Earlier posts have outlined the traits of the manic, invincible phase of pop music's 15-year cycle in energy levels, followed by the mellow, vulnerable phase, and ending with a restless phase (post to come, but see comments in the second post). The restlessness leads to another spike in energy, and the cycle repeats. That spike cannot happen during the vulnerable phase, which is like a refractory period in an excitable system.
For example, when you're actively lifting weights, you're in an excited state. After some time, your muscles start to fatigue, and it's no longer possible to continue lifting even if you wanted to. They go into a recovery or refractory period. After awhile, they leave the recovery period, and it's more back to normal, even getting restless like they want to feel another work-out already. That leads to the next active work-out, beginning the cycle all over again.
With that basic model in mind -- an excitable system -- I've been keeping an ear out for symptoms of the current phase being mellow and vulnerable, unable to get as maniacally excited as the mood was about five years ago.
Ariana Grande has a new song on the radio called "No Tears Left to Cry," whose figure of speech struck me as a good example of being in a kind of refractory period. You couldn't cry again even if the stimulus were there that would normally cause you to cry -- you've simply run out of that physiological process. At some point, maybe she'll exit this refractory phase, and become capable of crying again, and after that, maybe go into a spike in crying activity, to be followed by another phase where she can't anymore, and the cycle repeats.
So I went over the Billboard Year-end Hot 100 charts, to see if that kind of figure of speech popped up more in the vulnerable phase -- and it did. Dividing decades into halves, the vulnerable phases were during the late '50s, the early '70s, the late '80s, the early 2000s, and the late 2010s. Here's what I found:
1958 - "Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds
1972 - "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" by 5th Dimension
1986 - "All Cried Out" by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam
1987 - "(I Just) Died in Your Arms" by Cutting Crew
1989 - "Close My Eyes Forever" by Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne
2002 - "One Last Breath" by Creed
2003 - "Bring Me to Life" by Evanescence
2004 - "Numb" by Linkin Park
2004 - "Wake Me Up When September Ends" by Green Day
2018 - "No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande
The common theme is being in a physiological state where you cannot be stimulated back into excitation. Your energy level has already collapsed, or is about to collapse, into a refractory period where just shaking you is not going to wake you up. Drained, worn out, spent, exhausted.
I left out figures of speech that don't imply a collapse, like just getting "weak" or feeling "breathless" around somebody. It had to suggest a terminal state, where only something extraordinary could wake them back up, if at all. Also, getting weak or breathless doesn't imply that you were on some kind of high before, and have plummeted into weakness or breathlessness. "Death" is another common trope that I ignored unless there was something specifically about collapsing suddenly in energy levels, rather than any other ways of dying.
So these images come to people naturally during a society-wide refractory period, but do they also pop up during the manic or restless phases? Not really.
"All Cried Out" did re-appear on the charts in 1997, during a manic phase, but that was a cover version rather than the original.
In 1980, between the restless late '70s and the manic early '80s, there was a song called "Enough Is Enough (No More Tears)". But the lyrics are not about having cried so much or so long that you're no longer capable of doing so anymore -- rather, about making the conscious deliberate choice to cut off the tears by choosing to get out of a bad relationship. Not really a refractory period.
And in 1993, a restless phase, there was a similar song named "One Last Cry" -- it, too, is more about choosing not to cry anymore by putting a break-up behind you after one last crying episode, rather than being all cried out and incapable of crying anymore.
Bonus example from the emo late '80s: although songs of this type may evoke sleep or even death, there's one that took a black humor approach to the "teen tragedy" genre of exactly two 15-year cycles earlier, during the emo late '50s, and made it about someone who has fallen into a vegetative state. While not a hit here in the US, it did chart in its native Britain.