Moshing to Break-Up Songs: ACL’s Most Angsty Year Yet
Missed ACL? Here’s the rundown…
In the weeks leading up to ACL, I continuously heard comments about the lineup “sucking this year.” This was mostly from devout trap listeners of course. As for myself, a whimsical fangirl of all things indie and depressing, I couldn’t wait for this year’s lineup. With Wallows, Conan Gray, Tai Verdes, and Noah Cyrus—this year’s lineup was a dream for angsty teens like me. The lineup featured more alternative artists like The Marias and Japanese Breakfast than in previous years. While many headliners were “underground”to mainstream listeners, they were well-known to edgy Gen Zs. Conan Gray started off his concert by warning his fans to, “Have fun, but not too much fun…because all this music is depressing.” Leave it to the Gen Z’s to headbang to heart-break music.
This year’s lineup featured a lot of alternative artists.
Although Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Chicks, and Paramore are well-established artists; many of the other artists on the lineup have only recently achieved stardom like Conan Gray and Noah Cyrus. Their music is alternative compared to that of more mainstream artists like Pink, but all the sulking Gen Z’s reveled in their edgy vibe. I could almost feel the broody non-chalantness emanating from the stage. I’m not sure which was more potent, the angsty teen spirit or the usual, sweat-and-sunblock-mixed ACL musk.
Noah Cyrus and Conan Gray both skillfully transform harrowing and heart-rending experiences into boppy, catchy lyrics that an audience can easily sing along to. Noah’s set featured Lonely, a track from her second EP. This masterpiece of a song is a ballad about coping with numbing loneliness. The moment almost felt holy as the crowd swayed to Noah’s timbre voice careening the gut-wrenching line: “I don’t have a romantic life.”
Conan Gray exceptionally infused his light-hearted personality into his stage presence . In-between songs, he displayed funny clips from his various TV interviews on the big screen. One of these clips featured an interviewer who assumed Conan “must be going through a big breakup” because of his sulky breakup songs, to which Conan responded: “I’ve never dated anyone before. I guess I’m just a liar.” Essentially, Conan’s heart-break albums are about the kind of sting that results from loving someone who doesn’t love you back. I think we all felt that one.
My ACL experience this year was a dream. Unlike Conan and Noah, I have dated someone long-term. However, I must admit that some of my most powerful, feeling-soaked poetry has come from the pain of falling for someone yet remaining invisible to them. I almost laughed as I mentally took a step back and realized that a crowd of hundreds of people were jumping and waving their arms to Conan’s hit People Watching–-which is a song about longing for intimacy yet never experiencing it.
This year’s artists made the mosh pit of angsty, heartbroken teens leave the festival feeling good— yet bruised up and broken—a strange phenomenon.
Truthfully, this year’s exceptional festival was transcendent. The crowd sang about being ghosted, abandoned, rejected, and overlooked. Yet in the moment, as I screamed with strangers who felt like friends, I realized that everyone experienced a sliver of the various song lyrics. This year ACL featured artists who masterfully sang songs about being kicked down— yet overall, this made for an uplifting festival experience.