The Miserabalist Guide to Miserable Music Videos

Michael Stipe of R.E.M. in "Everybody Hurts"

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Despite its title, This Will End in Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music — a new book from Brooklyn author Adam Brent Houghtaling — posits the idea that sad songs aren’t just for the perpetually gloomy. They’re a dependable place to retreat to during our most melancholic moments and, often, help us to purge our sorrow. They’re also, often, the most intimate way that we experience music. “When you’re listening to them, you’re not with your friends — at a dinner party listening to sad music,” Houghtaling told Hive. “You’re usually by yourself, and it’s just your connection with the song and the song leaves a lot of things open to your imagination, kind of like a novel, so you can plug in a lot from your life because you’re not given a lot.” But that experience can become complicated by a music video. “When you’re looking at a video, sometimes you’re given a lot of information and you don’t necessarily root yourself as deep into the experience as you would if you’re supplying information that’s a back and forth with your experience and the song.” So we asked Houghtaling to share his top five saddest music videos with us, that give us enough space to dwell in and grieve alongside its characters. Read ‘em and weep.

1. Sinéad O’ Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”

Some people think that the worse off you are, the more your body reacts to anything that depresses you. It’s something in the book I refer to as “mirror, mirror, mirror, neurons” and people think that’s how we understand empathy: We mirror the emotional output of people around us. A music video heightens this, especially this one because all you’re doing is looking [Sinéad O’Connor’s] face when she cries. You can’t not engage in some way. The song is amazing and it’s hard to disassociate the video from it.

2. Johnny Cash, “Hurt”

The popular idea of Johnny Cash is “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.” He’s known as this country outlaw — “the man in black” — but you see him in the [“Hurt”] video almost as exploited. His eyes are so wet and he’s shaking. It was the last single released before he died, and he was literally nearing his death bed. It was captured in such detail that it can’t be anything but heartbreaking. Seeing him in this really intensely, vulnerable place kind of throws off our feeling of him and I think that’s one of the reasons that video is really moving.

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