Ennui. Nietzsche pondered it; Kierkegaard was burdened by it. Sylvia Plath even wrote a poem about it. “What’s the point?” asks ennui, the existential heartbeat of boredom. By Oxford’s definition, ennui is “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.”
As it turns out, you don’t have to be an award-winning poet or miserable philosopher to achieve a state of ennui. We’ve all experienced this feeling, despite the fact that we can learn virtually anything on the Internet, tweet, and make hot food appear at our doors simply by tapping a magic glowing rectangle. Luckily, there are plenty of musicians that have turned this state of existence into song; from tepid teen restlessness to middle class monotony, here are seven not-at-all boring songs about existential dread.
The perfect anthem for teenage weariness, we’ve all surely sung the words, “Nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh /I wanna be sedated.” Don’t let the pop pep of The Ramones deceive you; this track is bathed in boredom—the kind that makes being unconscious sound like the most exciting #lifegoal out there.
A song so drowned in ennui even good old-fashioned masturbation can’t save the day. “I’m so damn bored, I’m going blind,” Billie Joe Armstrong sings in his tenor whine. And to make matters worse, he “smells like shit.” Perhaps a shower would have been too boring.
Blur’s music deals with drudgery more often than not—you could say they put the “Brit” in “Britpop” because of their dedication to English banality. “Villa Rosie” from 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish is one beautifully drab example. The titular restaurant acts as superficial reprieve from ennui, where “all losers come” to taste “a sweeter life.” Frontman Damon Albarn’s cutting lyrics spare no one, but he attacking nine-to-fivers especially when singing, “When work is done, go to Villa Rosie every night / So tasty / Go form a queue at Villa Rosie every night / So tasty.” It’s bleak AF.
Before Blur, The Kinks perfected English dreariness, critiquing upper class malaise with searing wit. “Sunny Afternoon” is a polished specimen of Ray Davies’ satirical brilliance on this subject. Taking on the persona of a wealthy loafer, Davies coos, “The tax man’s taken all my dough / And left me in my stately home / Lazing on a sunny afternoon.” Lost to boredom without his “yacht” and “car,” he moans, “All I’ve got’s this sunny afternoon,” before desperately pleading, “Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze.”
Who would’ve thought the great agitator Iggy Pop could get bored? Maybe he was just done it all by 1979’s New Values. “I’m bored,” Iggy growls; “I bore myself to sleep at night, I bore myself in broad daylight, ‘cause I’m bored. Just another slimy bore.” If anything, Iggy certainly gets bored of wearing a shirt pretty quickly, even to this day.
This song perfectly captures the daily grind. With “Birth, School, Work, Death,” new wave band The Godfathers did for rock ‘n’ roll what Camus did for literature: they brought the futility. “Birth, School, Work, Death” was the band’s version of The Myth of Sisyphus; the lyrics simplify life into a cyclical and toilsome bore. Lead singer Peter Coyne snarls when insisting, “Doesn’t matter what I say / Tomorrow’s still another day / Birth, school, work, death.” It’s a real sing-along.
Lou Reed could wax apathetic with the best of ‘em, and “Ennui” off of 1974’s Sally Can’t Dance is no exception. Reed’s monotonous voice embodies boredom itself, especially when he drones, “Pick up the pieces that make up your life / Maybe some day you’ll have a wife and then alimony / Oh, can’t you see.” Thanks Lou. At least now we’ve got something to look forward to.