How Pop-Punk Contributes to Raise the Awareness about Mental Health Issues
A closer look at how pop-punk contributes to raising awareness on mental health issues.
Words by Whiteboard Journal
World Suicide Prevention Day is marked on 10th September every year—a day meant to create awareness, commitment, and action to prevent suicide by reaching out to people who may be struggling to cope with life. 2018 marks the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day, with a total of over 300 activities in around 70 countries were reported to International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), including educational and commemorative events, press briefings and conferences, as well as media social coverage in the past years.
Everyone has a role in preventing suicide—and that includes the pop-punk bands that are continuously speaking up and singing their hearts out on issues about mental health.
Over the years, what we know as pop-punk has transformed rapidly—evolving with the times and the trends. As a music genre that fuses elements of pop music with punk rock, pop-punk songs are usually angst-ridden and self-deprecating. It’s eventful and dramatic. It’s not just lyrics and guitar riffs; it’s the faces and scenes and places and processes in-between. It’s not just music; it’s the feelings. It’s not just a lifestyle; it’s the fleeting moments in our lives. Pop-punk songs never fail to cover issues that are so universal, yet deeply personal to each fan.
While some genre-purists condemn a lot of pop-punk bands nowadays for sounding more like pop and less like punk, or the other way around, I believe that the bands actually just focus on being honest and open about their feelings with no intention for making fun of that concept. Pop-punk should be seen as a platform to lift us up every now and then, not a box that constrains us, not a label that comes with lines of codes that instruct how we should think or act or respond at all times.
Sometimes pop-punk is one thing, sometimes it’s something else. It’s not all tough and riot and rebellion, sometimes it’s refusing to smile and admitting that you’re sad. Sometimes it’s about hating the world, sometimes it’s about hating yourself—and realizing that there are certain times when it’s okay to do so. Sometimes it’s grassroots organization and political activism, sometimes it’s acknowledging your own mental issues and bravely fighting your inner demons.
Let’s start with Paramore’s Rose-Colored Boy that talks about the social expectation to be happy—resulted in associating sadness as a shame. Isn’t it so poetic that Fake Happy is written in a major key so that even the song itself sounds happy, therefore, fake in an attempt to be so? Basically, the entire After Laughter album is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. All these happy-looking and happy-sounding sad songs are genius because pop-punk bands seem to always find a way to keep us feeling slightly less alone but still sad enough to feel okay being sad—if that makes sense.
Furthermore, the use of solid bright color schemes in some music videos like Neck Deep’s In Bloom, Bad To The Bone by WSTR, With Confidence’s That Something, and From The Outside by Real Friends, for example, is not merely about fitting in the trending palette aesthetics, but the bigger picture is about how colors have no gender. The coloring of gender resulted in how some colors are labeled feminine and therefore are believed to be made for women. The gender bias is so deeply entrenched in our consciousness that most men are uncomfortable to wear pink, purple, or yellow—not because they don’t like those colors, but because they fear being judged as not masculine enough by the society. Surely, the way we are raised and trained to believe and try to fulfill those ideals can affect our mental health. The way these pop-punk dudes exercise their passion in pop-punk music while wearing such feminine colors are their statement as to how the choice to wear any color is all ours to take and how we should be comfortable of what we wear, who we are, and who we want to be.
Oddly enough, these songs might have provoked some contradictory yet comforting sort of emotions to us; all those bright colors probably made us smile, but the lyrics would have had us being more self-aware of all the feelings we often hold back to our darkest corners. Admit it, we’re all struggling to put how we feel into words and then it kind of made sense right after we hear the songs.
The most important thing is, unlike any other cultural products that often romanticize mental health; we have pop-punk bands to normalize the issues.
Mental health issues are still mostly portrayed as unique and interesting—as if only by that it deserves a click. While mental illness is not something people should be scared of, it is also not something that people should aspire to have. The romanticization of mental health issues is probably one of the biggest contributing factors as to why people start self-diagnosing themselves with terms we really know nothing about. And by refusing to acknowledge this problem, perhaps we are encouraging it.
Suicidal people are not angels that want to go home. Razor cuts are not artistic and scars do not decorate your body. Overdosing is not a tramp through wonderland. Depression and anxiety are not flaunting super cool exclusive club badges. It is fundamentally wrong to associate the word ‘tragic’ alongside the word ‘beautiful’. By making mental illness out as something desirable to have, we take the focus away from real people genuinely struggling from it. Fortunately, slowly but sure, pop-punk has been fighting against these misleading narratives by portraying that mental health is a spectrum and we’re all on it.
From “I’m just a little bit caught in the middle, I try to keep going but it’s not that simple” by Paramore in Caught In The Middle, to Neck Deep’s In Bloom “Last night, it had me down I’m feeling numb. I can try but sometimes that is not enough”. From All Time Low’s Missing You “And if you need a friend, then please just say the word”, to “From the outside I seem fine, on the inside I’m still sick, the pill is a temporary fix” by Real Friends in From The Outside. And let’s not forget As It Is with their emo-to-the-extremo vibes and the line “we’re pointing the finger that’s pulling the trigger” on The Wounded World that surely gets to all of us.
It’s only fair to also mention the song titled Voldemort by With Confidence. No, it has nothing to do with the story of Harry Potter and the wizarding world. Instead, it talks entirely about mental health issues. The band believed that what Voldemort and mental health issues have in common is that even if you don’t talk about any of them, it is still a looming presence in a person’s life and the only way to stand up to it is to admit that there is a problem instead of ignoring it, stigmatizing it, or worse, causing greater fear of it. The reference that they’re after is the line “Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” I think it’s brilliant and thoughtful of them to do so.
Bands are getting more and more open to share their honest experiences and perspectives on mental health issues—and not only it’s aspiring, but it’s crucial to do. It’s almost as if the beats and guitar-riffs can make us feel less lonely, less anxious, and less depressed. It’s almost as if no matter how deep and suffocating it has been, we didn’t drown, because they swim with us—next to us. But one thing to remember, no matter to what extend their lyrics resonates with you; bands can’t diagnose you—and neither can you. Bands are friends, but they are not the professionals to seek help to.
Pop-punk can and should be our allies in fighting against mental health stigma and ignorance. Pop-punk can and should exercise their capacity in encouraging and celebrating the idea of diversity and inclusivity. To quote Hayley Williams, “it’s important and more healing to be empathetic than to try and paint everything rosy”. Besides, actively contributing to social progress and rejecting toxic narratives through songs is an essential, radical, and of course, very pop-punk thing to do. Here’s to pop-punk continue using their voices to speak up about issues that matter.