There is a hidden power beneath any music. It is indubitable to say that almost everyone wears earphones, immersing themselves in music as if it is their companion or an escapade from their thoughts, or perhaps mending their boredom. Is music a driving force? Does music make a person inseparable from its tunes? The essence of music resonated with me when I was going through hard times in my life, especially when I was strolling alone yearning for the presence of my father. Music, for me, is my way of memory retrieval, my only companion, and my mental health therapist.

During the 2020 lockdown as COVID-19 permeated every corner of the world, it disrupted the inherent human connections that bind friends and loved ones. Profound isolation and social distancing molded people’s minds in various ways like hindering the natural human connection, and it would be redundant to say such a period brought significant impact to every one of us. As social distancing became deeply ingrained in the human experience, a heightened awareness of mental struggles ensued, as one of my friends described, “introduced myself to myself.”

Recalling the challenges faced by both myself and my friends during this period when we were separated from one another, music emerged as our exclusive refuge—an attic where we repaired ourselves and connected with others. For me, I found solace in immersing myself in music by shuffling through my 700-song playlist every day; from Death Grips and Stereolab to A Tribe Called Quest, artists like Mac Miller and Elliott Smith played crucial roles in aiding my journey of healing and self-exploration. 

Here, I am sharing my playlist that has powered me through the years, and I hope this playlist will make you happy.

During this period, I used to talk to my friend, Gün, steering the labyrinth of our teenage identity crisis every night. We questioned our roots, pondered our presence, and oscillated between preaching the beauty of our lives. However, despite the existential musings, our conversations consistently concluded with a genuine aspiration for self-improvement and mutual encouragement. Gün suggested I delve into a YouTube analysis of Mac Miller’s album “Circles” because it gave him some insight to see things from different angles. In return, I recommended “Either/Or” by Elliott Smith, recognizing the transformative potential of music as our possible last resort for future betterment.

 “Circles” is a posthumously released album by Mac Miller, a renowned artist, and rapper known for incorporating mental health and peace into his music. The album serves as an anecdote for the beautiful and vulnerable aspects of life. It felt like Miller’s plea for peace resonated with the inner turmoil and tumultuous breakdowns that Gün and I were experiencing as we were looping in the cycles of subsequent psychoanalysis that led to no final resolution. Mac Miller’s lyrics, combined with his unique singing style over ambient instrumentals, seamlessly blend, offering a comforting embrace that reassures us that everything will be alright. On the track “Hands,” Miller sings, “Why don’t you wake up from your bad dreams? / When was the last time you took a little time for yourself?” In this particular song, Miller expands upon his past behaviors and current mental health situation, reflecting on the negative thoughts that were consuming his present self. Miller impacted his listeners by how he disassembled such a big issue –in this case, depression– into something so beautiful and vulnerable, shaping his listeners through his music, like Gün and me. Tracks in “Circle” sparked a sense of hope, and our nights of self-sabotage turned into self-reflection, more focused on self-reflection as he resonated thoroughly with our sense of being. It would be necessary to say such intricate tones and beats were meticulously paired with his lyrical poetry; such messages and tones were our only source of inspiration and hope. 

 

In return, I suggested “Either/Or” by Elliott Smith because we both knew music might be the last resort for our future betterment. As Elliott Smith delves into his depression, anguish, and turmoil, his soft and relatively high-pitched voice almost serenades like a lullaby. If you describe musical comfort or finding the slightest sense of tranquility from music, Elliott Smith provides a philosophical and emotionally resonant outlet. How philosophical and inextricably connected to the basic human emotions, and human views on life has all been conveyed through the dim tones, and eerie theme his songs usually ensue. The reason why “Either/Or” is such a significant album is partially because Smith incorporated some ideals of the existentialist philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, specifically from Kierkegaard’s book called “Either/Or: A Fragment of Life.” Smith succeeded in mending and alleviating his loneliness and depression through the hauntingly beautiful acoustics while addressing the discrepancies in life by almost establishing his lyrics as an anthem for his solitude. Smith’s influence has been here with me ever since.

I wanted to share Elliott Smith’s songs with Gün as Gün had already produced similar songs and ballads during the lockdown, and I used to call him “Elliott Smith but make him Mongolian.” Gün loved and became heavily influenced by Smith’s works; he has been producing films, poetry, and songs that are genuinely the true representation of his inner journey. Gün has been extending his inspiration beyond Elliott Smith or Mac Miller, and he managed to shape himself and embark on a journey to assemble himself with the help of music, and how music has been his companion. When I attended the biggest music festival in Mongolia, Playtime, when Gün performed on the stage with his band, Blindfold, I could see how much he has changed over the years and his willingness to resonate with other people through his music. 

The scientific explanation of the connection between music and mental health, as well as neuroscience perspectives, is undeniably complex. Questions arise: Why does music evoke emotions? The anticipation building up toward the chorus triggers dopamine secretion in the striatum, and other intricate must happen in our brain. However, a neuroscience perspective falls short of explaining the long-term impact of music on the course of someone’s life, at least we can see how it shapes our identity. In contrast, real-life examples, like what happened to Gün, serve as an indication of how humans can be profoundly shaped by music. It’s more than just a tone or beat; it’s a lyrical picture painted on a canvas of meanings and tones. Mac Miller’s music serves as a reminder for me to take care of myself and acknowledge that life extends beyond what one can imagine and perceive, whereas Elliott Smith’s work provides a realistic sympathy for occasional breakdowns, offering views that I can relate to and feel, connecting his messages with philosophical ideals.