On The Merits of a Scream-Sing
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
(Written for WMTV zine Ramble On]
In the Poetics, famed Greek philosopher and wrong scientist Aristotle spoke on catharsis; he claimed that by observing the tragic on stage, a viewer experiences a release of repressed emotions, thus no longer suffering from this repression. At least twice a week, this catharsis happens in my silver 1999 Toyota 4-Runner—I climb in the driver’s seat, start the car up (usually on the first turn of the key), plug my phone into the aux, and get going. While I usually have a destination, I also have an ulterior motive: the chunky box of my car is the only place I have to really let loose and scream-sing.
Scream-singing is the act of singing so loud and with such abandon that it is half sing and half barbaric yawp, an act that provides that release of emotions that Aristotle talked about right after he got done saying that feathers were made of air or something equally as wrong. The scream-sing is another level of catharsis, however—not only can one observe this release of emotions in the song that is playing, but they play this out themselves, both a spectator and a dramatist. The scream-sing can be both an individual experience or a social activity; there is nothing that brings a group of two to five together like discovering they all know the words to Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.”
For people my age, the most social scream-sings tend to be 2000-era pop and rock, but any shared song can lead to a team-up-scream-sing session; a month or so ago, I had a very loud singalong to Snail Mail’s “Pristine” with my friend while his boyfriend designated-drove from Richmond to Williamsburg. This singalong came about a month after a hard breakup, and Snail Mail’s angst-ridden indie rock hit was the perfect way to release the post-breakup blues.
The scream-sang song, as this example shows, does not have to be a loud or boisterous one. While my ever-growing playlist of car catharsis songs includes anger outlets, such as Kanye West’s autotune-industrial “Hold My Liquor” (I promise I’m cutting down on Kanye since the great MAGA fallout), or happy hits, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s impenetrably upbeat “Boy Problems,” I also have a few downbeat or sleepy songs that I can still scream-sing. See “Ketchum, ID” by indie supergroup boygenius—while there is no build in volume during the song, the three singers’ joined voices make for a memorable, emotional chorus, and each verse follows a very predictable melody. Similarly, The Weeknd’s “Privilege” is another post-breakup hard-hitter that has a memorable melody and lyrics that cut, although the brevity of the song and the lack of repetition might make this song a scream-sing unique to myself and anyone else who still regularly listens to My Dear Melancholy,.
If you don’t have a go-to scream-sing playlist, I highly suggest making one. Compile all the songs to which you know all of the lyrics, songs to which you know other people know the lyrics, and songs whose lyrics are easy to pick up—this makes finding an agreeable playlist much easier when you introduce new friends to the musical environment of your aux cord. And when nobody else is in the car or you know your companions well enough, that is when your true singing chops can show themselves, and you can finally attain the catharsis that the very sexist Aristotle only wishes he could have.