of Solar Power were somehow less popular than her other albums, seemingly for the simple reason that people couldn’t cry to the tune of Ella singing about how she was finally happy with who she was as a person.

We mock and belittle these artists, taking their work for granted. Instead of appreciating that the artists even came out of their hiatus for the sake of their fans, we subject them to relentless backhanded criticism, spouting that “Solar Power sounds like an Old Navy commercial,” and “Laurel Hell sounds like a Mario Kart track,” purely because we’re jealous of their newfound happiness.

Our constant bickering is unsustainable in the long run. Forcing sad song after sad song creates an inflation of sad music, one that will never live up to the hype of the artist’s earlier works, especially if the artist themselves don’t feel sadness the same way anymore. This leads to even bigger outcry from fans, calling for the artist to make more music that’s catered to the fans’ ever-evolving demands. 

Putting it simply, forcing an artist to make songs for your “depression playlist” will only create a cycle of constant disappointment with a worn-out, miserable singer caught in the middle.

We have a tendency to associate an artist’s life with their music, because we assume that their life experiences directly shape the music they put out for us. This is why it feels so groundbreaking when an artist switches style or genre – it can feel like they’re selling out or “being someone they aren’t.” We have to start realizing that independent musicians like Lorde and Mitski are human beings, not mass-produced tools for our entertainment.

Artists are allowed to feel emotions other than depression and heartbreak. Just because sometimes they choose to write about their feelings of comfort and happiness doesn’t make them any less genuine in the way they write their music. If anything, it makes them even more human.

I’m a firm believer in musicians listening to their fans, just not when it hurts the musician in turn. We have no right to demand that our favorite singers relive their traumas for our exploitation. If we truly want to “relate to an artist’s sadness”, then we also need to support their happiness. Growth is a part of depression, too, and if you truly want to call yourself a fan, then we need to start relating to a singer’s need for growth.