Why People Like Sad Music

Do you look for sad songs to listen to on rainy days? You’re not the only one! In fact, there's an explanation for it. Keep reading to discover why you like listening to sad music, even when you're not sad.
Why People Like Sad Music
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 20 October, 2022

Have you ever wondered why people like sad music so much? There’s something magnetic and attractive about songs such as “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton or “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. These songs make you get in touch with your deepest feelings. Sad music makes the world stop and makes you think about your own existence.

A great example of this is Adele’s music. Adele is a talented British singer, whose music career is based on sadness. Ever-lasting disappointment, broken hearts, angst, and loneliness impregnate the lyrics of renowned songs such as “Hello”.

Sad Music Purges the Soul

So, are you a masochist? Why do you enjoy “Everybody Hurts” by REM, as well as other songs you listen to on repeat, even when you’re going through a tough time? Aristotle said that music purges the soul. Music leads to “emotional catharsis”, helping you break free from complex feelings and emotions.

No one is immune to music’s effect. The brain loves it. In fact, some studies, like this one by McGill University, directed by neuropsychologist Valorie Salimpoor, explain that neural activity in brain areas such as the nucleus accumbens (related to the reward system) shows that music is as important to human beings as food or social relationships.

“‘Cause nothing compares
Nothing compares to you

It’s been so lonely without you here
Like a bird without a song
Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling
Tell me, baby, where did I go wrong?”

-Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing compares 2U”-

Sinéad O'Connor.

You Like Sad Music because Your Brain Needs It

Music experts say that one of the most impactful songs of all times is “Nothing Compares 2U” by Sinéad O’Connor, written by Prince in 1985. The melody, the lyrics, and a close-up of a female face crying get inside the deepest parts of your emotional brain. It’s almost impossible not to fall under its magnetic spell that carries past memories and things you can identify with.

It’s almost contradictory that you can enjoy something so sad. This very premise led a team of psychologists, musicians, philosophers, and neurologists from the University of Tokyo to perform a study. They published all their findings in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Let’s discuss them.

Sad Songs Make People Feel “Positive Emotions”

Most people who like sad music know they like it. However, there’s something strange about this. After they listen to a sad playlist, they don’t feel bad. In fact, they feel quite the opposite.

When you listen to sad music, the sad emotions, heartbreak, and pain usually aren’t contagious. In fact, you might even feel calm.

A man listening to sad music.

One of the study’s researchers, Dr. Ai Kawakami, who’s a music and emotions expert, pointed out that it’s necessary to differentiate the felt emotion from the perceived one. Music has the power of making people perceive emotions and connect with them without being affected by them. Thus, it’s normal for you not to feel sad when you listen to sad music.

Sad songs make you get in touch with deep emotions and feel good in the process.

Sad Songs Are Life’s Medicine

Leonard Cohen used to say that every time he performed “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, he felt something special. It was like finding balance in a chaotic world, like finding a solution to a conflict. In this regard, one of the reasons why people like sad music is because it gives them a sense of peace and leads to emotional catharsis.

Leonard Cohen.

Sad music is the perfect medicine for life’s obstacles. In fact, people often resort to it as they do to books that tell dramatic stories or movies with sad endings that still manage to teach something.

Sad music allows you to connect with your emotional self in a safe and beautiful way. You can go anywhere in your past with sad lyrics, to cry it out, vent about it, and come back unscathed.

In fact, you can let yourself get carried away by music’s beauty to empathize with the artist. Enjoy those intimate moments of walking in foreign sad universes. One way or another, you’ll feel comforted and more than ready to face your own obstacles afterward.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.