It’s the fact that Eminem sold 2 million copies of an album in one week and still saw his girl kissing another dude outside of a club the next month. It’s the fact that you’ve slept with enough girls with boyfriends to know that nothing’s sacred. It’s the fact that your girl is being honest about not hooking up with the bro she was in that picture with, but it still gives you no peace. We’re trying to live up to some false ideal of security and manhood that was last exemplified in, like, our grandfather’s generation. It doesn’t feel right anymore. The tides have shifted.
In a way, it’s nothing new. Jim Morrison was singing about being a sad boy 40 years ago. The entire course of human history has pretty much been defined by the brash decisions of moody, temperamental people. But now the bubble’s burst, and for men in particular.
I mean, we’ve always been sad, but it’s the fairer sex who’s been painted as the emotional ones. Ever since Eve lifted that apple, shit’s been a wrap. Well, that’s all changing, and so vividly in front of us that this whole sad thing is suddenly, like, a big deal.
Being sad is the last frontier of honesty and individuality. Men’s fashion can’t get any weirder. It’s not 2005 where rocking slim denim at the height of 50 Cent mania is some bold statement. It’s not 2007 where you’re literally walking around with a fucking keffiyeh wrapped around your neck because Kanye is doing it and you’re cool enough to pull it off even though tons of people think you look like an idiot. It’s 2013 and unless you’re gonna wear the Margiela S&M disco ball mask, you’re not doing shit.
Not that the person hasn’t always mattered, but it’s not the MySpace era where cool pictures alone allow you to form an image though a bunch of herbs on Instagram will try to convince you otherwise. Sure, that personality-as-wholly-superficiality exists to some degree, but we’re more familiar with the tricks. It’s about the human behind the photos and digital personas and you really have to come with it in order to stand out in a world where a guy wearing a skirt isn’t really all that shocking. Men are expected to be these unrealistically stoic, impenetrable beings. Why not revolt against all that? Is a contrarian still a contrarian if they’re being truthful?
And that’s the gut of where all of this sad boy shit comes from. I was eating a burger the other day and saw a girl so beautiful that I literally wanted to cry and almost did when I realized I’d never see her again. The entire experience just seemed so rare and poetic and Whitman-like and transcendental and that kind of moment when life turns you into the plastic bag dude from American Beauty. And, you know what? It’s embarrassing and soft as fuck until you literally laugh out loud about it because it’s like, yo, this is now totally acceptable behavior. I no longer felt shame. I found no need to toughen up or redeem myself by spitting some ridiculous game. I was totally comfortable in my sadness. And that shit was liberating.
We’re feeling some type of way on behalf of every explorer and historical figure remembered as some fake ass comic book hero type, like that shit wasn’t real and emotional.
Listen, we can all still be “tough guys” and maybe, if we’re drunk and agro enough, get in a verbal dispute and yell at the top of our lungs about how we want nothing more than to punch another grown man in the fucking face. But sometimes we’re not fighting because we’re listening to Michelle Branch. And sometimes we’re not sexing up the world’s finest because we’re crying into a burger because we didn’t have the balls to talk to some girl. I’m totally cool with this and that’s what being a sad boy is about.
Different people express it different ways, but at the end of the day there’s a certain comfort with the proliferation of emotion in the men of today and specifically our generation. Like I’ve said, it’s no secret that men have always been sad. An economic depression sandwiched between two world wars was nothing pleasant, but the filter over our emotions has changed.
There are more outlets than ever to share our feelings. We’re less hush about how guys get cheated on. There’s more female equity because humanity is progressing and in giving them the respect they deserve there’s less trepidation about rejecting the traditional gender roles forced upon us as men. We’re a little more realistic with each passing day and can acknowledge male emotion on a different level. This is what allows the Sad Boy to flourish.
Part of this is a push for individuality, and part of it is the circumstances of the time. It’s one big perfect storm. For the first time, societal shit is opening up and allowing male emotion to thrive. Being a sad boy right now is a bit like being a pioneer in some sense. We’re feeling some type of way for every explorer and historical figure remembered as some fake ass comic book hero type, like their journey wasn’t real and emotional. It’s time we embrace our newfound transparency and invert this shit into honest, acceptable behavior.
With that comes the new swag. Seven years ago, it was about wearing this and convincing people it was real. It was the moment in high school when Von Dutch convinced you to pay $75 for a trucker hat two despite it being over two months later. We still stunt—men always will—but it’s not what makes you. And it never really did. You can’t hide behind your new shoes anymore. Everyone else already has and they probably Instagram’d it before you anyway.
What someone hasn’t done before you is tweet at 4am about how they’re sobbing to Katy Perry. And who knows, maybe after Yung Lean and Nothing Was The Same it’s all over. Maybe this article is the Sad Boy movement’s eulogy. All I know for sure is that I’m not gonna stop being sad and, most likely, neither will you. All that’s left is whether or not we embrace it.
Ernest Baker is a writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter here.