Before rapper Logic recorded his 2017 album, “Everybody,” which would eventually go platinum, he traveled in a bus from Los Angeles to New York City, stopping at fans’ homes to share meals.
Then he had an epiphany of sorts: If he wasn’t trying to save lives, he thought, “what could happen if I actually did?”
A new study shows that a song the artist wrote after that trip may have actually saved lives — hundreds, perhaps. During periods of heightened online attention to the song “1-800-273-8255,” a reference to the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, there was a corresponding increase in calls to the hotline, as well as a reduction in suicides — an estimated 245, the study found.
The song’s potential impact, according to the study, may represent the Papageno effect, in which the mass media presents alternatives to suicide and plays a role in preventing it. More often, the media does the opposite, fixating on the suicides of celebrities and causing further suicides, a phenomenon known as the Werther effect, the study’s lead author, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, wrote. The risk of suicide increased 13 percent following a celebrity suicide, Niederkrotenthaler found in a separate study published in 2020.
“In suicide prevention, we are trying hard to have an impact on changing the conversation to focus more on hope and recovery,” Niederkrotenthaler, a professor at the Medical University of Vienna, told The Washington Post. He said such stories are “everywhere,” but it is “really rare” to see them in the media.
But Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” as well as highly publicized events featuring the song, may have been the “broadest and most sustained suicide prevention messaging directly connected to a story of hope and recovery,” Niederkrotenthaler wrote in the study.
The song, featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid, begins from the perspective of someone calling the hotline and saying they want to end their life, Logic told Genius. “I don’t wanna be alive,” the first chorus begins. The second chorus channels the voice of someone on the other end of the phone, saying: “I want you to be alive … now let me tell you why.”
In the end, the song offers a message of hope, as the caller realizes life is worth living: “The lane I travel feels alone / but I’m moving ’til my legs give out / and I see my tears melt in the snow / but I don’t wanna cry / I don’t wanna cry anymore / I wanna feel alive / I don’t even wanna die anymore.”
The song’s music video brings the narrative into sharper focus: A high school student’s struggles with his sexuality lead him to consider suicide, but in the end, he is dissuaded by a call to a hotline.
Following its release in April 2017, “1-800-273-8255″ remained on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for weeks, at one point reaching the third spot. It remains Logic’s most popular song on Spotify, having been streamed more than a billion times.
The study’s authors measured Twitter activity associated with the song from April 2017 to April 2018 and recorded spikes around three distinct events: the song’s release, the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards and the 2018 Grammy Awards, where the song was performed. During the 34 days in which the events received the most attention, Lifeline saw a 6.9 percent increase in calls, the study found. Moreover, during the periods of attention, researchers found that suicides decreased 5.5 percent, representing an estimated 245.
“To know that my music was actually affecting people’s lives, truly, that’s what inspired me to make the song,” Logic told CNN on Monday, adding: “We did it from a really warm place in our hearts to try to help people. And the fact that it actually did, that blows my mind.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.