Understanding how music can be a gateway for men to talk about mental health.
When I was in high school, I was called an “emo b*tch,” more than a few times by other men—and some women, to be perfectly honest. This was in response to me being perceived as a pretty emotional dude—and because I was pretty depressed during my high school years. That, and people can be cruel in high school. Mind you, I’m not innocent, either.
You know, typical real talk.
Then again, I was also called this because of my choice to listen to music that dealt with musicians—oftentimes men—working through their feelings and emotions within their music.
The genre I speak of is emotional music—or, as known by its street name: Emo.
Back then, emo music had a lot of negative stigma and if you listened to it, you were apparently a “pussy.” Because apparently being in touch with your emotions made you weak. You know, typical performative masculinity. Because that made A LOT OF SENSE!
Emo had all sorts of connotations ten years ago—most of which I feel it still holds today—but there is nothing to be ashamed of when talking about this genre of music.
Just like I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of when talking about mental health.
In fact, just like men talking about mental health, I feel there is much to be gained from men discussing what is perceived as “emotional” music
(Note: Trust me, there are about to be many connections made shortly.)
Now, I’ve already written about my thoughts on performative masculinity in the metal music scene, and about how music can be used for personal healing. In this post, I hope to discuss the connections men can make to mental health when and if they open up their minds to “emotional music.”
I unapologetically appreciate music that is emotional—I listen to metal, hardcore, post-hardcore, punk, pop punk, art-punk, post-rock instrumental, and yes, emo. All of these genres I consider to be “emotional music.” To me, emotional music is any music that feels raw, unbridled, imperfect, and somewhat poetic.
Today there is even an extension of emo known as the emo revival (but don’t call it that)—with bands such as Tigers Jaw, La Dispute, Old Gray, Into It. Over It., Balance and Composure, Tiny Moving Parts, Have Mercy, Foxing, The World is a Beautiful Place and I am No Longer Afraid to Die, and Pianos Become the Teeth, among others.
This emo revival has taught me one thing—some men are very comfortable talking about their mental health and/or emotional health. Because of this, we need to show other men that it is encouraged to talk about and address issues regarding mental health.
Repression does far more harm than good.
When I was in high school—and didn’t have the wherewithal to discuss my depression issues—I turned to music. I would ugly cry into the darkness of my parent’s bathroom mirror while listening to The Weak’s End, by Emery because they made my emotions and my feelings make sense.
Music made sure I didn’t feel alone.
Instead of trying to discuss my “struggles” with my parents or friends—seeing as I felt couldn’t because I didn’t want them to think any less of me—I retreated to music because I was afraid to share my emotions with people.
Music didn’t judge me for having feelings.
I find that most mainstream music—with a male audience—perpetuates that men told to suppress our feelings. Or, to just not think about anything and focus on noise—thanks, dubstep. Because thinking is scary!
In fact, the main messages mainstream music encourages men to consider are:
Note: Click bolded words for example.
– Objectifying women
– Partying with our dudes
– And of course, rape culture. (TW: “Blurred Lines.”)!
I mean, all of those things are standard by this point—but they only perpetuate harmful aspects of performative masculinity. These messages do a great job in men developing/worsening varying levels of personal insecurity/anxiety.
I find that these mainstream radio messages also stifle male development. Naturally, men are always at different stages of development. But men aren’t taught how to question these messages.
So where is the space for men to question these messages?
Where can men go when they don’t want this lifestyle?
I say we create this space on our campuses.
Messages of mainstream music are just distractions so that men are kept from discussing the actual issues that may trouble them—possible depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations, and/or the loss of a loved one. So, instead of seeking support or intervention for their possible mental health issues, we have an allegiance of men repressing themselves further into oblivion.
In fact, being a man that identifies in the straightedge culture (abstaining from drugs and alcohol), these mainstream music messages confuse me and alienate me from even wanting to pay them any sort of attention. So I don’t.
Instead, I seek music that makes me think of my circumstances with a sharp lens.
I seek La Dispute because Jordan Dreyer weaves lyrical tapestries of processing anxiety/depression, lost love, and fear. Note: La Dispute really covers all aspects of what I’m referencing in this post.
I seek Manchester Orchestra because Andy Hull always has a knack for knowing exactly how to put into words the pain I feel when I don’t feel strong enough to live another day.
I seek Touché Amoré for the grittiness of recognizing that I’m not a perfect person and I have flaws. Please note that the first comment on that video says, “This album saved my life.” That’s how real this music gets.
I seek Foxing when I want to confront the anxieties of being a better partner/person.
I seek Tiny Moving Parts when I just want to feel good about living a good life with those who are good to me.
And more recently, I seek post-hardcore band, Pianos Become the Teeth as I struggle in grappling with the reality that my father doesn’t have much time left to live.
On each Pianos album, lead singer, Kyle Durfey, has been processing his father’s death from multiple sclerosis. Their second album, The Lack Long After, was the first released after his father died and Durfey recounts his relapses into alcoholism and emotional breakdowns, while still trying to support his family.
On their new album, Keep You (which was released the same day as the new Taylor Swift!!!! OMG OMG OMG!!!!), the band decided to take a risk and they calmed down their music. Durfey doesn’t scream once on the album, and instead, the band masterfully captures the emotions of finally being comfortable moving on from losing a loved one.
I have been using this latest album as a form of therapy as I wrestle with my father’s mortality amid the chaos of being a full time grad student while working 35 hours/week.
Music is therapy to me.
Why pay a counselor hundreds of dollars, when I can just buy another record?
Emotional music can teach men a lot about how to manage our emotions. Emotional music shows men that these feelings are normal because we all go through ups and downs and it isn’t safe or healthy to repress those feelings.
Through music, I have learned so much about how other men process the same struggles I feel as I write this, and I am thankful for their bravery to share so vulnerably.
And you know, sometimes it is okay to turn on an album that will let you vent. Go for a drive, turn up the volume, and be one with your emotions. If I had a nickel for every time I did this while listening to The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, by Brand New, I would be Thomas Jefferson.
Men, it is okay to share your emotions and be vulnerable.
There is power in being vulnerable.
There is liberation in being vulnerable.
Do some research. Seek out some new, different music.
Take a risk with your emotions. Trust your instincts.
Go to a local show.
Better yet, find out when Touché Amoré is playing in your town next and buy a ticket now.
You might be surprised what real emotional music feels like.
And then maybe, just maybe, we can start talking about what mental health looks like in a much different light.
Thank you for reading!
If you’re curious about the music I’ve written in order to process a number of my mental health and personal issues, be sure to visit my bandcamp page!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Kristen Abell on #SACommits