Content Warning: Somes of the songs in this article mention themes of mental illness, suicide, depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
Mental health has never been more important than it is now. Music is one healthy coping mechanism that helps a lot of us keep on keeping on. Over the last decade or so, I’d argue that more global artists, musicians, and idols have helped start conversations around mental health by being open about their own struggles with depression, anxiety, loneliness, and more.
K-pop performers like IU and SUGA from BTS have long been known as mental health advocates of sorts, unafraid of broaching harder topics in their music. While it seems obvious, it never hurts to remind ourselves that idols are people, too. They experience highs and lows and battle with issues acutely felt by those of us living in the 21st century.
Many of these idols have included their personal stories in their music, which can help us feel less alone as we face similar challenges in our day-to-day lives.
1. “eight” – IU (Prod. & Feat. SUGA of BTS)
IU’s song “eight” is about loss. Depending on your interpretation of the music video, this could also be a song about losing friends to suicide. Rather than focus on her despair, IU’s lyrics and melody remain hopeful, reminding us that we should remember the good times with our lost loved ones. She even hints at meeting them again someday in a place where there is no sadness or pain.
2. “BORDERLINE” – Sunmi
Sunmi revealed that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which she explores in this song. Many of her fans who have BPD have said this song helps them feel validated in their experience. In addition, “BORDERLINE” makes it clear that it is okay to voice our struggles. Even if people don’t always understand our pain, we should be proud of ourselves for persevering.
3. “Dark Clouds” – Heize
“Dark Clouds” delves into what it’s like to have depression. Heize sings about not having the capacity to fake a smile for her friends, so she ignores their calls. Even though depression often feels unfair, numbing, and isolating, Heize takes the time to simply experience these emotions in “Dark Clouds.” She encourages everyone to do the same because ignoring the problem is never the answer, and sometimes, the only way out is through.
4. “Dear Me” – Taeyeon
In “Dear Me,” Taeyeon sings about being able to endure life’s rough patches because she has herself. This is a song that reminds us that even if we think there’s no one at our side, we’re never alone because we have ourselves. The sooner we learn to trust and love ourselves, the more we’ll be able to weather future storms.
5. “Breathe” – LEE HI
Throughout our lives, many of us have experienced pressures from society, our parents, our friends, and even ourselves. Lee Hi revealed that she suffered from a panic disorder from all of these pressures that made her feel like she was suffocating. She wrote “Breathe” to remind those of us who are exhausted or bogged down by these pressures that we will be okay. We’re all doing the best we can, so keep going.
6. “Happy” – WJSN
Just like the “Happy” lyrics say, sometimes we start believing that happiness is foreign or irrelevant to us. Or sometimes, it’s hard to feel happy because we don’t think we deserve to be happy. But WJSN reminds us that we’re allowed to be happy. They also talk about how celebrating their friends, being body positive, and choosing to be confident are all ways they’ve become happier.
7. “Ugly” – 2NE1
“Ugly” is relatable to anyone who has ever struggled with low self-esteem or confidence issues over their physical appearance. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others. We also often get sucked up in what society says beautiful people are supposed to look like. 2NE1 gives voice to these inner thoughts, which can be cathartic. But it’s important to remember that we all have value, even if we don’t look or feel like everyone else.
8. “Eternal Sunshine” – EPIK HIGH (Prod. SUGA of BTS)
EPIK HIGH is another group that has been fearless in tackling mental health issues, and “Eternal Sunshine” is no exception. In this song, Tablo and Mithra Jin rap about loneliness, anxiety, and insomnia. Throughout the track, they remind listeners that we shouldn’t feel pressured to always keep up with the steps of life—because life is difficult and riddled with problems. But you’re not alone in feeling this way, and therein lies the message of “Eternal Sunshine.”
9. “Clap” – SEVENTEEN
Like EPIK HIGH pointed out, life is hard. And SEVENTEEN agrees. “Clap” includes lyrics about everyday struggles like staining your white shirt or not having enough money on your metro card. But these setbacks shouldn’t stop us from experiencing the world. Even if it’s raining, there is still a melody to be found in the raindrops, so why not clap along?
10. “Voices” – Stray Kids
In “Voices,” Stray Kids encourages all of us to ignore the voices in our heads telling us to give up because we’re not good enough. Just like the lyrics say, we have to step out and break free from the voices in our heads because they’re not always credible sources nor are they always telling the truth. We are good enough and we can achieve our dreams.
11. “Wake Me Up” – B.A.P.
Both the song and the music video for “Wake Me Up” speak to some of the darkest moments in life. But even if we’re still trudging through these dark times, we can’t forget who we are. B.A.P. encourages listeners to believe in themselves and stay alert to how society tries to lead us astray.
12. “Whalien 52” – BTS
While BTS has quite a few songs about mental health, “Whalien 52” is immaculate, *chef’s kiss*. Due to the pandemic, most of us experienced a year of isolation and alienation, and “Whalien 52” speaks to this acute feeling of loneliness. But BTS also includes a message of hope: No matter how lonely we feel, keep singing—or trying to connect with others—because eventually, someone will hear our song.
13. “Crown” – TXT
“Crown” is about finding solace in ourselves—by accepting who we are, imperfections and all—and in our community, because our friends and family help to combat loneliness. Even though we all go through hard times, our experiences help shape us into something better, and TXT has decided to be proud of their experiences and wear them like a crown.
14. “Runaway” – Bobby
“Runaway” is relatable to anyone who has ever wanted to press the pause button on life. Like Bobby says, sometimes our mistakes feel like failures, and sometimes our responsibilities feel so burdensome. I think “Runaway” is a reminder that it’s okay to take a break, to stop and collect ourselves before getting back on the horse, so to speak. Our mistakes don’t define us and shouldn’t prevent us from moving forward.
15. “The Last” – Agust D
Depression, OCD, social anxiety, and self-hatred are all topics Agust D raps about in “The Last.” Though he talks about how he wishes he could hide his weak self, Agust D’s choice to be honest about his struggles with mental illness shows his strength as an individual and artist. In this way, he sets an example for all of us, proving that it’s okay to open up and be vulnerable because our weaknesses are often our strengths.
It’s okay to feel sad, and it’s okay to take some time for yourself. Prioritizing our mental health should be at the top of our to-do list each and every day.
But, every now and then, don’t forget to play ITZY’s entire discography, too! While it’s perfectly okay to feel blue, it’s also important to feel on top of the world from time to time—and ITZY always delivers.
Just remember, you’re not alone.
We see you, we hear you, and you’re loved for being your fully authentic self.
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