Why do certain songs bring us so much comfort? Music has a profound effect on many of our lives, helping us process emotions, stress, and grief. I tend to associate different periods of my life with certain songs, and generally, these songs serve to reflect what is happening around me. I’ve always struggled to truly explain why music can be so comforting beyond the surface-level explanations of “I identify with the lyrics” or “the song sounds nice.” While those are both entirely reasonable explanations, they don’t necessarily tell the entire story. To me, music has an intangible, comforting quality that I cannot entirely articulate. Several of my favorite songs have lyrics that barely pertain to my life at all, and yet, I identify with them on a deeply personal level.
Part of our identification with certain songs definitely stems from our own imagination. In my experience, even if a song’s lyrics do not align with my life directly, I often interpret generic lyrics in relation to my own feelings and actions. There is a plethora of scientific evidence backing the hypothesis that music is incredibly beneficial to one’s mental health, and though I have absolutely experienced the positive effects of music, I have never stopped to think about why exactly humans (and animals!) make such personal connections with songs. That is, until I started listening to Kid Cudi.
Kid Cudi does not overcomplicate the messages in his songs and he tells stories simply, painting effortlessly eloquent pictures for his listeners that tie his own life story into theirs.
I wouldn’t say Kid Cudi is my favorite artist, nor that he even cracks my top five, but there’s something about his music that—no pun intended—truly strikes a chord within me. To perhaps state the obvious, Kid Cudi and I have likely had immensely different life experiences, and much of his music does not necessarily relate to topics that I identify with closely. Yet, listening to his songs allows me to relax, contemplate, and enter an introspective state of mind that I rarely achieve when listening to other artists. Kid Cudi does not overcomplicate the messages in his songs and he tells stories simply, painting effortlessly eloquent pictures for his listeners that tie his own life story into theirs.
Cudi’s graceful thematic fluidity takes center stage in his song “Love.” (and to this day, I am puzzled as to how this track was axed from Cudi’s fourth studio album, Satellite Flight: Journey to Mother Moon). Its lyrical and tonal simplicity make the song a perfect anthem for virtually anybody looking for a comforting presence of some kind. The lyrics aren’t hyper-specific, nor are they overly complex or deep. Cudi tells it like it is, being up-front about his state of mind in a way that implies he has come to terms with the pain and suffering he has dealt with in life. Never does he suggest that all of one’s problems will magically disappear, but he does give listeners an almost inexplicable sense of comfort and safety. The uplifting electric guitar chords establish Cudi’s calming but motivational tone, and the smooth beat relaxes listeners’ nerves. The majority of those who have listened to this song will never meet Kid Cudi, and yet, we all feel the love he genuinely has for each and every one of us.
The uplifting electric guitar chords establish Cudi’s calming but motivational tone, and the smooth beat relaxes listeners’ nerves.
Musical comfort takes on so many different forms that the concept is difficult to exemplify through any single song. “Love.” is a powerfully positive track, lifting listeners up and extending words of wisdom that provide a peaceful worldview, emphasizing life’s flowing nature.
The song “Pursuit of Happiness” provides a similar type of comfort: its grandiose, synthetic melody pulls listeners in, reflecting the often overwhelming noise of life while simultaneously utilizing a simple chord progression that pulses back and forth, serving as the refreshingly regular heartbeat of a song that tackles the irregularity of life’s trauma. This chord progression remains consistent throughout the song, which I believe is key to the song’s comforting nature. “Pursuit of Happiness” doesn’t ambush listeners with sudden thematic or musical changes; the melody and instruments stay with them throughout the song’s entirety. Though Cudi discusses several dark topics in the song, illustrating his experience with night terrors and depression, he manages to construct a wholeheartedly comforting narrative and musical framework around those traumatic topics, reminding listeners that experiencing struggles is not only acceptable, but even normal. As MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden joins Cudi in the chorus, we are reminded once again of the universality of Cudi’s trials and tribulations.
Cudi breaks many norms of the hip-hop genre, and he’s never been afraid to put himself on the line in service of being true to his own experiences.
Cudi breaks many norms of the hip-hop genre, and he’s never been afraid to put himself on the line in service of being true to his own experiences. Perhaps we can credit this authenticity for the comforting nature of his music, as Cudi represents a living image of overcoming difficult circumstances.
Still, Kid Cudi is just one example of the musical comfort phenomenon. Many artists write comforting music that is not directly referential to their personal life. Furthermore, both comfort and musical taste as a whole are incredibly subjective. A song that I hate could very easily be someone’s most beloved track. Honestly, that element of music is comforting in its own right – there’s comfort to be found in music for everyone, and it’s up to us, both on a conscious and subconscious level, to determine how we find that sense of comfort and stability and what we make of it.