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The Meaning of Noah Kahan’s “Growing Sideways”

Noah Kahan’s “Growing Sideways” comes from his 2023 album Stick Season that took the world by storm through the viral wave of TikTok. It’s a deeply personal song about struggles with mental health — a theme that is central to the album.

Kahan’s ability to portray difficult mental health challenges in a relatable and straightforward manner has caused his music to resonate with millions of people, and “Growing Sideways” is one of the most powerful examples of that released thus far.

“Growing Sideways” Lyrics Meaning

Lyrically, “Growing Sideways” tells of trying to face the demons at the root of your problems, and having limited success at doing so. It also offers a lens into the experience of professional therapy, which Kahan presents somewhat cynically here.

Verse One

So I took my medication and I poured my trauma out
On some sad-eyed, middle-aged man’s overpriced new leather couch
And we argued about Jesus, finally found some middle ground
I said, “I’m cured”

First verse to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

This is a scene of therapy, with Kahan singing about how he took some medication told a therapist about his trauma. They had trouble connecting at first, arguing about religion. He left there saying he was cured.

However, we’ll soon see that this achievement was just the first step in what is often a lifelong battle with the demons of mental health. The beauty in “Growing Sideways” is the way he offers a casual acceptance of it as a fact of life. It’s a mark of Kahan’s self-awareness and a beacon of hope for listeners who might be dealing with similar issues.

Verse Two

And I divvied up my anger into thirty separate parts
Keep the bad shit in my liver and the rest around my heart
I’m still angry at my parents for what their parents did to them
But it’s a start

Second verse to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

Again he references going to therapy, and learning techniques to compartmentalize his anger as a way of coping with it, and identifying the root causes. Then, he references drinking when he sings of keeping “the bad shit in his liver,” which suggests that not all of his coping mechanisms are healthy or rooted in therapy.

Then, Kahan sings of generational trauma, which is the phenomenon of mental health problems being passed down through several generations of families. The things that Kahan’s parents did to hurt him, are a reflection of the things his grandparents did to hurt his parents, when they were growing up.

He closes the verse on a more hopeful tone, because at least he’s gotten started.


But I ignore things and I move sideways
‘Til I forget what I felt in the first place
At the end of the day, I know there are worse ways to stay alive

Pre-chorus to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

The pre-chorus offers a glimpse into his daily life, with avoidant behaviors related to his problems, and a sense of staying the same, or “Growing Sideways.” Time goes by, but you cling to old, unhealthy habits, while also learning more about them.

Kahan’s avoidant tendencies are so strong that he ends up losing track of what caused him to feel that way in the first place. However, he leads us into the chorus with another hopeful sentiment: at least he’s alive, so maybe things will be alright.


‘Cause everyone’s growing and everyone’s healthy
I’m terrified that I might never have met me
Oh, if my engine works perfect on empty
I guess I’ll drive
I guess I’ll drive

Chorus to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

Kahan compares himself to others and sees their happiness and growth. He worries that he doesn’t really know himself. These are two hallmarks of depression and anxiety, and feelings of low self-worth, which Kahan has been transparent about as the inspiration behind Stick Season.

He’s still able to function, even when he’s feeling depleted, so he might as well just keep going.

Verse Three

So I forgot my medication, fell into a manic high
Spent my savings at a Lulu, now I’m sufferin’ in style
Why is pain so damn impatient? Ain’t like it’s got a place to be
Keeps rushin’ me

Third verse to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

The third verse shows him spiraling a bit, forgetting his medication. This brings to mind Bipolar Disorder and taking mood stabilizers. He ends up going on a shopping spree, and while he still feels rough, at least he looks good doing it.

When he sings of pain being impatient, he describes a nagging pain that won’t leave him alone. It follows him around and influences his every action, contributing to the “rushed” feeling.

The pre-chorus and chorus repeat again, and then the darkness rears its head in the bridge.


And if all my life was wasted
I don’t mind, I’ll watch it go
Yeah, it’s better to die numb than feel it all
Oh, if all my time was wasted
I don’t mind, I’ll watch it go
Yeah, it’s better to die numb than feel it all

Bridge to “Growing Sideways” by Noah Kahan.

Kahan sings of depression and not caring whether he lives or dies. This is like the feeling of suicidal ideation, or considering an overdose. He wants to just numb himself out and drift away, rather than feeling the pain of his life.

This represents a darker time along the path to “Growing Sideways,” where you might have extended periods of doing well only to have it all come crashing down in the moment.

The chorus and pre-chorus repeat again to close out the song, bringing things full circle and showing that Kahan remains in this state of flux.

Listen to “Growing Sideways” below.

Noah Kahan – “Growing Sideways” Lyric Video (2023)