Ariana Grande and the Science of the Lament

Nietzsche once said that “without music, life would be a mistake”. Ariana Grande seems to be the kind of musician that recognizes this. The song chosen to commemorate the horrific attacks in Manchester is by no means sad, and is even peppered with hints of celebration. According to science, this approach could not have been better.

While songs of celebration can cathartically fulfill the functions of a sorrowful lament, they can also play a huge role in our grieving process, and often reflect our own coping mechanisms. For those young women and men still in hospital, and especially for those in intensive care, listening to their favorite music can improve wellbeing, reduces anxiety, and distract from unpleasantness.

Sadness can of course be evoked through music, but in a way that leads to healing. Weeping when listening to music can have several rewards in particular, including catharsis, emotional intimacy, assurance, understanding, solidarity and resolve. Feelings of anger and disgust are very rarely ever induced through music. Furthermore, although listening to “your song” in the future will induce a heightened emotional reaction, it will not cue memories of specific autobiographical events, to the detriment of the attackers.

The perpetrators of this terrible event tried to poison music by injecting it with fear. They tried to strip away the heightened sense of community, the strength and the joy that music can bring.

At the One Love concert, in the face of fear and despair, music was used as a means to reinstate that which was taken away. As Grande herself said, this is “the medicine the world really needs right now.”


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