Nessa Barrett’s debut album Young Forever made its premiere on the 14th of October this year, and presents a powerful commentary on mental health, in particular borderline personality disorder (BPD) which Nessa has openly spoken about struggling with. At only 20 years old, Nessa first gained fame through Tiktok and currently has a follower count of 19.6 million. She has released music in the past – her first EP Pretty Poison in 2021- which discusses toxic relationships and how mental health plays into such relationships. Young Forever, however, takes a more sophisticated turn and starts to address more profound issues such as depression, suicidal thoughts, the power of social media, and religion. Nessa has always used her platform to discuss her struggles with BPD and eating disorders, however this album in particular is important in many ways for her young, primarily female, fanbase.
Mental health is the album’s overriding theme, which is immediately evident through her choice of song titles. For example, gaslight is a pop-song looking into how a partner calls her ‘’crazy’’ for going through his phone despite him being the one who has cheated on her. Lyrics such as: ‘’why do you tell me not to worry when you always F’ing hurt me’’ and ‘’turn me to a girl I don’t wanna be’’ address a shared experience that people go through in relationships where their partner cheats. The striking piano rhythm enforces this and gives the song an on-edge feel while the repetition of the word ‘’why’’ continues to cement a feeling of confusion.
Another song that stands out is talk to myself, a song about Nessa feeling like she is her own worst critic and that nobody else could insult her the way she insults herself. I think that this track will resonate with most people, as we often criticise and judge ourselves more harshly than we do others. For example, the lyrics ‘’if you talk to me, like I talk to myself, I’d give you the finger, I’d say “Go to hell’’.” Music can be incredibly cathartic for both the artist and the listener, and Nessa’s focus on mental health in a relatable and accessible way goes a long way in helping people understand that it’s normal and okay to feel like this. So often influencers feel detached from the ‘’ordinary’’ person, yet this album, particularly this song, opens up the discussion of how it doesn’t matter if you are conventionally pretty or successful in life; mental health affects anyone and everyone.
Relationships are a common theme within pop albums generally, and this record is no different. Songs such as unnecessary violence address the many ways that toxic relationships can contribute to negative self-worth and mental health. However, what is unique is that throughout the album, Nessa also plays into the importance of self-love. In this way, unnecessary violence, with its lyrics such as ‘’And if I ever get happy, I can count on you to put me through your, unnecessary violence’’, directly contrast lyrics like ‘’I’ve never looked better than this,’’ in too hot to cry. This contrast is powerful as it encourages listeners to think about unnecessary opinions, especially when it comes to strangers on the internet. Why do we place so much value on what others think of us? Of course, that is not to say that feelings are invalid because, as she says in unnecessary violence, ‘’words you speak are killing me violently’’. This dilemma expressed through her music clearly displays the reality of mental health and issues within relationships; you know someone is wrong for you, but you can’t help but be sucked into this cycle of ‘’unnecessary violence’’.
What is also interesting is that Nessa shows that relationships do not need to be romantic to be ‘’toxic’’. Most of her songs can easily be interpreted as being about the internet and ‘’hate’’ more generally, or about herself and how her own mind is violent. That is what I love about this album. She leaves it up to the listener to resonate in any way they feel fits, which can be vital in helping people to feel understood and not alone.
Religion is a sub-theme found in the album, and Nessa addresses the toxicity of her relationship with God throughout her mental health journey, and thus connects all the above-mentioned themes. Dear God is a song about feeling like she doesn’t even ‘’fit into heaven’’, a place that is supposed to be a perfect utopia. This is perhaps one of her most intricate songs; she uses symbolism in lyrics such as ‘’angel wings sewed on to [her] back with black ribbon’’. This symbolises how one may feel rejected from happiness while also recognising feelings of inevitable failure. The phrase ‘’Black ribbon’’ evokes images of darkness, an image painted continuously throughout this album. Songs from other artists such as Demi Lovato’s Happy Ending (with lyrics such as ‘‘I met God… sat in his house… and saw I didn’t fit in’’), discuss this same feeling of not fitting into heaven, but perhaps the overall message from these albums is that this idea of a ‘’utopia’’ is not comforting for everyone, and it is okay to feel this way.
To conclude, while this review has covered what I feel is powerful about Nessa’s album, this lyrical genre opens up many avenues for interpretation. They are songs to be closely listened to, sung out loud, and are made to be cathartic. Nessa has a long way to go in the music industry, but it is inspirational to see such a young woman talking about significant issues that we all face and reminding people that it is okay to feel this way. You and your mental health are important and valid, no matter what is going on. I hope you enjoy the album as much as I did, and I can’t wait to see what Nessa has coming next.