Since the overdose-related death of emo-trapper Lil Peep last month, the dialogue on addiction, depression, and other mental health issues within popular music has been held to greater scrutiny. True to form, VICE wasted no time releasing a short doc addressing the matter through the life of Peep’s colleague, Diego “Lil Xan” Leanos. As his name suggests, Xan is not shy in being forthcoming about his chemical romance, but he’s been equally open about the decline from partying into abuse and dependency.
That’s why when I shambled on down to the comment section on “Lil Xan Would Like to Make You Sober,” I was a little more than frustrated when I found myself in a cancer burrito of hypocrisy allegations. How can he want to make you sober when he has a bottle of lean in his hand at 2:10!!!!!11!!1! Well, you fucking hamsters, I’m about to offer some insights on how awareness versus glorification works. Just to back up my boy Xan even more, I’m going to illustrate a more troubling example of how the realities of mental illness are implicitly sold to kids as rainbows and lollipops – the work of Melanie Martinez.
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional. What follows is my perspective as a [Lil] Xan fan and [former] Martinez listener who also happens to have 99 problems.
Jumping right in, what Lil Xan’s story succeeds in highlighting is the difficulty of being addicted to downers while legitimately having an anxiety disorder. Comparisons could be drawn to having a food addiction – you can’t completely eliminate the drug without detrimental results. While someone like Xan may not necessarily die from his anxiety as a direct result from the elimination of chemical intervention, his quality of life could dwindle to the point where he wouldn’t be able to support himself. Or, in the extreme case, he could take his own life as the most viable means for ending his suffering.
Re: That’s an awful lot of cough syrup in your hand, Xan. I hear you, I do. Contrary to calling critics hamsters b/c satisfying, I can see how shit may not be adding up to the anxiety/addiction layman. Let me interject another perspective; when it comes to keeping anxiety at bay, perhaps lean has become the lesser of two evils, particularly in the wake of Peep’s death. Lean can be procured on the street in a sealed bottle while Xans can be pressed with ingredients like Fentanyl. There you go. I’m not saying that that makes lean the medically-appropriate treatment for anxiety, but to be fair, I don’t think that’s what Xan or VICE is saying, either.
Again, this scene is telling the story of how complex addiction can be to manage when you’re also attempting to manage underlying mental illness. Offering a personal anecdote, there are many nights where I need some kind of [OTC] syrupy intervention in lieu of large quantities of alcohol to make my panic attacks quell long enough to get to sleep. Am I proud of it? No, but I’m still less un-proud of that than drinking a couple of bottles of wine every night. It just seems like the best I can do given the reality that it’s difficult to get a doctor to provide a safe source of benzos—even with an anxiety disorder diagnosis—with a history of alcohol abuse being that both drugs yield similar effects. The whole paradox fucking sucks, but I’m glad the complexity of the opioid/benzo epidemic is being brought to the surface because ignorance sure as hell isn’t going to curate effective, substantive solutions.
Xan’s mother, Candy, further details this double-edged sword by expressing her struggle with not knowing the extent to which she should intervene in his drug use. While using a parental carte blanche to bar him from any pharmaceutical use would be the knee-jerk response, an ethical conundrum presented itself as she found herself standing in the way of his journey towards peace with anxiety. Overall, she does an excellent job at articulating what I think a lot of addicts’ loved ones are low key puzzled by. I’m hopeful that getting this message out there will inspire some meaningful conversations between families and medical professionals.
Further, I would like to dismantle seeming contradictions within Xan’s lyrics. In “Slingshot,” the rapper brazenly states “I like lean/I like drugs/I like Beamz/I got plugs.” But with equal conviction in “Betrayed,” he elaborates that “Xans don’t make you/Xans gon’ take you/Xans gon’ fake you/Xans gon’ betray you.” So, which one is it? Well, as I’ve suggested countless times throughout Thirsty Thursday history, shit doesn’t always have to be one way or the other. You don’t just wake up one day addicted to Xans and/or having near misses with the law for flipping them. There’s a backstory that probably hid behind rose-colored clout goggles before they dun fell of his face.
It’s important to tell the whole story of addiction and not just the final chapter. You’re not going to seem credible when warning about the dangers of Xanax if you don’t acknowledge that the drug was once an integral love of your life. Otherwise you just sound like Nancy Reagan or the D.A.R.E lion. Xan also takes it one step further by placing these subliminal warnings into normal teen music talk of hookups and, well, Skittles. The result? Overnight success that’s earned him a spot in front of crowds of kids every night. Sounds pretty effective to me.
So, Melanie Martinez. This is where we really start leaning…over the line into the cutesification of mental illness (I’ll see myself out). She’s one of those alternative people that thought it was on-brand to go on a show like The Voice, but I had still been known to have a good cry to Cry Baby (2015) every now and again nevertheless. Note use of the past tense. Martinez has been in the news lately, and not for anything good. While I’m not formally touching the allegations against her with a ten-foot pole, the scenario has made me take greater consideration of Martinez’s music.
Like Xan, Martinez is no stranger to criticism. But, the fact that she feels compelled to directly address it suggests that she knows what she’s doing is questionable and thus feelings like she needs to justify herself away for the sake of self-preservation. The lengthy captions on some of her recent Instagram photos address accusations of glorifying being “bonkers” and putting forth a sexualized image of a young girl…like, younger than Lolita young. As I’ve stated plenty of times in my critique of the American Horror Story franchise, if you have to ask if something is self-aware satire, then you’re not doing it effectively. Shit just isn’t translating. Also, asserting that your brand is art for art’s sake isn’t a justification for putting forth a message that’s extremely problematic. A further aside – her brand is also rearing itself as one-dimensional, so it’s hard to even argue that she’s at least contributing something culturally groundbreaking. There’s only so far you can stretch the Alice in Wonderland shtick. Perhaps that’s why she’s still releasing videos for an album that dropped two years ago.
In any event, let’s jump right into some lyrical analysis. In “Sippy Cup,” “you got weights in your pockets when you go to the doctors/your favorite candy’s cotton/that’s why all your teeth are rotten” is a pretty clear nod to keeping an eating disorder either completely undetected or feigning recovery to escape treatment. If you’ve never experienced an eating disorder or never unearthed Skins from your Netflix list, that method of weight manipulation is not uncommon. In terms of the second line, I think I can speak for many fellow bulimics when I say that it feels like stomach bile is being compared to cotton candy. The reoccurring exposure to stomach acid wears down your teeth to the point where they can fall out. In anorexic terms, cotton candy could be taken as eating air. Overall, I don’t think I’m reaching with these interpretations, and I also don’t think I’m reaching when I say kitschy candy metaphors in this context aren’t cute.
Martinez follows up with “silly girls with silly boys.” The line makes sense intellectually – a commentary on how 1. people don’t understand the motivations behind EDs and 2. an example of how infantilization can be used as a mental manipulation tool. But, if you were to hear this line in the midst of the ED brain k-hole, it could possibly inflict the kind of shame that her music is allegedly supposed to counteract. It could also imply that young women who suffer from eating disorders are consciously engaging in this behavior for the attention of boys, which is too many shades up fucked up to fully dissect here. Nevertheless, both points raise an interesting question – who is she speaking to exactly?
The answer becomes increasingly less clear with “Mrs. Potato Head” – a song I liked dearly on the surface level, but if I allowed my mind to dig deeper, I would come across some pre-existing holes. The focus on plastic surgery—particularly in the video—is sort of an odd choice. It seems passé aside from the filler trend, which isn’t as invasive as, say, the boob job era of Girls Next Door womandom. Where’s the talk of weight now? This seems like it would be the appropriate time to bring it up. Sure, I can relate to the overarching message of the song, but only to a point. While I have starved myself and have more pancake than IHOP, I can’t say I’ve ever taken part in plastic surgery (and I’m confident in asserting that her target demographic would echo that sentiment). It comes across like she was just really itching to extend that “they’ll stick pins in you like a vegetable” metaphor. Sure, it’s cute and clever, but not the most effective one for telling the complete story of poor body image.
Overall, Martinez paints a passive picture of women that tastes much sweeter than its reality. While society does continually break us in terms of our confidence and self-worth, that doesn’t mean we all turn into Raggedy Ann dolls. Like Xan, we become jaded. We become guarded. We scowl a little harder when some asshole tells us to smile. This disillusionment is an accurate mental picture – not dreams of dollies and macaroon tea parties.
As the computer-throwing tingles begin to set it in, I’m finding the need to draw things to a close. Basically, awareness tells the whole truth and nothing but the truth at every stage of every struggle. It uses the most strategic literary techniques—not the most flowery ones—to reach its audience. Additionally, it understands the complexities of different distress, and it communicates them naturally being that they’re part of an organic life narrative. So, before you go on a keyboard roast of Lil Xan, I implore you to weigh his work—as well as the work of your other favorite artists—in these terms.
You can find Jenna on instagram.
Tune in next week to Thirsty Thursday for more from Jenna.
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