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Add This To Your Playlist: Week Thirteen- Happy Melancholy

We all have those songs that we listen to and we just feel pumped up, right? Well, I’m sure just like me, you’ve probably been singing along to a new favorite song on the radio, and all of a sudden, you realize that it’s a lot darker and sadder than its happy beat would suggest. Songs with deceptive sounds like this trick us into feeling happy about something that would be, in any other context, macabre. Since these tend to be some of my favorite songs, I’ve whipped up a list of seven head-bopping downers that just might brighten (or darken) your day.




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Song One: “Mad World” by Tears For Fears


Now you might be more familiar with the remake version of “Mad World” performed by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews for the Donnie Darko soundtrack in 2001. This version portrays a much more solemn tone; however, the original is surprisingly upbeat. Tears For Fears, an English pop-rock band, swept the charts with two number one Billboard Hot 100 singles, “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” off their album Songs from the Big Chair. Songs from the Big Chair also earned its own spot as the number one album on the Billboard Charts and went multi-platinum in both the U.S. and the U.K. This 1981 band consists of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith and was influential in the second wave of the so-called “British Invasion” of the United States according to MTV.


“Mad World” is a song founded in confusion and hopelessness. In this song, Tears For Fears expresses their feelings of apprehension toward being stuck in the same place. They describe the setting and people around them as “Worn out place, worn out faces.” The speaker’s life has become so dull that they no longer find any comfort in familiarity. At the chorus, they sing “I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” This says a lot about the speaker’s want for a way out. Normally, dreams function as a sort of escapism to take us to a reality that is preferable to the one we live in. However, in this case, the only relief from reality that the speaker can think of is death. This song is deeply rooted in a feeling of insecurity and not being understood. One of lines in the second verse, “Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson. Look right through me. Look right through me,” demonstrates this hollowness and invisibility that the speaker feels. This lack of agency over their own life is what makes the idea of dying seem so appealing, because the world truly is mad.




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Song Two: “Your Side of the Bed” by Loote


Speaking of songs with a dancey flair, “Your Side of the Bed” incorporates the complex mixture of resentment, longing and attempting to move on while disguising it under a fun pop beat. Loote is an American pop duo that was first established in 2017 with the release of their debut single “High Without Your Love.” Since, members Jackson Foote and Emma Lov Block have released their debut EP Single, and have collaborated with other artists such as Eric Nam and Joe Jonas.


“Your Side of the Bed” is an anthem founded in internal conflict between being with someone new and still having a sense of loyalty to a past love. The narrator of this story begins with a greeting and an acknowledgement of her former love, saying “Hope your family’s still doing great.” She misses the parts of their life together that she no longer gets to experience. All of her past love’s friends now hate her because she broke his heart. While she reflects on this, she also speaks on her current experience with her new partner, saying that he’s become a replacement in all of the things they used to do together. She says “He’s sleeping on your side of the bed, but it’s still your side.” Even though she’s with someone new, she can’t get over the person she once had. This being said, she still feels the need to assert to the other person that she’s “got someone else instead,” because she wants him to feel jealous.




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Song Three: “The Good Part” by AJR


If you’re looking for music fitting for any party or long road-trip, AJR just might be your band. This indie-pop trio consists of Adam, Jack and Ryan Met, brothers from Chelsea, Manhattan. The band formed as a result of mixing, writing and producing their own music whilst living in New York and they began busking on the streets and in places like Central Park. The band blew up after the release of their single “Weak” off of their What Everyone’s Thinking EP. Since they’ve had other radio hits including “Sober Up” and “Burn The House Down.”


“The Good Part” represents the inner monologue of an artist trying to get his name out there. This is a reflection on AJR’s career and their success so far. It looks forward to future goals and ambitions, yet struggles with having the drive to sustain the dream as long as it takes to achieve that level of fame that they covet. The song opens with the line “Have I done my best here or will I be here next year or are these my best years yet?” This question shows a level of uncertainty about how much the speaker wants to achieve in his lifetime. He’s unsure if what he’s accomplished has satisfied his hopes and while he’s grateful for having gotten this far, he can’t help but to want to push himself further. At the end of the chorus, he then asks, “Can we skip to the good part?” because he wants to know what having made it in the industry feels like. Right now, he is so consumed by the work that goes into the music that he doesn’t feel that he fully gets to reap the rewards from it.




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Song Four: “Good Grief” by Bastille


Bastille is quite possibly known as the king of happy songs about doom and death. “Good Grief” is no exception. In fact, they spoke on their upcoming third studio album, describing it as being in the theme of an “apocalyptic party.” Most recently, the UK alternative rock band has released the fourth installment in their Other People’s Heartache series of mixtapes, featuring the song “Grip” in collaboration with SEEB. Their song “Happier” with Marshmello has also reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100s chart as well as the UK Singles chart.


“Good Grief” is the title track off Bastille’s second studio album Wild World. The song itself expresses a lack of coming to terms with death. The speaker of the song has experienced a significant loss and is unable to figure out how to deal with it. He describes the feeling as “watching through [his] fingers” because he while he can’t bear the full brunt of the loss yet, he still must act as a watchful observer in his life. The small things start to add up in his brain as he acknowledges that this person will now be “missing from the photographs.” He then asks the question he’d been afraid of asking: “What’s gonna be left of the world if you’re not in it?” He doesn’t know how he’s going to face the world if he can no longer depend upon a person he cares deeply for.




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Song Five: “Whalien 52” by BTS


In most recent news, BTS sold out Wembley Stadium in under 90 minutes for their latest Speak Yourself tour. The stadium can seat 90,000 people. This K-Pop sensation has broken the barrier into the U.S. and Western music industry. It seems as though every time they put out something new, they break a new world record. Their “Idol” music video became the most viewed YouTube video in 24 hours at over 45 million views. The group, consisting of vocalists Jimin, Jungkook, V and Jin along with rappers J-Hope, Suga and RM have set a new standard not just for Korean artists or boy bands, but for music and artistry.


This is perhaps best depicted in the lyrics of “Whalien 52.” While the song sounds relatively cheerful, it narrates the true story of a whale whose voice, at a frequency of 52 hertz, was too high-pitched to be heard by other whales. As a result, the whale could not communicate with any other whales, making it what has been referred to as “the loneliest whale in the world.” While this on its own is an interesting story, they use this whale as a metaphor for their career, having had to fight their way through one of the hardest industries. In the third verse, RM raps “Mom said the sea is blue.She said to let out your voice as far as you can, but what do I do? It’s so dark here and there are only different whales speaking entirely different words!” Here he describes his wish to expand his music and influence to the whole world, but he feels cut off from the things that could help him achieve his goals. He says that “this ocean is too deep” in reference to the music industry. Here, he expresses that there is so much talent that the competitive nature of the industry forces so many of the talented masses to be left stranded in the sea.




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Song Six: “Pumped Up Kicks: by Foster the People


If you want to talk about controversial songs, look no further. While this song landed Foster the People on the map, it has also provided them the most backlash as it was taken off the radio for a period of time after the events of Sandy Hook. The American indie-pop band out of Los Angeles consists of Mark Foster, Sean Cimino, Isom Innis, and Mark Pontius. “Pumped up Kicks” made the Billboard Hot 100 charts at number three and proceeded to provide the group with a record deal to Startime International. Their debut album, Torches, provided them with several other hits including “Helena Beat” and “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls).”


“Pumped Up Kicks” follows the mind of a school shooter as he thinks on his actions and his family life. They describe the kid, Robert, as a “cowboy kid.” Something that would appear relatively innocent, however the lyrics then go on to explain that he “found a six shooter gun

In his dad's closet hidden, oh in a box of fun things.” This line clearly draws a connection between the dangers of having an assault weapon in the home and the unstable mindset of a teenage boy. The speaker of the song then claims that all the children “better run faster than [his] bullet.” The song speaks to a very real threat and a hard reality that is increasingly hard to ignore.

Song Seven: “The Run and Go” by twenty øne piløts


If anyone is known for their deeply cynical songs, it’s twenty øne piløts. The two-man duo, consisting of Tyler Joseph (lead vocalist) and Josh Dun (drummer) first made their appearance with their self-titled debut album in 2009. They first became widely noticed after the release of their fourth album Blurryface as the title track “Stressed Out” became an enormous radio sensation. After a long hiatus, twenty øne piløts recently released their fifth album Trench on October 5th, 2018.


“The Run and Go” is another fun song about killing someone. While this killing is likely a metaphorical killing of oneself and their inner thoughts, the subject matter is still far darker than one would expect from the sing-song quality of the “do dos” at the chorus. This song represents a conversation happening between the speaker, who is struggling in a fight with his mental demons, and an outside person whom he cares for. The speaker tells the outsider “You’ll have to watch me struggle from several rooms away.” Although this person wants to be a help, they cannot save the speaker from his own fight. He also claims that his thoughts are “cerebral thunder in one-way conversations.” This furthers the idea that he has had severe difficulty in handling the thoughts that go on in his head and that they are mentally taxing. Although at first, this song may seem to be a happy song about murder, it’s actually a much deeper conversation in what constitutes self and what is simply a bad headspace.


Sad songs that pretend to be happy can be some of the most rewarding and cleverly constructed songs. In order to pull something like this off, an artist must know themselves enough to take the musical direction and lyricism in completely contrasting directions. Although a hard feat to do effectively, when done well it can create something both unique and brilliant.

Listen to the full playlist here!


Junior English-Creative Writing Major at Hofstra University. Music and cat enthusiast.
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