Why the internet hates the “sad girl turned happy” // The Observer
In the last decade or so, a new kind of celebrity has materialized in the realm of American pop culture – and perhaps it says a lot about the state of our nation that this new form of celebrity is characterized. almost exclusively by his deep, deep sadness.
You know the type – a few of the sad celebrity cheerleaders just might be the mainstays of your private Spotify playlists. Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, Lorde, Billie Eilish, and Lana Del Rey might come to mind. The world might suck, but the sad pop girls turn fear and despair into iconic lyrics and cute melodies, so maybe things aren’t going so bad.
But what happens when sad pop girls get happy?
It is not a hypothesis. You’ve heard of Rihanna’s third studio album, “Good Girl Gone Bad”; get ready now for “sad and happy girl”. Following in Lana and Billie’s footsteps, Lorde became the latest pop star to shock audiences with the release of unusually happy music. After two albums of melancholy and melodrama, Lorde’s “Solar Power” swapped the typical settings of her discography – lonely suburban streets and bustling house parties – for a calm, contemplative view of the sea.
And the fans hated her for it.
In the days following the album’s release, my Twitter timeline was inundated with fans mourning the loss of the Lorde they knew: “2013 Lorde would have hated 2021 Lorde”; “All those happy words are so old-fashioned”; “I liked her better when she was depressed.”
But this hatred of Lorde’s newfound happiness hasn’t only festered deep within Lorde stan Twitter – it has even infiltrated the world of professional criticism. “You have to act so stupid to be happy these days,” Pitchfork writer Anna Gaca wrote in her review of “Solar Power,” giving the album a 6.8 out of 10, the score. lowest Lorde has ever received from the post.
But why are modern pop audiences so averse to the happiness of their idols? Let’s get rid of the most obvious answer first: there’s probably a strong element of misogyny at play here. A multitude of male artists and male-led groups have changed their style in the same way – Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy both swapped their signature emo sounds for more positive pop in the early 2010s, but neither encountered the same level of public dissent. The gender gap is clear and it is our society’s selfish way of denying female artists the same space for emotional development as their male counterparts.
Additionally, many longtime fans who resonated deeply with these artists’ once sad themes might see this sad to happy change as a personal betrayal – for years they have found solace and support in the relatable words of sad pop girls. But when the idols are happy and the fans are always sad, they can feel like they’ve been left behind. It’s an unfortunate consequence of the parasocial relationships many fans have with modern-day pop stars.
For others, this hatred of happiness might be a byproduct of envy – a similar sense of abandonment, but rather in the context of class and social status. For many of these newly happy artists, the cheerful and relaxed aesthetic of their albums inevitably intertwines with high status symbols: Lorde is to the beach; Lana is laughing with friends at country club; Phoebe is on the balcony of an ornate all-white Victorian mansion; Billie, before she’s on a rooftop to get her badass closing moment, is bask in a sumptuous living room with pastel walls.
The upbeat moods of the artists aside, each of these scenes contains an undeniable essence of opulence and comfort, a significant break from the grimy and graceless sets of albums from the past: flaming cityscapes, low quality green screen scenes, dark rooms filled with cigarette smoke. When artists’ moods shift from sad to happy – and their aesthetics from gritty to gaudy – fans who lack both happiness and wealth have much more to envy, even on a subconscious level. They’re jealous of not only the upbeat moods of pop girls, but the lavish lifestyles they present – and they’re especially envious of how the latter might make the former easier to achieve.
This phenomenon could also be a repercussion of the often reductive ways of our society of considering art. For many, sadness and other negative emotions are seen as inherently more “artistic” than positive emotions – think of our society’s venerable view of the archetypal “tortured artist” or obsessed film major. A24 who praises art on the basis of how much it traumatized him. In the eyes of many critics, human angst is almost synonymous with artistic merit.
But happiness is also artistic. It’s a fundamental part of the human condition, and it’s a driving force behind some of the best and most touching works across the artistic canon of our world. So learn to stop romanticizing sadness. Remember, artists are allowed to develop emotionally, just like the rest of us. Learn to appreciate happiness as the beautiful force that it is, and not as something inherently “out of date” or “out of date.”
And please, for goodness sake, the sad pop girls are happy. They have already gone through enough.