10 alternative songs that explore the highs and lows of mental health
If there's anything that holds true throughout the alternative music scene, it's an inclination toward vulnerable self-expression. For decades, artists have worn their hearts on their sleeves while navigating conflict, both external and inward-facing, to remind their audiences that, no matter how isolating the circumstance, you're never truly alone.
Such open honesty has been paramount in destigmatizing mental health struggles within the scene and outside of it. From accounts of addiction to depression and anxiety, music has helped to shed light on what might otherwise seem like alienating experiences. And while we're all for a good, cathartic cry alongside our favorite emo tracks, sometimes what we really need is an inspiring delivery.
In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are 10 spirited mental health anthems that will instantly uplift any of your playlists.
A R I Z O N A – “Freaking Out”
A R I Z O N A may regard their 2019 hit "Freaking Out" as a "depression anthem," but you'll never come out of a listen feeling low. The song spews anxiety-laden relatability with a deceptively upbeat and danceable delivery, fueling a contrast that's nothing short of captivating. No doubt, it's one of the best tracks to shake off any type of mood.
Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle”
There's not a soul who lived through the 2000s alternative wave who hasn't grounded themselves at least once with Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle." That's for good reason, of course. The 2001 pop-punk anthem is just inherently reassuring—a far cry from some of their more heart-wrenchingly emo works. While vocalist Jim Adkins once thought of the song as a throwaway, it continues to resonate with the scene, even two decades later.
King Princess – “Tough On Myself”
Leave it to King Princess to hit us with the messages that we really need to hear. No matter where you stand in your mental health journey, "Tough On Myself" is sure to provoke some valuable introspection. There's no shortage of heavy, self-aware lyricism. However, the song maintains a breezy, dreamy quality that's sure to put you in a calm and positive headspace.
Matchbox Twenty – “Unwell”
Matchbox Twenty were getting candid on the topic of mental illness with "Unwell" years before destigmatizing discussions became mainstream. No surprise, the catchy 2002 anthem persists as an earworm and beacon of relatability even today. So much so that the chorus even made its way into Steve Aoki's recent collaborative track with Kiiara and Wiz Khalifa, "Used To Be."
"It was about self-care," Matchbox Twenty vocalist Rob Thomas explains in an Instagram video alongside the new release. "You're not comfortable in your own skin, and you feel like a freak because the world can see that. Now with social media, that's more prevalent than it's ever been."
Meet Me @ The Altar – “Garden”
Meet Me @ The Altar couldn't have picked a better song than "Garden" to make their debut under Fueled By Ramen. Really, they might as well have kicked open the door and announced themselves as the most gracious set of alternative icons to ever stand before us. In addition to its quintessential pop-punk energy, the track is teeming with positive messages.
"We feel like it’s an important song for people to hear, especially right now with COVID and other emotional things happening," guitarist T᷾᷾֬éa Campbell explains to Alternative Press. "We want people to know there are people that are going to be there for you and to support you emotionally. We’ve all felt like people need to hear that we’re going to be there for you. There are people in your life who are there for you. And it’s OK to not be OK, but know you have support around you."
Avril Lavigne – “Head Above Water”
Avril Lavigne hasn't exactly had it easy over the last decade given she's been fighting a long-term battle with Lyme disease. So, if anyone's going to lift us right up with visceral vulnerability, it's the Pop-punk Princess. The first track that Lavigne dropped post-hiatus, "Head Above Water," is both a plea for strength and a push to keep going. Consider it an instant dose of generalized empowerment.
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Jack Antonoff is all too familiar with navigating mental health struggles. The Bleachers vocalist has previously opened up about his ongoing effort to overcome a severe panic disorder. "I Wanna Get Better" is a chronicle of his experiences—and an incredibly inspiring one at that. Couple the inherent relatability of real-life circumstance with a stadium-ready rock delivery and you've got a mental health anthem that will never fail to rouse your spirit.
Paramore – “Fake Happy”
Paramore made a name for themselves in the 2000s with their angsty, emo-leaning take on pop punk. Even then, however, we knew that they were capable of serious substance beyond stories of breakups and love triangles. "Fake Happy" puts open vulnerability front and center, navigating feelings of isolation within distress—but not without a twist of upbeat pop that lends credence to the song title.
Rina Sawayama – “Love Me 4 Me”
Rina Sawayama tackles an assortment of mental health nuances, all under the umbrella of self-love advocacy, in "Love Me 4 Me." This song serves as an anthem of empowerment, especially for women who find themselves struggling with their identity under society's restrictive standards. For something so thematically heavy, though, the '90s-reminiscent pop delivery is undeniably fun.
The All-American Rejects – “Move Along”
The All-American Rejects really bred a mantra when they dropped "Move Along" in 2005. For alternative music fans of the time, the lyrics "Move along, move along" instantaneously became more or less synonymous with "Breathe in, breathe out." That is, if such traditional stress-relief practices came with a high-energy, pop-rock backing. Even 16 years after its release, the track remains a cathartic (and catchy) experience.
What are some of your favorite uplifting mental health anthems? Let us know in the comments below!