If you woke up to your entire timeline feeling feelings about Olivia Rodrigo's newly-released Sour, you are far from alone. In fact, nothing has made us feel quite as emo in perhaps a whole entire generation. "Sour is excellent and also, I hope, the new Jagged Little Pill in that I hope even the teens who have not yet had the chance to have their hearts broken can listen to it and go through every emotion as an anticipatory exercise," one listener tweeted. "Olivia Rodrigo's whole album Sour is your friendly reminder to never hurt a Pisces' feelings," another posted. "I've spent the entire pandemic regressing into an angsty teenager and I just reached my final form, thank u Olivia Rodrigo," read another tweet.
And of course, the emotional memes were on full display:
Sure, the lyrics, melodies, and Rodrigo's interpolation of Taylor Swift's "New Year's Day" certainly lent this album a level of sit-in-your-feels popularity, but if you're feeling sad or triggered while you listen along — maybe beyond expected — there's actually a good reason for that. According to a 2016 study observing the emotional experiences associated with sad music, lyrics and melodies can actually prompt very real responses — both happy and sad. Of 2,436 people who participated, the study found that while sad music can evoke "memorable experiences" and even a sense of pleasure or comfort in some, for a significant portion of people it can evoke "painful experiences associated with listening to sad music, which invariably related to personal loss such as the death of a loved one, divorce, breakup, or other significant adversity in life," ScienceDaily reports. Another 2019 study also found that people with depression actually prefer listening to sad music, and that the sad music actually made them happier than "happy music."
"Music, in a way, compels us to feel. It can be hard for us to feel our emotions otherwise," Jessi Gold, M.D., a psychiatrist and assistant professor for the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, tells Refinery29. "It allows us to take the beat we have all needed and cry if we needed to, smile if we needed to, yell if we needed to, or even nostalgically be transported to our teenage years and rock out if we need to."
While parts of the world are slowly reopening and people are returning to what's often referred to as the "new normal," we are, as a whole, still dealing with the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the massive loss of life, to the loss of jobs, financial insecurity, and in-person connection, our collective mental health has suffered. A reported four in 10 U.S. adults experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic, up from one in 10 adults in 2019, according to one study. And a KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 found that 36% of adults have trouble sleeping, 32% have difficulty eating, and 12% report an increase in alcohol and substance use, all due to worry and stress over the pandemic.
"There is really not a person in this country who has not been affected by this time in some way," Gold says. "But, we have a lot of unexpressed emotion. A lot of things we haven't talked about because we have had to keep powering through and going to work and taking care of our loved ones and ourselves."
Which is why albums like Sour, as well as Swift's most recent albums Folklore and Evermore, have struck a chord during this time. Like the artists behind the music, we're all in an emotional place right now and are likely to stay there for some time as we collectively and individually process the past year and a half.
So, we might as well lean all the way into our early-aughts emo selves and embrace those feelings, like the low-key angsty teens we were and — to some extent — will always be. Turn up the volume, grab a couple tissues, and sing along. It might hurt — but it's a good kind of pain.