Why It Feels So Damn Good to Blast Adele and Taylor Swift and Ugly Cry

Science backs up the craving to swim in your feels.

Why It Feels So Damn Good to Blast Adele and Taylor Swift and Cry
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If you're on any form of social media, you might have noticed that when Taylor Swift dropped her album Red (Taylor's Version) on November 12, there were quite a few people posting photos or videos of themselves listening to the album and crying. The 10-minute version of "All Too Well" (you know, that one that's allegedly about Jake Gyllenhaal and the infamous scarf) in particular, had not just Swifties reaching for the tissues, but anyone who's ever had a break-up. (

And a week later, Instagram is still full of stories of people sobbing over the album — and clearly enjoying themselves. Sometimes, when the song is just right, it feels so good, almost delicious, to just cry.

While it was Taylor who had people curled up on the couch, reminiscing about past loves last weekend, she, and the rest of their contemporaries are hardly the first musicians to have a generation bawling into a pillow with an album or specific song — and loving every minute of it. Such human behavior goes way back to the Athenian era when philosophers first suggested that sad art or art that conjures up negative emotions was far more rewarding to the brain than art that, simply, isn't sad. Aristotle witnessed how heartbreaking theater was cathartic to audiences, rather than being a total downer. It might seem a little paradoxical, but people get more satisfaction out of tragedies than they do out of comedies.

The Science of a Music-Induced Cry

Research has found a couple of reasons why crying to your favorite sad-girl songs feels so fantastic.

A 2014 study of more than 700 people by a team in Berlin found that there are four specific rewards that come with experiencing sadness due to music: reward of imagination, emotion regulation, empathy, and a lack of "real-life" implications. The same study also found that sad music brought up feelings of nostalgia, an often "bittersweet emotion" that makes people experience a longing for the past, despite the sadness that might be associated with it. (FYI, it's a good thing to experience both positive and negative emotions.)

While sadness may not be an emotion you actively seek out, the impact sad music has on your brain is enticing, pleasurable, and, in some cases, addictive. Yes, really: An August 2021 neuroimaging study examined which parts of the brain light up when listening to sad music, and although each brain's response is unique, the parts that are most affected are those that deal with reward processing, aesthetics, and emotions. When this reward circuit is activated, that the brain basically says to the rest of the body, "we like this and we want more of it" — in the same way love and drugs affect you. (See: The Interesting Ways Crying Affects Your Skin)

That's not all: When you listen to sad music, the hormone prolactin is released into your body, making us feel pleasure from our sadness as it consoles us. Prolactin is a hormone that is meant to calm you when you're crying or under stress. But if you're not experiencing a traumatic event or crying from real-life stress, the result is one of, for lack of a better word, bliss. That's why it feels so damn good to belt out those lyrics, listen to songs over and over, and cry, cry, cry. As Santini explains, there's an "emotional arousal" that comes from it. Adele's "Hello," on repeat for a couple of hours, anyone?

Plus, in a way, "sad songs are mood stabilizers," says Barbara Santini, a psychologist and, sex and relationship adviser. "Listening to sad songs is a way of expressing our situations and makes people feel more understood. People feel better when the words in a song are related to their experiences and convey emotions that are similar to theirs."

When you're sad and listen to sad music, you're provided solace and have confirmation that you're not alone. It's a healthy way to express emotions that's cathartic and even beneficial. In fact, the 2014 Berlin study found that although happy music can affect you positively, people tend to get the most mood benefits from listening to sad music.

The Downsides of Music "Therapy"

But, as is the case with everything, too much of something great can be a bad thing. While moderation may be hard once you've crawled down a Bon Iver hole, you still need to come up for air and face reality eventually. If you don't, all that catharsis, mood stabilization, and wistful nostalgia can turn ugly.

"If you use sad music as a maladaptive strategy of venting your emotions, it may worsen sad moods or depression," says Santini. In other words, if you're crying yourself to sleep every night with your sad song soundtrack blasting in your AirPods, there could be something else there — perhaps some unresolved issues that may need some more consideration with the help of a professional.

According to a 2015 study, when consumption of sad songs isn't regulated, a "vulnerability to depression and anxiety" can follow. This happens because the music is being used as a distraction from the real problems someone might have in their lives. It gives credence to the questions Nick Hornby had his protagonist, Rob, ask in High Fidelity: "Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" It could go in either direction, depending on how you use it. (Also read: Why Am I Crying for No Reason?)

The Tearful Takeaway

There's nothing quite like falling in love with a song, an album, or lyrics that touch your heart so deeply that you can't help but yell out, "OMG! This is so me!" It's nothing short of gorgeous when you can relate to words that speak to you and they're wrapped up in a melody that affects you so profoundly. It's intoxicating and, as Santini put it, "emotionally arousing."

Although twirling around to Phoebe Bridgers with red wine in your hand and tears on your cheek can head in a dark direction if not regulated, for the most part, it's all part of the human experience. So, grab the tissues, put Iron & Wine's "Trapeze Swinger" on repeat, and lean into it — in moderation, of course.

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