What makes a sad song sad? Is it lyrics about heartbreak and pain like P-Square’s Omoge Mi or slow-tempo productions like Darey Art Alade’s Not The Girl? If you said both, then you’re absolutely correct.
Men making sad boy music has been a thing for a long time, but there’s something about 2022’s releases that’s been overwhelmingly sad… but still danceable.
“E don cast. Last last, na everybody go chop breakfast,” from Burna Boy’s Last Last has soundtracked everything from weddings to sold-out concerts this year. Reminiscent of his 2018 hit, Ye, Last Last has become an anthem everyone is obsessed with. But the truth is, we’ve turned two of Odogwu’s darkest periods into club songs sung over red cups and shisha.
Last Last allegedly talks about Burna Boy’s break up with British rapper, Stefflon Don: “Maybe another time, maybe another life, you’d be wife, and we’d get it right”, and an accident he had in February 2022: “Now, you crash your Ferrari for Lekki, Burna. Na small thing remain, could’ve been all over”. Taking a break from ego-fueled hits, Burna Boy leaned into his vulnerable side for this song, and it totally paid off.
But Last Last isn’t the only sad song on his album, Love Damini. Despite the misleading dance beat, Burna wonders if anything he does will ever be enough on It’s Plenty. He sings about his struggles with mental health and coming out of a bad place on How Bad Could It Be? And on the album’s outro, Love Damini, he goes into full self-drag mode, talking about his anger issues and not reaching out to the people in his life.
With songs like these, Love Damini may just be Burna’s most personal album yet, and the record that started this year’s sad boy era of music.
RECOMMENDED: Do We Love Burna Boy’s “Love, Damini”?
With a fresh trap and R&B-influenced sound, Omah Lay’s Get Layd EP and singles, Bad Influence and Damn made him a household name in the same year artists like Wizkid, Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy all dropped career-defining albums. While his EP revealed an artist deeply connected to his emotions, it wasn’t until 2021’s Understand with lyrics like: “I thought we in this together. Give you my necklace pendant. Give you my last card, you spend am. I show you my best friend, you friend am,” that shit started to get real.
By the time his debut album, Boy Alone (omo, even the title says it all), dropped, it was clear Omah Lay was in his full emo phase.
The album’s opening track, Recognize, finds Omah Lay trying to convince himself he’s made for fame. Alcohol, as a tool to escape imposter syndrome and loneliness, is the theme of I’m a Mess. And by the time the album’s closer, Purple Song, rolls out, Omah Lay has gone through the motions of heartbreak, loss and redemption in under 40 minutes.
RECOMMENDED: Omah Lay’s Emotions Take Centre Stage on “Boy Alone”
Closing out sad boy era, for now, is one of the alté scene’s secret weapons, Yinka Bernie.
Probably one of the most vulnerable projects on this list (and of the year), Yinka Bernie’s Something New EP is introspective and deeply moving. There’s something soothing about his vocals and melody that makes you feel his every emotion on that song even before you really understand the lyrics.
Opening with Who Do You Call?, Yinka asks the question over and over again, as if waiting for you to provide a clear answer, before ending with “You can call me.” In a time when we’re interrogating who men talk to when times get rough, this song feels very apt and necessary.
Closing out the 12-minute EP, Yinka Bernie reminds us It’s Okay to Cry, with backing vocals from Joyce Olong. This song is where Yinka is most vulnerable, singing lines like: “Every time I think about death, I drown. You see your friends progress while you stuck”. Despite being so raw with his fears and doubts, Yinka manages to make the song calming and reassuring for his listeners. When he ends the song with “Breathe in. Breathe out,” you almost find yourself following his instructions.
We need more sad boy music
As someone who thrives on sad music, I enjoyed these albums and appreciated the artists’ decision to be as vulnerable as possible. Listening to these songs is like reading entries from their diaries.
With 2022 coming to an end, I’m hopeful for some more sad boy music. No, I’m not a masochist. I just enjoy being in my feelings, no matter how dark they are.