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15 Songs That Directly Address Mental Health, From The Beatles To Ariana Grande To 'Encanto'
If it's a cliché that we're freer to discuss mental-health struggles than ever before, so be it: it's an often lifesaving development. While there has been a recent preponderance of mental health songs, here are selections from across the decades.
As long as there have been humans, there has been music — as well as mental illness. Thereby, people must have been singing about it since the beginning, right?
Sure. But music's an abstract, poetic artform, so the topic usually isn't approached literally. That's why Hank Williams wrote "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," not "I'm Depressed And Also An Alcoholic." And why the Rolling Stones called it "Paint It, Black," not "Wantonly Projecting My Trauma."
So, what does that mean for mental illness and the history of popular music? That delineations aren't always neat and tidy. That's why GRAMMY.com prepared a list of songs that address psychological maladies, more-or-less directly.
Obviously, it's not exhaustive — how could a list that leaves out all pre-1968 music be? Plus, It's not like these tunes have to reference the DSM-5 — it's that, to make the cut, they should touch on anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, and other conditions without too many buffering layers.
With that in mind, here are 15 songs from across the decades that got real about the realities of mental illness, and how to overcome it.
The Beatles, "Yer Blues" (1968)
After years of freewheeling experimentation in the studio, the Fabs finally jammed out in a room together. Eyeball-to-eyeball, they recorded "Yer Blues," John Lennon's 12-bar cry for help from the White Album.
Never before or since — not even on 1970's shockingly confessional Plastic Ono Band — had he been this candid about suicidal depression in a song. And more than half a century later, "Yer Blues" remains bracing, cathartic and strangely giddy.
Bill Fay, "Be Not So Fearful" (1970)
Skip the string-swelling version from Bill Fay's self-titled debut and seek out the stripped-down demo, found on From The Bottom of An Old Grandfather Clock. What you'll hear is a pocket-sized hymn for when the enemy within has you on the ropes.
"Someone watches you," the English singer/songwriter promises, "you will not leave the rails." A rare thing: a convincing argument against anxiety, and a song of honest-to-goodness utility.
Daniel Johnston, "Peek a Boo" (1982)
Throughout his long, unconventional career until his untimely death in 2019, singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston unflinchingly detailed his hopes, longings and fears in his rough-hewn music — as well as his struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
His songbook is littered with sometimes harrowing songs about the latter, but "Peek a Boo" sums it up: "I'm tired from being kidnapped by a dark wolf that would do me in."
Swans, "God Damn the Sun" (1989)
While mostly known for skull-rattling noise jams and symphony scale indie rock, Swans have at least one unforgettable acoustic ballad.
The majestic, doomed "God Damn the Sun" isn't just worthy of Leonard Cohen — because of leader Michael Gira's unvarnished language, it arguably surpasses even the Godfather of Goth's sense of despair.
"I've got one thing to say before I am drunk again," Gira seethes, before condemning life on Earth — all of it. But he made it through, and so can all of us. And when we're in the depths of sorrow articulated in "God Damn the Sun," sometimes pitch-black commiseration feels paradoxically healing.
Bob Dylan, "Not Dark Yet" (1997)
Less theatrical than "God Damn the Sun" yet no less unequivocal about depression, this late-period masterpiece from Time Out of Mind is the soundtrack to self-inventory deep into the night.
"Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb," Uncle Bob sings over a gorgeous soundscape by producer Daniel Lanois, sounding depleted and discouraged. "I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from."
What a monument to a universal facet of the human condition — a fearsome enemy, but not one that has to consume us.
Sia, "Breathe Me" (2004)
"Help, I have done it again/ I have been here many times before," she sings. "Hurt myself again today/ And, the worst part is there's no one else to blame."
Hung on piano and a hangdog string section, "Breathe Me" is a dispatch about despair and vulnerability that belongs on a shelf with the best of them.
Amy Winehouse, "Wake Up Alone" (2006)
Sadly, the wildly talented Amy Winehouse didn't win her battle against drug and alcohol addiction — alcohol poisoning got her at only 27.
But she left behind a monster body of work — including her breakthrough album Back to Black, which garnered her a whopping five GRAMMYs.
Over a doo-wop rhythm and stabbing chords, "Wake Up Alone" is both a love song and a gripping expression of crepuscular loneliness and discontent. "That silent sense of content that everyone gets," Winehouse sings, "Just disappears soon as the sun sets."
Paramore, "Fake Happy" (2017)
The juxtaposition of crestfallen lyrics with a sparkling melody is the heart of power-pop — and by extension, pop-punk and alternative rock. And Paramore, who's been at the vanguard of both subgenres for almost 20 years, blends these qualities masterfully.
"Fake Happy," an inspired single from After Laughter, captures the feeling of feigning a grin when you're down in the dumps. "If I go out tonight, dress up my fears," asks bandleader Hayley Williams, "you think I'll look alright with these mascara tears?"
Ariana Grande, "breathin" (2018)
Despite dealing with high-profile breakups and PTSD from horror of the Manchester Arena bombing, Ariana Grande examines her internal mechanisms with humility and magnanimity. (Just think of her immortal line: "I'm so f<em></em>*ing grateful for my ex.")
"breathin," from Sweetener, is no different. "Feel my blood runnin', swear the sky's fallin'/ How do I know if this s<em></em>*'s fabricated?" she asks. Grande doesn't get self-pitying or pretend to have the answers — instead, she looks to a universal human balm during throttling times.
"Just keep breathin' and breathin' and breathin' and breathin'," she sings in the hook, over and over and over — like she's telling herself to hang in there as much as us.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, "It Gets Easier" (2020)
Since his Drive-By Truckers days, Jason Isbell has written like a surgeon about fundamental topics — his sociopolitical beliefs; his relationship with his wife, Amanda Shires; and his decade-plus of sobriety.
True to the current state of his recovery, "It Gets Easier" isn't about getting on the wagon, but staying on it. It begins with a "drunk dream," a common phenomenon among those sobering up. "I had one glass of wine/ I woke up feeling fine/ That's how I knew it was a dream," he sings.
Taking a cue from his friend and mentor, the late John Prine, Isbell sums up the tune in a crystalline thesis of a hook, over a kicking guitar riff: "It gets easier, but it never gets easy."
G Herbo, "PTSD" (2020)
File this one with Grande's Sweetener, which addresses the Manchester Bombing and her emotions in its wake.
While many of the entries insofar on this list deal with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, rapper G Herbo homes in on a very specific and sometimes misunderstood malady: post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I got a war zone inside of my head / I made it on my own, they said I'd be in jail or dead," he raps in "PTSD," featuring Chance the Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD. "I've seen my brothers fall over and over again / Don't stand too close to me, I got PTSD."
"I felt like people may look at my situation and my life like I don't do these things, like I don't have problems, like I don't endure pain or stress," Herbo told GRAMMY.com in 2020. "I just wanted the world to know that we all are the same."
Francisca Valenzuela, "La Fortaleza" (2020)
"La Fortaleza" — meaning "the fortitude" or "the strength" — is an impactful statement by Chilean singer/songwriter Francisca Valenzuela about finding the resilience to go on.
"Everything that has happened has led me to today," she sings. "I look forward to the horizon/ I bury guilt and leave." But Valenzuela isn't giving up, or stepping into oblivion. She's beginning anew.
"With my pen and my poem/ I will cross the mountain range," she sings, framing artistic expression as a magical weapon for healing and self-transformation. "And if I am in the middle of the storm/ Be the calm that sustains the center of the earth."
Julia Michaels, "Anxiety" (2021)
Some measure of trepidation is necessary for survival, but full-blown anxiety warps that psychological tool — into one that can undermine our day-to-day relationships.
Singer/songwriter Julia Michaels clearly understood this while writing "Anxiety," a cut from Melancholic Mood featuring Selena Gomez. "My friends, they wanna take me to the movies," she sings. "I tell 'em to f<em></em>* off/ I'm holding hands with my depression."
"For the first year [of mass success], I was having panic attacks, I was hiding in hallways, I was running away, people couldn't find me," Michaels told Billboard in 2019. Which, she explains, is often hidden in artists behind glitzy promotional machinery.
"You don't see the photoshoots and the interviews and the flying all the time and the being away from everyone and everything you love," she continued. But thanks to "Anxiety," the entire planet saw her clearly.
Jessica Darrow, "Surface Pressure" (from Encanto) (2021)
The hit Disney flick Encanto treated viewers to a nuanced take on Latine family dynamics, and "Surface Pressure" — written by Lin-Manuel Miranda as the character Luisa's solo — captures bluster that obfuscates insecurity.
"I'm the strong one, I'm not nervous/ I'm as tough as the crust of the Earth is," it begins. But then Miranda's tune cracks that facade: "Under the surface/ I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus."
The strength and incisiveness of "Surface Pressure" speaks to what makes certain Disney and Pixar films special — despite being marketed to children, they speak to universal human truths.
Jimmie Allen, "Untitled Song" (2022)
Country star Jimmie Allen's trajectory may have led him to a GRAMMY nomination, but it was flecked with difficulties and hardship. Specifically, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a young teen, and the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help at all.
But Allen hasn't just come to terms with this reality — he's made it public so that he might help others in his boat. On April 19, he posted a performance of an unreleased and untitled song, about "pain [that] pulls me apart like a ripped-up floor" and feeling "always on the edge."
"I wrote this song about how I feel a lot of the time," Allen tweeted. "Mental illness is something I have struggled with my entire life."
Of course, he's far from alone. But as always, music is one of our most precious gifts to bridge those divides and forge those missing connections — and, consequently, let the light in.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
Photo: Steve Morley/Redferns
Why Did Bob Dylan Change His Name? 8 Questions About The Legendary Singer/Songwriter Answered
Bob Dylan is arguably the most venerated singer/songwriter in American history, but he tends to kick up far more questions than answers. Here are eight of them, addressed.
Pretty much everyone in the Western world knows Bob Dylan is eminently cagey and elusive. But to the point that a 4,000-word interview still leaves you scratching your head?
Said Q&A appears in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal. Questions abound: which TV shows would he designate as "dog a—"? Has he really "seen Metallica twice"? And regarding his new book, and why he thanked the crew from Dunkin' Donuts? We got a non-answer.
File them all away with questions about his Victoria's Secret commercial, as well as all his misdirections in the recent Rolling Thunder Revue doc: Bob's gonna Bob.
GRAMMY.com can't claim to have all the answers — who does? — but it can at least address some oft-posed questions about the 10-time GRAMMY winner. Read on for eight of them.
Why Did Dylan Change His Name?
Common wisdom dictates that Robert Zimmerman changed his name based on his love of the poet Dylan Thomas; all the way back in 1961, he swatted that down.
"Straighten out in your book that I did not take my name from Dylan Thomas," he told The New York Times. "Dylan Thomas' poetry is for people that aren't really satisfied in their bed — for people who dig masculine romance."
As to a single, concrete reason why? It remains to be seen.
What Inspired "Like a Rolling Stone"?
To answer this question, it's almost impossible to grab onto a single human subject. The most realistic scenario was outlined by Dylan himself: a generalized feeling of revenge.
What Inspired "Blowin' in the Wind"?
Hung on the melody to the pre-Civil War spiritual "No More Auction Block For Me," the elliptical "Blowin' in the Wind" became a cherished civil rights anthem, was covered by hundreds of artists, and recently fetched $1.8 million for a one-of-a-kind record.
As Dylan has explained, the song's list of deeply felt, rhetorical questions is its essence; it's not about any one world event, but the entire nature of peace, war and brotherhood.
"[The answers] ain't in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group," Dylan said at the time of its writing. "Man, it's in the wind — and it's blowing in the wind."
Why Did Dylan Paint His Face?
No, Dylan's face makeup on the Rolling Thunder Revue tour wasn't due to seeing KISS in Queens — thank you very much.
That was one of the many misdirections in Martin Scorcese's 2019 doc Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story. Rather, the lion's share of the evidence points to Dylan finding inspiration in the 1945 French film Children of Paradise.
What Religion Is Bob Dylan?
It's flickered back and forth over the years, most intensely during Dylan's born-again Christian period in the '80s. The following decade, Dylan seemed to set the record straight:
"This is the flat-out truth: I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music. I don't find it anywhere else," he told Newsweek in 1997. Songs like 'Let Me Rest on a Peaceful Mountain' or 'I Saw the Light' — that's my religion. I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs."
Then again, Dylan just said "I'm a religious person. I read the scriptures a lot, meditate and pray, light candles in church. I believe in damnation and salvation, as well as predestination."
Is that simply proof that a lot can change in 25 years? Or another winking bit of misdirection? The answer is… well, you know.
Why Did Dylan Not Accept His Nobel Prize?
He did. After months of uncertainty and speculation as to whether he would. Whatever the reason for the lag, Dylan accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature graciously, calling the honor "truly beyond words" and akin to "standing on the moon."
What Is Bob Dylan Up To In 2022?
Dylan stepped out with the rare Wall Street Journal interview because he's promoting The Philosophy of Modern Song, his predictably strange, illuminating and quixotic 2022 breakdown of canonical tunes that galvanize and inspire him.
Is Bob Dylan On Tour?
Amazingly, Dylan is still on his so-called Never Ending Tour, which has been rolling up, down, to and fro interstates since 1988.
And after a pandemic-related break from the road, he promises the current leg, which promotes his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways, will continue until 2024.
And a lot can happen in those two years. Maybe even that Metallica collab, sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts? Bob knows.
Photo: Ralph Bavaro/NBC via Getty Images
Listen: Get Jolly With New Holiday Music From Dolly Parton, Phoebe Bridgers, Pentatonix, Alicia Keys & More
This year saw several new holiday albums and singles from artists of all genres, from Backstreet Boys to Gloria Estefan. Get in the spirit with this festive 30-song playlist.
As we're all stringing up colorful lights and scrambling to buy last-minute gifts, music shines as the one constant in our lives amid the rush of the holiday season.
Some playlists have been bursting with holiday music since early autumn, with releases such as Dolly Parton's "A Smoky Mountain Christmas" dropping back in August and Joss Stone's Merry Christmas, Love releasing in September. Since then, several more holiday albums arrived, whether they were new projects from artists such as Alicia Keys and Thomas Rhett or polished deluxe editions from the likes of Reba McEntire and Norah Jones.
Beyond releasing albums, many artists have also found their holiday spirit by releasing festive singles. Remi Wolf brings her bubbly personality to warm covers of "Last Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland," Dan + Shay remind us to throw a "Holiday Party" with loved ones, and Phoebe Bridgers shares her annual holiday cover, this year a rendition of the Handsome Family's "So Much Wine." And even stars such as RuPaul, Jimmy Fallon and Ryan Reynolds surprised with holiday singles this season.
Groups such as Pentatonix and Backstreet Boys joined in on the fun with their own cheery holiday albums, and Gloria Estefan and her family capture the joys of love in a snowglobe on Estefan Family Christmas. Collaborations sparkle with holiday magic as well; Ingrid Michaelson and A Great Big World team up for "It's Almost Christmas," and Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande perform "Santa, Can't You Hear Me" in a thrilling live version.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.