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We All Need Sad Songs Right Now
Can’t stop listening to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License”? There’s a reason for that, says Charlotte Moore
STAY POSITIVE! IT’S ALWAYS DARKEST BEFORE DAWN!
Scribbled in sharpie on a lamppost, the above text had survived the recent flooding and snow.
It had appeared a week earlier in my local park. And, akin to most of these irritatingly cliche #positivequotes, I invariably find myself scowling at it, wishing I could add that sometimes the dawn is bloody dark.
Despite what the above paragraph might suggest, I’d honestly describe myself as an optimist – one who carries an umbrella – but, an optimist all the same. That said, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that things are pretty terrible right now. We don’t always need to stay positive. And, nothing validates this more than the insane popularity of the song Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo.
Heard it? Of course you have. You’ve been on TikTok, Instagram or literally any social media app. The song even managed to break Spotify’s record for the most streams in a single day (for a non-Christmas song). Twice. For those who remember the summer that Call Me Maybe was everywhere, it’s a lot like that. Except, it’s winter and this song doesn’t rhyme ‘way’ with ‘way’. Oh, and the song is sad. Really sad. Cats in the Cradle sad.
river road pic.twitter.com/AsrfBA0eKK
— ellie²⁸ love love loves H (@28GOLDENLOUS) January 15, 2021
The song highlights the injustice of getting a driving licence to drive to her boyfriend’s house. And then they broke up. It’s typical teenage angst and, to be totally honest, teenage angst is a mood right now.
Pete Doherty’s For Lovers, was the soundtrack to my first (and, completely unrequited) love. In fact, listening to it now is the musical equivalent of time travel. I’m fifteen and sulking in my childhood bedroom at the injustice of just bloody existing. And, honestly? Who hasn’t sat on a rainy bus, Avril Lavigne playing on their iPod Classic, and pressed their damp forehead against the window. Feeling that, if your life was a disturbingly average rom-com, then this would be the third act. Drivers License does exactly that to me.
There’s also the lyrics of the song which are sung in a pretty specific way. Vocalized through what feels like a clenched jaw, there’s a real sense that Olivia’s holding onto a lot of emotion. Trying to keep it together until the final chorus. Which feels particularly evocative as we Forrest Gump our way through these ‘unprecedented times’.
We generally seek music that is mood-congruent, so when we feel sad, we listen to sad music. It’s cathartic. And, right now, there’s plenty to be sad about. The UK is in our third lockdown, mental health is an increasing issue and that’s before we even think about the fact that our economy is tanking, J.K Rowling seems hell bent on ruining Harry Potter for the LGBTQ community, our government is proving that, once again, it is possible to become the human equivalent of a large dumpster fire, and that’s before we remember that all of these complaints are pretty minor when we consider climate change. There’s no two ways about it, there’s just a lot of things to be sad about right now. And, sometimes, we’re so keen to pull ourselves together and ‘stay positive’ that we don’t allow ourselves any time to just *be sad*. When actually, acknowledging our feelings, accepting our sadness for what it is, has some benefit to our mental health.
And, Drivers License really speaks to that. With 3.1 million people literally listening to this song on a loop for over an hour, it feels like more and more of us are throwing our hands up and saying ‘fuck it, everything’s terrible’. It’s act three of the terrible rom-com, and it’s totally fine to be sad right now.
There’s undoubtedly plenty of joy ahead. We have a vaccine, we’ll sit around tables with those we love again and, there will soon be a time when we can clutch the hands of strangers in the girl’s toilets.
Sad songs, like sad moments, have their place. And, as we settle in for the eleventh round of Drivers License, there’s no better time for a sad song than right now.