Contemporary music often celebrates age-old favorite pastimes of young people like drinking alcohol and having sex, but far fewer contributions to popular culture address another too-common occurrence that's much more insidious: suicide. So, a group of artists teamed up with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to try to change that — and save lives. And the lyrics to "1-800-273-8255" by Logic, featuring Alessia Cara, and Khalid are unflinching as they track the narrative arc of a person who's had enough of living, all the way from despair to hope. The admirable anti-suicide anthem recognizes the reality of loneliness, lack of control, and feeling that it's impossible to connect with others, but aims to convince young people that they have support and a reason to live.
The title, "1-800-273-8255," of course, is the phone number to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. So, if you're seriously considering harming yourself, call it immediately (they also have a chat option). And although the number isn't actually included in the song itself, the whole point is to direct people toward resources and demonstrate that overcoming a seemingly insurmountable struggle is possible.
It begins though, with Logic singing from the perspective of a person on the brink of suicide who's called the hotline for support:
I've been on the low / I been taking my time / I feel like I'm out of my mind / It feel like my life ain't mine / Who can relate?
In that character, Logic explains exactly why he wants to take his own life:
All this other shit I'm talkin' 'bout they think they know it / I've been praying for somebody to save me, no one's heroic / And my life don’t even matter / I know it I know it I know I'm hurting deep down but can’t show it/ I never had a place to call my own / I never had a home / Ain't nobody callin' my phone / Where you been? Where you at? What's on your mind?/ They say every life precious but nobody care about mine
He then transitions to the perspective of the operator at the other end of the hotline, singing "I want you to be alive." Then, with lines like "It's the very first breath / When your head's been drowning underwater" and "It's holding on, though the road's long/ And seeing light in the darkest things," Cara picks up the thread to show that situations can always get better and that life is worth fighting for.
Finally, Khalid takes over with the outro as a person who received those powerful messages and now wants to live:
Pain don't hurt the same, I know / The lane I travel feels alone
But I'm moving 'til my legs give out / And I see my tears melt in the snow.
In an illuminating video by Genius, Logic himself breaks down what it all means and why he decided to make a song about suicide in the first place:
For the rapper, it all started when he went on a cross-country road trip to spend time with fans ahead of the May 5 release of his third album, Everyday. Over and over during that trip, he heard the same sentiment, he said: "Your music has saved my life. You've saved my life." It got him thinking. "What can happen if I took myself out of my comfort zone and made a whole album about everybody and everybody’s struggles including my own which is one I’ve never done?" he said in the Genius video. " ... Man, how many lives can I really save then?"
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 44,000 Americans dying that way each year. And even though young people age 15 to 24 have a suicide rate well below that of middle-aged and older adults, it's still much too high at 12.5 percent in 2015.
In some ways, 1-800-273-8255 is an answer to other popular depictions of suicide that present it in glamorized terms or as a revenge fantasy, as some have argued is the case with Netflix's popular 13 Reasons Why. In the song, the emphasis is squarely where it belongs: on the fact that suicide is no one's only option.