Singer Ryan McMullan has canceled his world tour this summer. He announced the news to his fans via a social media post last week. He said he’s been “struggling a lot with his mental health lately” and has therefore decided to step back from the most pivotal breakthrough of his career to date.
The decision was positively received by his fans. And it stands as a symbol for a dramatic cultural change in the music industry and beyond, the importance of which cannot be overestimated.
Mental illness on tour was so prevalent in the music industry until recently that it’s become a popular culture trope, mined for comedy in films like Take him to the Greek with Russell Brand. Ever since there was sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, those things have gone hand-in-hand with mental illness. The history of pop is littered with tales of stars decompensating on the streets.
For a long time, bringing problems like addiction, mental distress and extreme burnout to tour was macho fame. These things might even have been viewed as adding some sort of unpredictable electricity to the live experience.
But a new generation is changing the playbook. Perhaps they recognized the whole show-must-go-on ethos as exploitative — serving the commercial interests of an industry that leaves trails of shattered creative lives in its wake. Perhaps they demand better due diligence from those who benefit from their talent. They are a generation suffering from record rates of depression and anxiety, who grew up learning the language of psychology and who understand better than anyone the importance of prioritizing mental health. Perhaps they settled on the argument that the price of fame can often be too high.
Whichever way you look at it, McMullan’s decision is a bold move. Even more so because he is a rising star. This tour, his first opportunity to introduce his music to a burgeoning global fan base, marks a critical moment in his career. Since 2019 and 2020 brought him to the fore, that wider launch has already been significantly stalled by Covid and back-to-back lockdowns and with special needs.
Operations like this inevitably bring a feeling of immense pressure. It takes courage to shake off this pressure and set other priorities. There were early clues as to what those priorities were for the singer. “My parents and brother support my music, of course, but as long as I’m healthy they don’t really care what I do. Musical success isn’t really their priority,” he said in a 2020 interview.
It’s not easy to stand on the edge of greatness and decide to step back—postpone the endeavor.
But McMullan is in good company. Last year, gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the finals of the Tokyo Olympics to protect her mental and physical health, saying: “Ultimately, we’re human too, so we need to protect our minds and bodies, rather than just go.” get out and do what the world wants us to do.” Also last year, tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open tournament, citing fear and the point that she had suffered from “long depressions” since 2018.
These high-profile cases are the flag-bearers, helping to break down a dysfunctional culture of presenteeism—the compulsion to continue working in conditions of poor physical and/or mental health.
Presenteeism is not good for anyone, it hurts productivity and harms overall health and well-being. Covid may have helped address the problem of processing purely physical illnesses, but there is still a culture of skepticism or even discrimination, risked by people with illnesses such as stress or depression, identified by the subjective description of those affected and not through diagnostic tests.
This stigma costs us a lot of money, both personally and economically.
In the UK, presenteeism due to mental illness is estimated to cost the UK economy around £15 billion (€17.8 billion) a year due to underperformance when workers are ill. The costs to families, individuals and children of being raised by burned-out, mentally dysfunctional parents are too abstract and too great to list.
There is a lot of lip service to the idea of prioritizing mental health. Many people are happy to admit they have struggled, but only with the hindsight—away from the messy reality of mental illness.
While helpful, this will never work as a strategy to completely remove the stigma. The more we can normalize saying “I’m not fine,” the better.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/someone-finally-has-the-courage-to-say-the-show-cant-and-mustnt-go-on-41910084.html Finally someone has the courage to say the show cannot and must not go on