Pop Life

The Most Emotional Singers of the Past 25 Years

Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba is far from the only emotional type in the mainstream musical scene.
Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba is far from the only emotional type in the mainstream musical scene. Photo by Stephen Eckert via Flickr Commons
To call Chris Carrabba emotional is akin to calling Yao Ming tall, in that it doesn’t take long to draw either conclusion. Carrabba, front man for the band Dashboard Confessional, has carved out quite a successful niche over the years as a front man who isn’t afraid to lay his bare, emotional heart right out on the stage.

This is not meant as an insult; part of Carrabba’s appeal to Dashboard fans is his ability to make them feel something, which fans can certainly expect when Carrabba and crew play House of Blues on Sunday night. He isn’t alone in this regard. For decades, music has been littered with artists whose music is so intensely personal and introspective, they can’t help but reside in a glass case of emotion.

Um, have you heard “Someone Like You?” The track, in which Adele’s voice cracks slightly under the weight of a lost love, is easily her most personal, and has actually prompted the diva to tear up while performing onstage. Her strong, booming voice gives her songs extra emotional weight, hence the personal nature of such hit singles as the aforementioned “Someone Like You,” “Hello” and “Set Fire to the Rain.”

You can tell Bieber is really trying to make the jump from young pop idol to full-fledged pop icon; he’s basically taking cues from the Justin Timberlake playbook, albeit with far more extracurricular activities and bad behavior. Point being, Bieber has grown up in the public eye, which has certainly led to its fair share of volatile behavior. His music has followed suit, particularly his latest, 2015’s Purpose. The album, which explored a more mature side of Bieber, touched on his real-life relationships and run-ins, all the while showcasing the heartbreak that resulted from such instances. Bieber has even teared up or outright broken down in numerous instances onstage, a reflection of how personal his latest run of music truly is.

Anyone who ever saw Cobain perform live, or even listened intently to his lyrics, could tell that he was a bright guy who was, to put it kindly, dealing with some stuff. In no place was that more evident than on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York special, recorded in November 1993. The pain in Cobain’s voice, particularly in the cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” showcases a man teetering on the brink. Tragically, this proved all too true; Cobain committed suicide five months later at his Seattle home.


Slim Shady has certainly calmed down over the years, and even kicked a mean prescription medication habit in the process. But there was a time when Eminem was the very embodiment of a man who put every ounce of human emotion into his music. From early tracks like “Rock Bottom” and “If I Had,” which epitomize a man at the end of his rope, to later fare like “Kim” and “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” which detail the many pitfalls of his familial relationships, Marshall Mathers was unafraid to put his personal life on display. For his efforts, he’s moved more records than any other rapper in history.

Fame never really suited Lauryn Hill, the former Fugees member who exploded into the mainstream with her 1998 classic, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. The deeply personal album detailed Hill’s relationship with the Fugees, and in particular former collaborator Wyclef Jean. It moved millions of copies and pretty much swept every awards show in its path. Shortly after, Hill – not comfortable with her level of fame – vanished from the public eye. She returned to record a divisive MTV Unplugged 2.0 special, in which Hill became emotional; Rolling Stone went so far as to call the performance “a public breakdown.” Hill has returned to semi-regular touring in recent years, but hasn’t released another album since.

Where to start? Kanye’s career started out innocently enough. He rose to prominence as a hit-making producer for such artists as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, then put out a couple of classics himself with The College Dropout and Late Registration. Then things started to veer off the tracks a bit. There was the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” controversy. There was the Taylor Swift controversy. There was an alleged beef with former BFF Jay-Z. Dude even ended up hospitalized after essentially breaking down last year. Not to mention the music, which ranks among the most personal of the past two decades. Albums like 808s & Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are about as raw and introspective as you can get and showcase an artist who walks a fine line between emotion and instability.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale