What's more powerful: happy or sad music?

Lucy Bower and Betsy Cleaver explore the power of music, discussing what shines through more in song: happiness or sadness.

multiple writers
14th October 2021
Image: Pixabay
It’s no secret, music has the power to set us up for the day or dramatically alter our mood, but what’s more powerful? Happy or sad music? 

Potentially the most obvious side of the debate, the case for the power of happy music is strong. Upbeat, sing-along tracks playing at clubs and parties have the power to unite the whole crowd and get everyone chanting the lyrics. Think “Mr Brightside” coming on at the end of the night: drinks flying, arms around each other. Surely, songs that create these moments hold some form of power that couldn’t be created by downbeat, sad songs. 

As well as this, everyone has that one happy song (or maybe even a full playlist) that never fails to cheer them up on a bad day, a song that makes it impossible to stay in a bad mood or avoid tapping your toes along to. Whether it’s strutting around your room to Beyonce, dancing to Abba or playing air guitar along to Nirvana, the power of your “happy song” is unmatchable and can transform a mundane day into something more positive. 

On the flip side, we’ve all had days where something (or someone) has upset us. Whether we know the cause of our sadness or not, sad songs will always have the power to let you dwell in your misery in a melodramatic manner.

There’s something satisfying in that cathartic release that may even improve your mood. 

The powerful aspect of sad music stems from lyrics that tell a story or a relatable experience. Notoriously, heartbreak songs are the godfather of sad music. No happy song will match lying on your bed, listening to the likes of Adele or Phoebe Bridgers. Being sad isn’t the only outcome of sad music. It’s capable of evoking a variety of emotions – nostalgia, peace or self-pity. But there’s something satisfying in that cathartic release that may even improve your mood. 

Image: Pixabay

All in all, sometimes, it’s more powerful to allow yourself to be sad. Why not dramatically look out of the window (whilst it’s raining of course) and blast some Rex Orange County.

So it seems the cases for both sides of the debate are strong. But, maybe that’s what is so good about music: there’s no one answer. Music is personal to each person and is solely subjective, so perhaps this is a question that we’ll never agree on. 

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