As I glance at my Spotify account, teeming with armies of playlists, I notice that they are demarcated by the various occasions and moods I may be faced with throughout the course of a day: working out (assertive), in the car (energetic), and at home (contemplative) – just to name a few. Much of the popular music played today can be characterized as introspective, brooding, or even tear-jerking. For example, in an hour’s drive, I would have listened to the radio play The Neighbourhood’s “Afraid” and Sam Smith’s “I’m Not the Only One” at least once, if not incessantly. So the underlying question here for all of us here is: why is sad music so popular?
A new study might shed some light on this melancholic phenomenon. According to Liila Taruffi’s “The Paradox of Music-Evoked Sadness”, it was found that listening to sad music does not necessarily make a person sad. “For many individuals, listening to sad music can actually lead to beneficial emotional effects,” the researchers report (Taruffi, 2014). Thus, the opposite may be true: sad music can evoke feelings of nostalgia, peacefulness, and gentleness. Taruffi, the head researcher in this study, states that “music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.” According to the study, nostalgia was found to be the most common emotion associated with listening to sad music. This is hardly surprising because sad music is often linked with contemplation about events that have previously occurred. The study also found that people are more inclined to listen to sad music when they are feeling sad themselves, but the music itself does not make them feel any sadder, but rather, it helps to regulate mood.
Music is often utilized to reflect, and in a sense, to self-medicate. In particular, the consolatory and comforting effects are likely to be unique features of sad music that separate it from other genres. The effect sad music elicits is profound and guides in regulating our emotions and our well-being. Thus, when an emotional song begins to play, revel in its ability to evoke emotion, even if it may not be the emotion you would expect.