Wyatt Flores Cancellations Underscore Importance of Centering Mental Health

Right now, the sector in music that is surging more than any is roots-oriented singer/songwriters that are setting the world on fire with their sincere sentiments and stripped-down, acoustic sound.

You don’t need to be told about the significance of Zach Bryan’s status in country music as arguably the 2nd most popular star in the genre. He will be playing to sold out stadiums in 2024, and is a country music sensation despite the lack of support from the mainstream country industry.

Noah Kahan has been the surprising folk pop phenomenon of the last year, somewhat quietly putting together incredible numbers. Since he doesn’t really fit distinctly anywhere, the world has been slow to awaken to just how big Noah Kahan is. But he’s an area-level artist irrespective of what you want to call his music.

And then beneath these two juggernauts is a host of up-and-comers that similarly to Zach and Noah, are surging in popularity through viral songs being circulated on Tik-Tok that don’t really fit in “country” perfectly, but fit there better than anywhere else. This includes guys like Wyatt Flores, Dylan Gossett whose song “Coal” is one of these Tik-Tok sensations, and you could even add Oliver Anthony to this equation.

The sound and approach can be somewhat different for each of these guys. Wyatt Flores feels much more similar to something akin to Oklahoma Red Dirt and country, where Noah Kahan has said he doesn’t want to be considered country, and a rootsy version of pop is just as fair of a description.

But what is similar between all of them is that if you go to see them in concert, the entire audience will be yelling back every single word to every single song they perform—a phenomenon we saw emerge with Zach Bryan a few years ago. Wyatt Flores and Noah Kahan both enjoy this same reality. And both on Monday expressed sincere concerns about mental health, and what is commonly called “imposter syndrome.”

On Monday, February 19th, Wyatt Flores announced that he would be cancelling his upcoming show in Oxford, Ohio. Other upcoming shows in Detroit and Toronto will also be rescheduled to a later date so he can prioritize his mental health.

“The truth is, I struggle with my sense of worth and sometimes feel like I’m only loved because of the guitar that sits in my hand,” Flores said in part in a statement. “I have a hard time saying no to things and disappointing anyone, most importantly my fans. Feelings don’t go away. I used to cover them up by crawling into bottles and any other distraction available. I’ve slowed down on my drinking and tried to take better care of myself. All of a sudden the feelings finally caught up.”

You can hear Wyatt Flores expressing these very struggles in some of his songs like “Orange Bottles” from his 2023 EP Life Lessons. It’s these kinds of songs that have put Flores on the fast track to stardom.

In a recent feature published in The Guardian, Noah Kahan speaks specifically about the imposter syndrome he experiences, sometimes to crippling effects.

“It feels too simple that I’ve made music that I really care about, that I’m proud of, and it’s connected with people. To me, there has to be some underlying dark force that’s fabricating this,” Kahan says, “then I’ll go play an arena show and it’s like: oh my God, they’re all being fooled by me – I’m tricking them into thinking I’m something I’m not.”

In many respects, it’s the mental fragility of these songwriters and the way they process emotions through their music that makes them so appealing to massive audiences. But it also speaks to a personality type that’s not necessarily comfortable with standing on a stage and being adulated over by an arena full of people.

These guys are not alone. This was similar to the pathology behind Turnpike Troubadours frontman Evan Felker’s mental health struggles, and Felker specifically spoke about how people singing the lyrics of songs back to him was something that created mental instability in him while performing.

These guys are not egomaniacs like the rock stars of yore, or the big-named performers in mainstream country. They’re songwriters. In a previous era, they would have careers set in the shadows, primarily penning tracks for others and perhaps touring on the club circuit. It just happens to be that strongly emotional and earnest songwriting has become so hot, it’s been elevated to superstar status, and often through the forum of Tik-Tok.

“I built a huge following on TikTok, so I have an amazing foundation, which is super-fortunate,”
Noah Kahan says. “But there are some people, especially young, developing artists, or artists that are about to break through, that now don’t have that. I hope people are not being, like: I’m going to quit, because I think that if you’re really talented and you have a story to tell, you’ll find a way for people to hear it.”

Tik-Tok has very much been the catalyst for all of this success, making for a much more democratic discovery mechanism than terrestrial radio, but perhaps also supercharging this surge of interest in songwriters to a dangerous status.

There is a lot of money riding on a lot of these viral songwriters, and the predisposition might be to “strike while the iron is hot.” When there is so much money being made, there are perverse incentives to just finding a pill to push back the anxieties and keeping the show on the road. Meanwhile, the artists themselves struggle because in one sense, they feel like their dreams are coming true, and they don’t want to put that at risk by slowing down.

Zooming out to see the greater context, the other fear is that all of this attention on songwriters could become a hyper-trend and flame out quickly, which would not be good for anyone. Sustainable growth over time and following a smartly-crafted tier of benchmarks before graduating to a bigger status is the way to make sure all of this moves forward pragmatically, while always prioritizing mental health at every turn.

In previous eras, we would just let these songwriters spiral out of control until they ended up like Townes Van Zandt or Blaze Foley, or even Hank Williams—songwriters that attained legendary status, but also ended up dead before their time. The tragic story of Luke Bell is another cautionary tale, and Sierra Ferrell has also spoken openly about her mental health struggles with fame and notoriety in the past as well.

We’re in a new era when pure, original talent is actually being recognized by the wide masses as opposed to the unoriginal. But with this comes new challenges and dilemmas. Ultimately, it’s the health and safety of these entertainers that should be prioritized over profits and public appearances. Putting guardrails up and outright stop signs when things get tense is something the performers, their representatives, and the public should all be amenable to, and understanding of.

Often it isn’t just the adulation, but the overnight sensation aspect of it all that becomes problematic. As Evan Felker sings in the current Saving Country Music Single of the Year, “Brought Me,” “A thousand person choir has an affection all its own…”

But Felker needed to feel comfortable in his own skin before he could accept being beloved by others.

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