“Oh God, Why Am I Here?”: Alessia Cara and the Normalization of Social Anxiety

By Gaby Germanos ’18

Note: Discussion of social anxiety disorder (SAD) in this piece is based on research and my personal experience as someone with SAD. Though I focus on the role of SAD in Alessia Cara’s lyrics, I in no way claim that Cara herself has SAD.

 On the surface, Alessia Cara’s R&B hit “Here” is the antisocial anthem introverts have been waiting for, chock full of relatable anecdotes lambasting millennial party culture. With its smoky vocals, prominent bass line, and jazzy percussion, “Here” oozes old-school vibes, which—unlike other “top 40” songs—makes it far better suited for a trendy dive bar than a mainstream party. While loners and hipsters may find sanctuary in Cara’s apparent distaste for socializing and indulgent behavior, her words also speak to a more nuanced experience: social anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is the most common anxiety disorder in the United States, yet it is often mistaken for shyness or even misanthropy. Conversely, because people with more mild forms of SAD can act friendly and outgoing in social interactions, their friends, family, and coworkers may be completely unaware of their disorder. If given sufficient time and space to recharge and prepare for future interactions, many people with SAD are able to hide their anxiety by overcompensating, outwardly projecting a bubbly persona while internally dealing with overwhelming self-consciousness and paranoia.

In “Here,” Cara explains the difficulty of craving social interaction while being hindered by an uncomfortable environment. After arriving at a party, she mentions that she “just came to kick it” with her friends. However, now that she is surrounded by people who don’t know her or “care about [her] wellbeing,” all she wants to do is go home in solitude. While disliking the company of strangers isn’t uncommon, people with SAD can easily switch from a sociable mood to one of fear brought on by overstimulation. Cara’s vivid descriptions of the sights, smells, and sounds she encounters—such as the “clouds of marijuana” and the guy “hollering” next to her—convey a situation that could easily be triggering for someone with SAD.

Throughout the song, Cara emphasizes that she does, in fact, enjoy socializing. She apologizes to the listener for seeming rude and coming off as “an antisocial pessimist,” explaining that this type of environment is out of her comfort zone. Her constant excuses for her behavior reveal that she is used to being misunderstood, and perhaps she bears some shame, a typical side effect of anxiety disorders like SAD.

Cara also embodies perceptible regret, such as when she repeatedly questions her motives for attending the party and expresses a desire to leave. She came to the party willingly because, like many people with SAD, she has the capacity to enjoy socializing. However, she soon asks, “How did it ever come to this?” and remarks that she “shoulda never come to this,” realizing that she had underestimated the intensity of the atmosphere. This is a frequent experience for people with SAD who venture into a new social situation but face obstacles when they arrive and aren’t emotionally equipped to handle their environment.

Like many people with SAD, her ideal social situation is one with a few people whom she trusts and knows intimately. Cara romanticizes spending time with her friends in a casual setting “like [they] usually do,” listening to music and talking about their personal goals and fantasies. In highlighting certain pastimes, she exposes the importance of routine in organizing her interactions. Because socializing can be difficult for people with SAD, they may alleviate stress by doing their best to avoid spontaneous social situations, preferring to meet with particular friends on a regular basis and engage in pre-planned activities.

Beyond its distinctive instrumentation and catchy melody, “Here” is a significant piece of music due to its normalization of such a stigmatized disorder. At a place like Harvard, where students are surrounded by strangers and given few opportunities for privacy, Cara provides a relatable narrative, especially for anyone who feels left out of a party scene clearly geared towards extroverts. If we view music as a site of consciousness-raising, we can use songs like “Here” to broaden discourse about Harvard’s limited social scene, catalyzing the creation of new, more inclusive social spaces on campus.

Editors’ Note: Listen to “Here” at this link.


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