The Young STAR Sad Songs Playlist 2019

The Young STAR Sad Songs Playlist 2019

Featuring tracks from The National, Ourselves the Elves, Boygenius, RM, and more.

by Apa Agbayani, Bea Amador, Enzo Escober, and Jam Pascual


We listen to sad songs when we’re sad because we don’t want to be alone. There is a unique sense of peace, tinged deep blue, that comes with knowing that some song by some artist who doesn’t know your story resonates with the same frequency as your strained heartbeat. The lucky have friends and family and a robust sense of self-image to pull them through. But even when all those things are there, you’ll always need music.

What began as a Young STAR classic by alum Regina Belmonte is now a tradition we intend on continuing annually until the world runs out of tears to cry. We resurrected the idea last year with a playlist much like this. This year, the drill is the same — we’ve put together some of the songs that held us in times of distress and grief (or, well, during rainy season, when most people really feel it) and tell you why we love them. We hope they hold you too.

The National – Quiet Light (2019)

The National is a band of many sad songs, but this track from their latest album “I Am Easy To Find” is one of their strongest yet. So much of dealing with the end of love is learning to deal with empty time and space. In Quiet Light, Matt Berninger grapples with a silence so immense he’s left with nothing to do but watch the light change as the day passes. It’s a somber song about a maddening feeling and Berninger’s plainspoken delivery drives lines like “Between you and me I still fall apart at the thought of your voice” a little too close to home. — Apa Agbayani

Ourselves the Elves – Shellfish (2019)

Love is not unconditional. It is an experience of good faith transactions — to choose the same person everyday, hoping they’ll do the same for you, is essentially a deal. This is a cynical view to take, but not difficult to consider if, for example, even after you’ve lowered your defenses to let someone you love in, you find that they keep things from you, hide, clam up brood. Is it selfish to ask them why you aren’t their refuge? This wasn’t part of the deal. Shellfish wrestles with the perfectly valid anxiety of not being the perfect partner for someone, just because you want from them what you already give. And the way Ourselves the Elves plays it, they make it clear that it isn’t your fault, but they still give you a song to sit with the feeling for a little while Jam Pascual

Stereophonics – Climbing the Wall (2003)

Climbing the Wall begins like a parade, spinning with glistening guitars and celebratory horns. But the cause for festivities seems to have gotten lost in translation. Questions without answers are tossed into the abyss: “So what makes you and what makes me / What makes people lie through their teeth / What makes ten-ton trains rail me under the sea.” Its defeatist lilt seems to betray our perennial loss for words. Enzo Escober

Seafret – Oceans (2016)

You know a song is good when it evokes a certain feeling from you despite not having experienced the same story. I hear this song and I think of a love that is too painful to bear. There’s a sense of desperation — a pining for someone who seems so close yet so far. 10/10 would recommend for some real sawi feels. Bea Amador

Honne – Sometimes (2018)

“Sometimes I’m stupid. Sometimes I’m fucking hard work… I only know how to hurt.” That’s it. That’s the tweet. BA

Bat For Lashes – Sad Eyes (2006)

One of the most impossible tasks known to humankind is breaking through someone else’s sadness. Even if someone wants to let you in, they don’t always know how. Bat For Lashes’ Sad Eyes paints that tension with improbable tenderness and nuance. Here, Natasha Khan acknowledges the dual suffering that comes with loving someone whose sadness consumes them. It is a song that never finds peace, that gazes longingly into someone’s sad eyes but never makes it past that front. AA

Movements – Fever Dream (2017)

Depression can sometimes feel like a knife twisting, but not always. Sometimes it is a dumbing thing, a malady that flattens all other emotions and experiences into a barren, dry field of feeling. This is the headspace of Fever Dream. In the second verse, vocalist Patrick Miranda talks about driving in his car and slamming his fist on the steering wheel until his knuckles bleed. Imagine the frustration loaded into all that kinetic energy. Pushing 80 on the flyover just to feel the thrill of acceleration, and then steadying yourself just to not crash. What else is there to do but flail and wild out inside the vessel you pilot? JP

Laura Marling – Take The Night Off/I Was An Eagle/You Know/Breathe (2013)

This is cheating a little but Laura Marling opens her fourth album “Once I Was An Eagle” with these four tracks recorded in one sweeping take, so bear with me. It’s 16 minutes of music lyrically rich with shifting shades of sadness. In Take The Night Off, Marling begs a beast to leave her side. In I Was An Eagle, she reassesses a love that’s long gone from her. In You Know, she writes a lilting elegy to innocence. In Breathe, she makes a tender farewell to the heaviness of the world. Taken individually, they’re beautiful, but together they’re masterful and sonically overwhelming. AA

Boygenius – Me & My Dog (2018)

Indie supergroup boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus) really did a number on us when they released an EP last year. Sadness had rarely felt so concentrated on a record as when it was harmonized by these three voices. Bridgers leads their masterpiece Me & My Dog, a song that begins in an anxiety attack and ends with a plea to escape to outer space. As the climax of the song hits, they sing, “I wish I was on a spaceship, just me and my dog and an impossible view.” Given the chance, I, too, would leave the world behind in a heartbeat to float in space with my dog. Wouldn’t you? AA

Sabu – Glances (2019)

There is something about the piano interludes that would make you feel soft af. The anxiety and uncertainty that comes with a non-relationship relationship is perfectly captured in this song. Plus, it’s a song from the movie Ulan, so it’s basically the perfect rainy day sad song. BA

Empress Of – When I’m With Him (2018)

It is easy to get lost in love — in the salve it offers against sadness, in the refuge it provides from the world. Leaving love is harder. You must work your way out of a labyrinth of your own design. Over urgent drum loops and aching synths, Empress Of’s When I’m With Him is a confession from the most bewildering part of the maze. “Dime dónde voy; dime dónde fui,” Lorely Rodriguez sings. Tell me where I’m going; tell me where I’ve gone. It is the exact moment you know you need to leave someone behind but you don’t know how to begin the journey. AA

RM – uhgood (2018)

In his mixtape “mono.” , RM talks of some very deep and personal thoughts, where he bares his soul through subdued beats and honest lyrics. uhgood talks about that feeling of inadequacy, and of a self awareness of your faults and society’s definition of success. The lines “Why do I feel lonely? I feel so lonely when I’m with me” hit me so hard when I first listened to the song. When I Googled the translations for the Korean parts, the song just hurt a lot more. BA

UMI – Remember Me (2018)

There is one person that comes to my mind when I listen to this. I think of him, of all that was, and of all that could have been. I will think about the last time I saw him, how his hands felt in mine, and how he made me feel. To listen to this song is to start wondering about what ifs over and over again.  BA

Better Oblivion Community Center – Didn’t Know What I Was in For (2019)

Here is an anthem for the crippling hopelessness of our time. If you’ve ever been discouraged by a bleak news cycle, fallen for a hollow corporate ploy to Support a Good Cause, or reckoned with your own complicity in social injustices, Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s lyrics will sound familiar — but not in a way that will make you nod your head in approval. Didn’t Know What I Was in For scores the often surreal sensation of watching the world spin further into disarray. When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll be expected to function like a normal human being. EE

.wendil – Maturity (2018)

It is possible to dig so deep into sorrow that you end up on the other side of joy. “You’re far away from where you used to be / Or maybe life could get better / In little strokes,” opines electronic musician Mika Manikan through what may as well be night saturated in smoke and neon lights and the epiphanies that can only come from the sighting of someone you used to love, and maybe still do, but not as fervently as before. Yeah, you’re alone. You’re lonely. So what? Is loneliness a sickness you’re supposed to kill, or a condition that can serve you if you handle it properly? Maturity will tell you, gently, maybe it’s the second thing. JP

SOPHIE – It’s Okay To Cry (2018)

SOPHIE’s affiliates in the record label PC Music concoct a peculiar kind of pop music, one that blurs the line between high art parody and camp earnestness to create something surreal, and that weirdness is a big part, it seems, of what makes It’s Okay To Cry special. Like, it’s actually weird for someone to tell you, with one hundred percent sincerity, that it’s perfectly fine to be absolutely soft in a sharp-edged world. SOPHIE is breaking through the post-ironic condition of our time to tell you this, and you owe it to yourself to listen. JP

FKA twigs – Cellophane (2019)

Undergirded by a hoarse piano arrangement and creaking vocal percussion, FKA twigs reflects on a relationship’s long and excruciating suffocation. Her breathy soprano is Cellophane‘s centerpiece, simultaneously vulnerable and omniscient. When she draws in air, it’s like she’s fighting for her life; when she acknowledges those who wish failure upon her, it’s a small victory. But the song’s bitter core has to do with futility: you can give yourself completely to someone, but there’s nothing to prevent the whole thing from collapsing anyway. EE

Nina Simone – I Loves You, Porgy (1958)

Never has I Loves You, Porgy‘s forlorn sense of tragedy been given more color than in the version performed by Nina Simone. The high priestess of soul is known for her fist-in-the-air defiance, but here she is wistful and acceptant, a woman who knows that her days with her beloved are numbered. When her soft piano solo comes on, it sounds like you’re intruding on an intimate moment, a drunken slow dance, the calm before the storm. EE

Niki Colet – Big City (2019)

“I live in a big city that feels like a very small town,” Niki Colet sings. This isn’t just a slow-burning ode to Manila, it’s a mirror held up to our alienation and ennui. In Big City, time moves at a glacial pace, even though everyone’s always in a rush. It is a state of hyper-awareness and blank resignation. When people seek intimacy, it is the semblance of closeness they crave, not necessarily the person they’re holding. EE

Free Cake for Every Creature – Goodbye, Unsilently (2018)

“I don’t believe the reasons that I give for not knowing what you’ve been up to,” is a confession that Philadelphia songwriter makes as if she is admitting it to herself for the first time. Before that, and outside the song’s world, must have a journey of concessions most people have to make in order to explain a distance uncrossed. What pulls people apart? Jobs, conflicting schedules, dreams pulling dreamers different trajectories — it is hard to say. All we know is that people go away, and all Katie knows is to walk away from what hurts, but not without saying her piece. JP

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