Recently, a popular singer/songwriter/rapper named XXXtentacion was murdered in a robbery. I had never heard of the artist. When I saw a picture of him, I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes (facial tattoos are difficult for me to normalize). My judgements got even worse once I read that he had an upcoming court date because he was charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman (his ex) and other serious charges. So when I heard that XXXtentacion had a large young following, I wasn’t upset that all these youth would have to pick another musical artist to identify with. It made me sad that this person was looked up to by so many.
Unfortunately, I missed an opportunity to understand and empathize with the teens that I work with. I missed an opportunity to help heal and I missed an opportunity to help parents connect with their children. Since his murder 9 days ago, I’ve heard from multiple parents that their teen was openly upset about XXX’s death. I’ve also had multiple teenage clients tell me that they are mourning the loss of XXX. The experience humbled me, and made me recognize some biases that I hold.
I wish this blog was to tell you that I now fully understand and respect XXX, his music, and his fans. Unfortunately, I’m still in the dark about him. In order to move forward, I plan to listen to my clients who are mourning so I can understand what he meant to them. I have begun asking what they liked about him and his music. As I’ve listened, I’ve heard lyrics about failure, hope, fear, and redemption. These are all powerful stories that XXX’s fans are connecting with. In his popular song, “everybody dies in their nightmares,” the artists sings:
“Tired of feelin’ like I’m trapped in my damn mind
Tired of feelin’ like I’m wrapped in a damn lie
Tired of feelin’ like my life is a damn game
Nigga really wanna die in the night time”
Immediately, I began to see similar feelings that teenagers feel. Feeling trapped and feeling cynical about life are common themes that I hear in the therapy room with teenagers. In the last line, XXX says that he wants to die in the night time. In 2015, almost one-fifth (18%) of teenagers reported seriously thinking about committing suicide. I found this article an insightful place to start when trying to understand XXX and his fans. In the article, they write “For many fans, he expresses the type of difficult-to-control emotions they grapple with daily.”
New music… Familiar themes…
I was turned onto a punk rock band named Bad Religion when I was a teenager. My Catholic parents were outraged that I’d listen to such angsty rebellious music. I recently looked up the lyrics of their song “better off dead,” the band sings:
“Better off dead, a smile on the lips and a hole in the head. Better off dead, yeah better than this
Take it away cause there’s nothing to miss
I’m sorry about the world
How could I know you’d take it so bad?
And I’ll never make the same mistake”
I’m sure that my parents also rolled their eyes when they saw those punk rockers with mohawks, piercings, and tattoos. I can only imagine my parent’s concern if they had heard those lyrics above, idolizing suicide and talking about hating the world. But, for me, I identified with those angsty lyrics about pain and confusion. For many years, artists have expressed their emotions and suffering. The themes that XXX sings about are more relatable that you think.
Music Is Healing
Music has an amazing ability to heal. Hearing that another person feels or thinks similarly can be very helpful. Seeing another person share your struggles and reach for redemption can be inspiring. I often talk to clients about their musical preferences because it can often tell me a lot about them.
Don’t miss a great opportunity to use music as a vehicle for talking to your teen about themselves. Ask your teen if they’ve heard of XXXtentacion and what they think about him. In the car, ask them to play some of the music that interests them and then listen with an open mind. Inquire about why your child likes their favorite artists, a certain song, or specific lyrics. As I’ve listened to my teenage clients about XXX, I feel like I’ve gained a whole new understanding and connection with them.
Chris Koniarczyk is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Addictions Counseling in Denver, CO. He is the owner of Christopher John Counseling, which specialized in teen therapy. If your young adult or family want additional help with family functioning, click here to schedule a free in-person consultation.