Why more song listeners and musicians are exploring sadness and mellow music

04 June,2023 09:18 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nidhi Lodaya

While Prateek Kuhad and Anuv Jain carved a sad boi hour niche in the indie music scene, upcoming musicians are jumping onto this genre as Gen Z loves the mellow vibe

Singer-songwriter duo, Abhin & Tanish, are known for their sad and mellow music and write about personal experiences such as heartbreak, life changes like shifting to Mumbai and the breaking up of a friendship

Becoming sad is also a habit," says 22-year-old Abhin Joshi, one half of Abhin & Tanish, an indie duo. Joshi, singer-songwriter and lyricist, says that actively experiencing sadness often makes people feel good. He confesses he likes to watch films that make him cry.

Gen Z's refuge is music. But not just any kind: mellow, lo-fi, easy-going or a "chill vibe". According to the data gathered by Spotify India since May last year to now, ‘sad' was one of the most searched terms on the streaming platform. "Listeners consumed mellow music, often defined as love songs, romantic music, lo-fi, chill vibes," the data shows. Previous data by Spotify India found that mellow music in general, and love songs in particular, are extremely popular among Indian listeners and the trend was attributed to the popularity of Bollywood music.

Singer-songwriter Nidhi Wagle says she finds comfort in writing music which is sad and about heartbreak

How, music by independent and indie artistes also follows the mood. Gen Z, aged between 18 to 24 years comprise the highest number of listeners of mellow music in India. This Gen Z writer has seen peers heal heartbreaks by sobbing to Prateek Kuhad and fangirl over singer-songwriter Anuv Jain as he walks on stage with just his guitar and soothing vocals.

While many might consider this genre ear candy and morose, upcoming indie artistes disagree. Since the pandemic, there has been a wave of singer-songwriters catering to Gen Z listeners who are here "just for the vibe" or to process life incidents. "I do write about negative experiences and difficulty with mental health," says singer-songwriter Anoushka Maskey, "[But] I try to lace it with a layer of hope which reflects my own journey." The 26-year-old musician released her originals in 2020 and describes her music as "nostalgic, warm and hopeful," but admits "there's a sense of melancholy in my vocals and lyrics those are some of the reasons why people relate to it." We think Maskey's music as laid-back and dreamy, but one can also groove to it. The ideal setting for listening to her music would be, "in the back of the cab while it's raining, watching the world pass by."

Bengaluru-based Frizzell D'Souza, who started releasing original music during the pandemic, feels that writing heartbreak songs is easy as they have a bigger emotional impact

According to the study titled On the Value of Sad Music by Mario Attie-Picker, Tara Venkatesan, George E Newman and Joshua Knobe - with a revised version published this year in The Journal of Aesthetic Education, "expressing sadness creates a sense of genuine connection. Sad music can also have this type of value, it can give one a sense of genuine connection." This connection is what Nidhi Wagle, a Powai-based singer-songwriter considers a "beautiful experience where people can bond over a certain type of music." The 20-year-old musician, who opened for Post Malone last year in Mumbai, released her music in 2020. She admits of being comfortable about writing music about love and heartbreak. As a songwriter, she believes that, "it comes easy based on personal or inspired experience." However, Wagle's initial music was not the usual acoustic set-up. "My initial releases were properly produced with electric guitars and drums but now I am slowly getting into the easy-to-listen vibe," she says. "People are responding well," says Wagle, "because they relate and feel the same way."

Bengaluru-based singer-songwriter Frizzell D'Souza also agrees. "Happy love songs are relatively less written about whereas themes around heartbreak seem to have a bigger emotional impact across a larger audience. While her songs revolve around self-introspection and self-love, there too is a melancholic vibe. The common theme is storytelling.

Research shows that mellow music, including tunes with a sad, easy-going vibe, is the preferred genre among Gen Z. Last week, Spotify India hosted an offline gig called Mellow Hours, where singer-songwriters Tanamaya Bhatnagar and Anuv Jain performed

Joshi, who makes music with fellow musicians Tanish Khandwal, of Abhin & Tanish, cannot emphasise enough on the importance of storytelling and lyrics. The 22-year-old writes about his personal experiences - when he feels sad, his heart breaks, when he shifted to Mumbai, when a friendship ended. With over 20,000 monthly listeners, he thinks his music resonates with Gen Z because, "People cannot share emotions because they cannot articulate it. So they enjoy listening to someone else is saying them." Wagle gives the example of her latest single Wish I got More Time, which is about the passing away of her dog. "I got so many messages from people," she says, "They sent comforting messages about how they related to it giving and shared personal stories." This made her comfortable about sharing something so personal.

Investment associate Bhairavi Nagda-Mota says that she listens to sad music by Kuhad, Jain and Armaan Malik and not "typical Bollywood which has similar beats" because "indie artistes are making music more relatable to our mood." The 23-year-old also feels that through Instagram reels, songs and artistes make their way into playlists. "Then," says Nagda-Mota, "there is no correlation between these songs and feeling sad." Saheli Chatterjee, marketing strategist and founder of Freelance 101 Academy, doesn't listen to these songs because she is sad but because they are comforting. "I feel hopeful and happy because in this fast-paced world, these songs give us the time to soak in the vibe and slow down," says the 22-year-old.

Anoushka Maskey, Rahul Balyan, Saheli Chatterjee and Bhairavi Nagda-Mota

For this to really sink in, know that Spotify India hosted their first Mellow Nights showcase earlier this week with singer-songwriter Anuv Jain and Tanmaya Bhatnagar. Rahul Balyan, Head of Music, Spotify India, admits that sad music is one of the most popular genres in India, and even with the evolving new sounds of independent artistes that are different, heartbreak and mellow mood is still popular. While sad songs as a genre has always been popular in India, the reason why Gen Z is getting more into it is because, "this generation is very expressive," says Balyan. "Gen Z today is self-aware and it is not a taboo for them to publicly announce that ‘sad boi hours' is their favourite playlist. This is a comfortable topic for them and as a cultural trend they want to talk about how sad they are. It is a ‘sad gen' and it is cool to express that you are feeling low or mellow."

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