James Blake Rejects “Sad Boy” Label As “Unhealthy And Problematic”
"I’ve seen enough friends drown in this."
James Blake has released a statement addressing stigmas around men discussing their mental health following a Pitchfork article that labelled him a “sad boy”.
The article and comments came after Blake released ‘Don’t Miss It’ this past weekend — his second standalone single since the release of his third album, The Colour In Anything, in 2016. The song is as sparse instrumentally as it is emotionally, letting Blake’s voice do the grunt work as he sings about trying to keep ‘cyclical thoughts’ from making him miss daily joys.
In his review published on Saturday, Pitchfork writer Kevin Lozano called the song “another beautifully brutal song to add to Blake’s large catalogue of sumptuous sad boy music”. Additionally, the review expressed frustration over the song — Lozano called Blake mopey, suggesting he “needs a night out” to help him return to the dancier tunes prominent in his early releases.
Shortly after the review went live, Blake shared a statement on Twitter in which he noted the ‘sad boy’ persona that has plagued his career. He called the label “unhealthy and problematic” in an “epidemic of male suicide and depression”, a reference to the fact that suicide is the largest cause of death for UK men under age 45.
Please read. I've wanted to say this for a long time, and now seemed as good a time as any. pic.twitter.com/1fSPt7SJnx
— James Blake (@jamesblake) May 26, 2018
“Sorry for this ‘sad boy’ letter, but I’ve seen enough friends drown in this, and almost drowned in it myself because I bottled everything up, afraid of being seen as weak or soft,” wrote Blake. “I now see the great strength, and benefit for those around you in actually opening up.”
In a follow-up tweet, Blake then linked to the Pitchfork review, writing “case in point”.
Blake has previously spoken about the harmful archetype of the troubled male artist. In 2016, ahead of the release of The Colour In Anything, Blake told Pitchfork he had pushed himself to not “be one of those artists that keeps themselves in a perpetual cycle of anxiety and depression just to extract music from that.”
Blake has been praised by several other musicians for speaking up, including English singer SOHN and Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander, who has addressed his own struggles with mental health and anxiety.
The statement was criticised, however, for a line in which Blake states that unlike men, women are ‘always believed’ in matters of mental health. While the weight of toxic masculinity upon male emotional expression and mental health is well-documented, women’s experiences, mental health and even physical pains are also continuously ignored.
Love your music James, and totally agree about importance of men expressing their feelings. But "we don’t ever question women discussing the things they are struggling with"?? Seriously?? I WiSH that were true. We're all in this together is a better way of looking at it.
— Tracey Thorn (@tracey_thorn) May 26, 2018
Not to be nit-picky but it’s weird that u specify suicide and depression as a “male epidemic”. Women get depressed too (actually more common in women than men) and this male suicide stat is very often used in male activist and alt right groups such as jordan peterson fanboys
— genuine girl (@genuine__girl) May 26, 2018
"… when we don't ever question women talking about things they are struggling with" – Really nasty stuff. Suicide attempt rates, anxiety & depression all higher for women, so while male suicide rate is a huge problem, this statement is untrue and unhelpful
— Eve Farrell (@miasmeon) May 26, 2018
Read the full statement from Blake below.
I’m overwhelmed by the lovely response to ‘Don’t Miss It’ today.
But I can’t help but notice, as I do whenever I talk about my feelings in a song, that the words “sad boy” are used to describe it.
I’ve always found that expression to be unhealthy and problematic when used to describe men just openly talking about their feelings. To label it at all, when we don’t ever question women discussing the things they are struggling with, contributes to the ever disastrous historical stigmatisation of men expressing themselves emotionally.
We are already in an epidemic of male depression and suicide. We don’t need any further proof that we have hurt men with our questioning of their need to be vulnerable and open.
It is only ever a good thing to talk about what is on your mind.
Please don’t allow people who fear their own feelings to ever subliminally shame you out of getting anything off your chest, or identifying with music that helps you. There is no great victory in machismo and bravado in the end. The road to mental health and happiness, which I feel so passionately about, is paved with honesty.
Sorry for this “sad boy” letter, but I’ve seen enough friends drown in this, and almost drowned in it myself because I bottled everything up, afraid of being seen as weak or soft. I now see the great strength, and benefit for those around you in actually opening up.