Contrary to Eilish’s abundant recognition for her conspicuous message about depression in “everything i wanted”, mental health as a subject within the music industry is no groundbreaking concept – as any other form of artistic expression, emotional and mental hardships have been embodied across the boundaries of music for decades. From rock and roll to acoustic folk, depression and anxiety has manifested itself in the music world – perhaps being one of the first platforms openly expressive of these issues on a public scale. Although it may not be their most well-known song, many big-name artists have written songs in context of mental health issues. 

 In the late 60’s and early 70’s, depression and suicide had become a more popular overarching theme among trendsetting rock and roll groups, such as Pink Floyd, The Who, and The Doors. These bands likened the genre to the loose expression of mental health and has become a prominent platform for raising awareness. From the evolution of classic rock, the creative freedom rock music encompasses has a track-record of allowing extreme subjects and limitations to be pushed, making the extremely stigmatized topic of mental health a perfect fit for being birthed within the rock genre. 

One of the most renowned Rock bands of all time are The Rolling Stones, the British band who encapsulated fresh perspectives of the downbeat of the post-60’s counterculture. With a lawless persona sharply contrasting alongside that of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones challenged social norms by depicting dark opposition to standards of the time – their music corresponding to the dispute of social construct. Arguably their most popular song ever, “Paint It, Black” is a testimony to the member’s struggle with mental health and depression. 

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The song appears to be a narrative of someone mourning the loss of a loved one as they describe the dreary atmosphere of what seems to be a funeral. However, there have been many other interpretations surrounding the song, including a statement from Mick Jagger, explaining how the song is about depression in general. The song starts off by describing a young man wanting to paint everything around him black and dark to reflect the way he’s feeling: “I see a red door and I want it painted black / No colors anymore I want them to turn black / I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes / I have to turn my head until my darkness goes”. The song progresses with the same dismal outlook and capitalizes with the final line, “ I want to see the sun, blotted from the sky / I want to see it painted, painted, painted black”. The song is indubitably depicting the first-hand narrative of someone stuck in the grips of depression – however, because of the skyrocket of depression relating to the Vietnam War, it’s context remains more vague. Regardless, the song stands as an embodiment of mental health issues by one of the most famous bands in music history. Lyrically, the strength and purpose of the song weighs heavily within the story told, while the sound functions as the feature that draws in a larger crowd. The upbeat rhythm played by the sitar in the background creates an appeal that makes listeners want to engage with the song despite it’s satirical relationship with the lyrics. You wouldn’t expect a song about depression and deep sadness to be as hectic and sanguine as it is in “Paint It, Black”. The satirical texture of the instrumentation in the background seems to be the part of the song that is expressive of The Rolling Stones style but also makes the song appeal to a larger amount of people, leading to its immense popularity. Rock and roll was defined by the presence of a male vocalist, electric guitars, fast tempos, and energetic delivery of vocals. Since the genre had established itself as being a more favorable genre among American society by that time, satisfying  people’s love of rock and roll would be the most effective way to carry a song that would resonate with the increase in mental health issues. 

A song about depression by a band as esteemed as The Rolling Stones during a surge of cases of mental health issues across America helped it become a mainstream subject of social culture – especially expressed in music. 

Fast forward another 30 years and you land in the 90’s, an era consumed by the magic of hip-hop/R&B artists like The Notorious B.I.G. One of the most pivotal moments for the stigma of mental health  in hip-hop was Biggie Smalls release of the album “Ready to Die” in 1994. As hip hop served as a crucial platform for expressing injustices regarding race and equal standard of living in American society – an issue present since the birth of our country but finally given a stance in the limelight. Biggie Smalls completely revamped the rap game, exemplifying gangster lifestyle for its severity and vulnerability all in one. Much of his music paved a completely new path for exposing the realness of violent thug neighborhood life. “Ready to Die” offered a groundbreaking approach to the typical hard-nosed approach to gangsters that incorporated the prominence of mental health instability.

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One of the most powerful songs on the album regarding mental health is the last track, “Suicidal Thoughts”; a song about Biggie Smalls calling up his friend to lay out the distressful thoughts consuming his mind and explaining that he’s going to commit suicide. The lyrics are extremely powerful and raw in exposing the inner-workings of someone jostling with their thoughts moments before attempting suicide:

“I swear to God I want to just slit my wrists and end this bullshit

Throw the Magnum to my head, threaten to pull shit (Nigga, what the fuck?)

And squeeze until the bed’s completely red (It’s too late for this shit, man)

 I’m glad I’m dead, a worthless fuckin’ buddha head

 The stress is buildin’ up, I can’t – I can’t believe (Ayo, I’m on my way over there, man)

 Suicide’s on my fuckin’ mind, I wanna leave

 I swear to God I feel like death is fuckin’ callin’ me

 But nah, you wouldn’t understand”.

Although context exclusive to thug lifestyles frequently used in rap are used, such as drugs, crime, and broken relationships, the direct dialogue featured is an iconic creative decision that changes depiction of mental health within the music industry forever. Popular Hip-hop artists in today’s world such as Kanye West (I hate being bi-polar,  It’s awesome, )  and Kendrick Lamar (“u”, To Pimp a Butterfly) have continued direct discussion of mental health issues they struggle with because of the influence Biggie Smalls had on the black community and social normalization through the platform of music. 

Here are more articles discussing the influence of rappers, like Biggie Smalls, on the destigmatization of mental health:

As Billie Eilish continues to establish herself within the world of pop music, the revolution for reversing stigmatization of mental health continues to progress simultaneously. Although the music and sound of “Paint It, Black”, “Suicidal Thoughts” and “everything i wanted” are all vastly different from one another, they hold the same purpose within each of their historical contexts – revamping the reputation of mental health. From the 1960’s the Rolling Stones were progressive in their approach to defying social norms in every aspect they possibly could. Their capitalization via their own personal struggles with depression shined through to an audience growing more aware of the effects and reality of depression within their surrounding environments. The Notorious B.I.G. constructed the backbone of rap/hip-hop through his openness about the detailed reality of lifestyles dipped in crime and persistent hardship. His vulnerability with providing an extremely intimate insight to his struggles with suicide segwayed the perception of mental health to being equivalent in acceptability to the perception he built of gangster privation. Billie Eilish is onto something similar to these great musicians – as a notably young star tending to counter-culture of today’s world, she represents a type of rawness that reflects similar measures taken by The Rolling Stones and Biggie Smalls. Her overall persona directly defies the standards of fame and popularity – exceedingly important traits in the technology-ridden society we know today. As more awareness for mental health has begun to surface as a socially accepted standard of well-being in younger generations, “everything i wanted” meets both musical expectation, as achieved by The Rolling Stones, as well as unvoiced dialogue providing direct insight to the dark demeanor of suicide and depression, parallel to The Notorious B.I.G.