Best of 2012: Mental Health in Music

Music and mental health go pretty much hand-in-hand. Music “soothes the soul,” keeps us centered, and lets us express to the world who we are.

As 2012 comes to a close, the time seems right to honor some songs that contribute honest, sensitive, and meaningful statements on mental wellness and illness. While mental health plays a role in the meaning of all music, these are songs that are about mental health in a more explicit or specific way. They’re all by artists whose music runs the gamut in terms of subject matter, and most of them didn’t write or perform them with mental health advocacy in mind. Through their honesty and remarkable talent, though, they are all advocates, and I thank them.

Here are my picks for the top three songs about mental health in 2012:

1. P!nk – The Great Escape

The superstar (read: future legend) who told us we were “fucking perfect” in 2011 has now given us this album track, an urgent but gentle ballad that asks us to do one (sometimes) simple thing: live.

2. Elizaveta – Dreamer

Without question one of the most beautiful and hopeful songs I’ve ever heard. Elizaveta’s full debut album, Beatrix Runs, is my pick for the title of best album of the year.

3. Fiona Apple – Every Single Night

Anyone who’s ever dealt with overwhelming anxiety knows exactly what alternapop veteran Fiona Apple means when she sings “Every single night’s a fight with my brain.”

And some other favorites, in no particular order:

fun. – Carry On

One of the ultimate “I know you’ve got it rough, but please just keep going” songs.

Kelly Clarkson – Dark Side

In what is more or less a companion piece to her masterpiece “Maybe,” Clarkson sings one for the people who know what it’s like to be something other than yourself sometimes.

Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

They were mysteriously snubbed by the Grammys, but maybe being on this list will mean something to Icelandic folk artists Of Monsters and Men, who broke through with this catchy duet about grief. Its exact meaning is unclear, but, after all, “the truth is varied.”

Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round

That this dark and honest piece has become the hit that it has marks a major shift for country radio, which just a few years ago would never have welcomed a song about drug addiction by a new artist. There’s no happy or hopeful ending, just the all-encompassing and all-important question of what the pressures of today’s American life mean for all of our well-being.

Ed Sheeran – The A Team

A heartbreaking tale of addiction and homlessness

Lauren O’Connell – Things are Alright

Under-recognized singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell is at her rawest in this honest and pained guitar-and-voice-and-nothing-else- piece about depression. Sometimes you just need to know that someone else gets it…

Florence + The Machine – Shake It Out

… And sometimes you need someone to kick you back into shape, like Florence Welch does with this explosive and empathetic hit about coming to terms with your flaws and limitations and starting over.

Alabama Shakes – Hold On

Rounding out the pack is a bluesy-folk ode to the power of perseverance from one of the year’s most promising new artists.

Be sure to leave your comments below.. Are there any songs you wish I had included?

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