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Five On It: the music industry must do better on mental health

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Following six months of revelations about mental health in the music industry, things need to change. Plus new releases from Doja Cat, SZA and more.

09 Apr 2021

Is it just me, or have the past six months seen a swathe of revelations when it comes to mental health in the music industry? Sure, the grind is a longstanding topic of discussion; starting out, acts and bands struggle to adjust to the upside-down lifestyle that comes with the demands of touring. Busy schedules and poor diet quickly result in physical and mental fatigue – even more so when squeezing it in between the day job.

Then there’s the opposite end of the scale: the artists so big that society presumes their lives are too prosperous to have problems. A  recent run of documentaries on ridiculously famous talent has shown that they struggle to maintain a sense of self in their whirlwind. Framing Britney Spears shone a light on the ramifications of Spears’ conservatorship following her publicised 2008 breakdown and how her estranged father, Jamie Spears, came to be in control of her finances, career and personal care. Elsewhere Shawn Mendes: In Wonder highlights the physical and mental toll of delivering a 104-date world tour, the conflict of showing up for fans and the monetary value of cancelling a show vs the detriment to one’s long-term health. 

“If so many artists across the scale of fame are so cripplingly unhappy, it begs what can be done to support them – and why more hasn’t been done before now”

This week, the topic was again brought to light courtesy of Jedward and their Twitter tirade against singing competition The X Factor and the contracts commissioned by Simon Cowell’s company Syco. Referencing One Direction and Little Mix, the Irish twins claimed to know the details of 1D’s conditions due to mistakenly being sent a copy of their contract whilst both acts were under the same management. They stated, “artists are on the brink of collapse at the end of touring”, “eating disorders and depression are very common” and that “when artists ask too many questions they’re a threat and are blacklisted and not given the Radio/PR”. Jedward claim artists were isolated from their families to “make them dependent on fake industry friends who don’t have their back!”. Fellow X Factor alumni Rebecca Ferguson is currently lobbying Parliament for a music industry ombudsman to fight for the wellbeing of artists.

With the aforementioned dissociation of anxiety and depression of artists in mind, Demi Lovato’s hard-hitting documentary Dancing With The Devil a must-watch on YouTube (TW addiction, eating disorders, sexual assault) – shows how a “perfect” storm of personal struggles, career pressures and fame can take a damaging toll. With a history of addiction and eating disorder before going sober at 18, the micromanagement of Demi’s recovery by her team left her reeling in a lack of identity and control over her own existence; in her own words, “I don’t even remember why I’m sober anymore. I’m so miserable. I’m not happy”. Her subsequent 2018 overdose on crack and heroin resulted in three strokes, a heart attack, brain damage and organ failure, making her new lease of life ever more heartening.

If so many artists across the scale of fame are so cripplingly unhappy, it begs what can be done to support them – and why more hasn’t been done before now. In a recent article by Rhian Jones, Universal Music UK Chairman and CEO, David Joseph, says he believes the recent increase in discussion comes from a culturally more open dialogue on mental health as a society, and that out of the three major labels, Universal and Warner Music are working on preventive health support programmes. Help Musicians UK have launched Music Minds Matter. Hopefully, more open discussion can incur tangible change…

Doja Cat – ‘Kiss Me More’ (feat. SZA)

Doja Cat is getting really prolific when it comes to collaborations – this year alone she has featured on Saweetie’s ‘Best Friend’ and Ariana Grande’s remix of ‘34+35’ with Megan Thee Stallion. Side-stepping the belated viral success of ‘Streets’ and ‘Say So’, new single ‘Kiss Me More’ sees Doja join forces with SZA for a slick and sugary disco rush atop Planet Her, with the album set to drop later in the year.

Japanese Breakfast – ‘Posing In Bondage’

Flipping the tone from her recent pop stunner ‘Be Sweet’ (hop to it if you’ve not already), ‘Posing In Bondage’ is a moody outing by Michelle Zauner about “two people who want so badly to connect but are never quite able to”. Swelling with an ambient murkiness and decorated with bright chimes, the track captures the bittersweet binary of loneliness in love.

Ebhoni – ‘All To Myself / Hit This’

Taken from her recent EP X, rising Toronto talent Ebhoni returns with a double-whammy video for her singles ‘All To Myself’ and ‘Hit This’. Shifting from the emotive yet playful R&B of the former to the catchy, feel-good rhythm of the latter, the visuals capture the carefree frivolities of an evening chilling with friends without a care in the world.

Kasai – ‘I Don’t Really Think About You No More’

We featured Kasai’s last release, ‘Drunk Diary, Weed and Liquor’ on Five on it before, and it only feels right to show the progression of her sound ahead of her debut EP, Not That Normal, Pt. 1. Lush guitars lazily meander across dreamy production, but Kasai’s honey-dripped vocals are the star of the show here as she cuts ties with an ex for good; consider it the antithesis to Jorja Smith’s ‘Addicted’.  

JGrrey – ‘Down’

Mixing jazz influences with a contemporary neo-soul twist, JGrrey’s new single ‘Down’ is, simply, a vibe. Sludgy basslines and loose, laidback guitar work underpin its killer melodies, the track’s buoyant hooks and harmonies earmarking it as one to smash replay on once summer’s sticky heat drops.