Lucy Dacus doesn’t consider her songs to be sad, so I hesitate in telling her that I had put nearly all of them on a playlist I made exclusively for crying. It’s called “sad,” I explain, and I made it for a lot of reasons. One, because I was sad, and two, because I have SAD — seasonal affective disorder, which renders me more hopeless and useless with each passing snowstorm.
“I think of my songs as hopeful,” the 23-year-old Virginia native told me. “They contain really sad content, but I try to make an effort to suggest that there’s a future beyond the sadness in the music.”
And maybe that’s why her songs, and the songs of many other women, were what got me through these past few months. They allowed me to comfortably sit in my sadness rather than constantly battling it. But I realize now that it’s summer soon, yet the words and music of these women still follow me.
There will reliably be songs of the summer every year, songs that were manufactured for the beach days and rooftop nights I still imagine I’ll have. But in these first few weeks of warmer weather, I’ve realized the reality is more often sticky sweat on my body as I sit inside on pink evenings letting the words of singers like Dacus thicken the humidity. On the playlist, her recents hits like “Night Shift” and “Addictions” sit alongside “Funeral” by Phoebe Bridgers and “Space Cowboy” by Kasey Musgraves. It moves clunkily from one song the next, jumping from genre to genre. The only common thread: if I sit on the edge of my bed and press play, I can bring the nagging melancholy I’ve compartmentalized away to a head. It’s the pimple-popping of emotions.
It makes sense that this year, of all the years, is when the somber songs of winter overstay their welcome. Things are pretty bad. In addition to the fact that my brain just gives up sometimes, that I’m 25 now and worried I’m too late for everything, that I haven’t been in love in years and fear I’ll never elicit it again, the world is falling apart. Was 2016 the year we said was the bad year? 2017? Because we’re halfway through 2018, and I don’t know which bad thing to focus on. I can get myself down about immigration, about the horrible way our country is treating fellow human beings by not treating them like human beings at all. I can worry about the way I’m watching the rights of me and my friends get pulled away so slowly in hopes that we won’t notice. I can prepare for nuclear war. Or, I can listen to music.
“Even in everyday life, family and friends, not a ton of people are willing to get into the nitty gritty of emotional baggage often, so I think people use music as an outlet for honesty and for self-therapy,” Dacus said when I asked her about the allure of sadness. “You can listen to music alone, privately, and come to an understanding that approximates therapy.”
Listening to these songs now, I’ve noticed the haze of summer brings out different parts of the music than the crisp dampness of winter, the same way I’m told earth tones make my eyes pop. It’s something I wouldn’t have realized had I packed the music away with my turtlenecks. Playing Dacus’ music when it’s still light out at 8 p.m., when I can walk outside barefoot, I hear the hope she’s talking about.
The lyrics I cherished when I went to go see Dacus perform in April (“Don’t hold your breath, forget you ever saw me at my best / You don’t deserve what you don’t respect / Don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect”) aren’t the ones I hold onto now (“In five years I hope the songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers”). I can’t make these lingering feelings go away. I can’t stop worrying that I’m too myself to be lovable. I can’t fix the country. But I no longer see sadness as a form of exile. It’s springboard.
“It takes a lot of guts to admit that you’re upset or that you’re hurt by something,” Dacus assured me. “I think that vulnerability is usually paired really closely with strength. Being sad is kind of badass...I guess ‘sadass.’”
I think it’s time to rename my playlist.