Friday, January 13, 2012

Poetic Analysis of a Pop Song

Happy Friday friends and readers. I hope today finds you well and full of inspiration. I had intended to critique my friend Alexia Chamberlynn's query today, but I screwed that up when I missed blogging on Wednesday.

I like to do two posts in a row for query critiques, so that you all can see the query without all my analysis. So, anyway, I hope Alexia doesn't mind if I save hers for next week. Today I'm going to do something a little different. Watch this video (I'm sure you've heard the song):

I'm not a big radio listener (except for NPR), and I don't buy CDs at Best Buy, but I have become aware of this pop song that I like a bit. It has a very underground hip-hop feel to it, even though it's clearly Big Record Label (that's like Big Oil, if you need to understand the Capitalization) material.

Anyway, I'm going to analyze the lyrics for you here, because I think there are some pretty clever metaphors in the verses.

Here's the chorus:

My heart's a stereo
It beats for you, so listen close
Hear my thoughts in every note o-oh

Make me your radio
Turn me up when you feel low
This melody was meant for you
So sing along to my stereo

I'm not analyzing this part, because while being sung by Adam Levine from Maroon 5, who clearly has a great voice, it's not particularly poetic in its lyricism.

Here's the first verse, which is spit by Travie McCoy (spit means rapped, but I hate that word):

If I was just another dusty record on the shelf
Would you blow me off and play me like everybody else
If I asked you to scratch my back, could you manage that
Ye-yeah, chicka Travie, I can handle that
Furthermore, I apologize for any skippin' tracks
It's just the last girl that played me left a couple cracks
I used to used to used to used to, now I'm over that
Cause holding grudges over love is ancient artifacts
If I could only find a note to make you understand
I'd sing it softly in your ear and grab you by the hands
To keep me stuck inside your head, like your favorite tune
And know my heart's a stereo that only plays for you

So I'm probably going to go three layers deeper than was ever intended here, but that's what music and poetry is all about, right? What is means to the reader and the listener, even if that's not what the author intended?

To me, this is a sad but hopeful story of an awkward young man who's been hurt by love. Let me tell you why I think that.

First of all, in hip-hop culture, especially among DJs and crate-diggers (people who hunt for old records in thrift shops) a dusty record does not carry the same connotation it does for most people. To a hip-hop producer, a dusty record is often an old funk classic that hides a hidden gym. A breakbeat, like on Amen Brother, by the Winstons, or Apache, by the Incredible Bongo Band, can be sampled, and mixed into the beat for a hip-hop track. If you're old enough to remember Vanilla Ice versus Queen and Bowie, you know what a sampled breakbeat sounds like, even if that's not an example of how it can be done well.

So my point is, when he compares himself to a dusty record, it's not the insult it sounds like on the surface. To me he's saying that he's a diamond in the rough. A nice, nerdy guy that any girl could love, but who's been stepped on in the past. This is supported by other metaphors in this verse, like "play me like everybody else," (play means to take advantage of in hip-hop culture) and "skipping tracks ... couple cracks." This is another vinyl/record metaphor, which I just absolutely love, because like in a relationship, there are any number of things that can make the needle jump the groove.

The second instance of the chorus is a little different, but we're not analyzing that one either. Here's the second verse:

If I was an old-school fifty pound boombox (remember them?)
Would you hold me on your shoulder wherever you walk
Would you turn my volume up in front of the cops (turn it up)
And crank it higher everytime they told you to stop
And all I ask is that you don't get mad at me
When you have to purchase mad D batteries
Appreciate every mixtape your friends make
You never know we come and go like on the interstate

I think I finally found a note to make you understand
If you can hit it, sing along and take me by the hand
Just keep me stuck inside your head, like your favorite tune
You know my heart's a stereo that only plays for you

This whole song is essentially a love song, but this second part can go a little deeper if you look into the subtext. A big boombox was a symbol of revolution for the hip-hop culture of the Bronx in the 1970s and 80s. Without the boombox, Breakdancers, also known as B-boys and B-Girls, never would have been able to take their art form to the streets, and never would have been able to express themselves in a way that ended up catching the attention of the mainstream media. It's also a symbol for defying authority, because boomboxes were often confiscated or destroyed by police, and to "turn [its] volume up in front of the cops" is certainly a reference to challenging authority.

Those old boomboxes were heavy, though, and expensive (mad D-batteries means you have to buy A LOT of batteries) so when he talks about carrying one on your shoulder wherever you walk, to me that's a metaphor for the burden of emotional baggage that every person brings into a relationship. A human being is a complicated thing, and their past can make them cry as easily as it can make them sing.

Anyway, this post has already gone on too long, but I wanted to share with you guys how even a silly pop song can have a deeper meaning, if you look more closely at the language. I think about comparative language like metaphors a lot, and I probably over-use them in my creative writing, but then again, there is nothing quite like the perfect turn of phrase, is there?


Robyn Lucas said...

I usually hear this song when I'm working out- never really thought about the lyrics. They are wonderful- thanks for breaking it down.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Very thought provoking, Matt. This is one reason I love music. There are so many meanings depending on who's listening. Interpretation and application to one's life play a real roll. Wonder how much of this thought process we should use as writers?

Candyland said... why unicorns fly. I heart you.

Laurita said...

That's a pretty wicked analysis. I actually really like this song. I thought it was very clever and well written, lyric wise, which is a rarity on the radio these days. Now with this super break-down it's suddenly all kinds of kick-ass.

Bryan Russell said...

Do you think he'd let me borrow his Mini Cooper?

Jess said...

I loved this post! I've heard the song a few times, but never really listened to it~ you've changed that for me, so thanks! I'll be listening closer to other songs as well (sometimes I dismiss lyrics if the song sounds too a little too pop for me~ e.g. K$sha, Britney, etc.)

Slamdunk said...

Well done Matthew. I tend to zone out on lyrics and focus on what I am doing--perhaps I should put some more thought into them.


Excellent post. most interesting to read.


Sarah Ahiers said...

boo, i can't watch the video. And actually, i'm not sure i've heard it. At least the lyrics aren't familiar to me. Probably because i listen to a lot of rock and very little pop

Jessica Bell said...

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! I want to read more of this stuff. Care to make it a weekly event? This is just so amazing and ... well ... this kinda makes me teary seeing how you dug so deep between the lines and with such CRAZY accuracy! I adore ANYONE who can pull apart a lyric like this. But I think because it's you -- someone I'm friends with -- it makes it even more amazing, like another connection between us has just sparked! I really didn't know you had it in you to this extent. Wow. One day ... one day ... you've gotta write an ADULT novel about music. :o)

LAH said...

This was awesome! I'm sitting here debating whether or not to crawl into bed or go hit up the coffee shop and try to conquer yesterday's writers block, and this song (which I've heard a gillion times and never thought too much about) totally did it for me.

Love the analysis, so glad you did that!

Karen Baldwin said...

I LOVE this song, but truthfully never delved into the lyrics. Don't judge me, but I'm always amazed when guys finds more meaning in lyrics than women. I don't know where THIS prejudice comes from, but I see, I don't like it...gonna get rid of it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You were feeling extra analytical today.
And those boomboxes were heavy!

Anonymous said...

I knew it! I knew you were an NPR kind of guy. I'm a little sad that Steve Chiotakis had his last Marketplace this morning. Love the humorous feel to that on my morning drive.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Matt. This is exactly why I love poetry. It does two things.

First, it forces the poet to relate his or her epiphany in as few words as possible. Hence you'll often find metaphors used in the art form.

Secondly, it challenges the reader, astute readers like yourself, to really read between the lines. Hopefully, if done well, the reader walks away with something that resonates for years to come.

And when put to music? Well, things like this happen.

Have a great weekend!

Marta Szemik said...

I listen to this song all the time. My hubby is a big music buff so I'll have to show him your post.
That's a great analytic of the lyrics. Very cool post!

Nate Wilson said...

Ah yes, definitive proof that not all pop songs are mindless drivel. (After all, they can't all be "Mmmbop.")

Emily White said...

Hmmm...very interesting. I've never actually heard the song before now, but after reading the lyrics, I have to agree with your interpretation. Of course, I tend to look pretty deeply into things as well and see things the author didn't necessarily intend. But I still think you're right! :)

Bkloss said...

Hey, awesome job! So, uh, I couldn't read those lyrics without singing along. Seriously.

Looks like he found a note to make me

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

We should hang out at karaoke and sing "I am woman." Then you could analyze the lyrics for me.

Claire Hennessy said...

Great post. I hadn't heard the song but really like it (in a boppy sorta way). Very interesting to read your thoughts on the lyrics. Thanks for sharing and I agree with others - please do this again :)

Old Kitty said...

LOL! Just read Michael Offutt's comment! LOL!

It's a most hopeful cheerful love song isn't it? How could the object of his affection not fall for him after this song??

Take care

D.G. Hudson said...

Interesting angle on music lyrics, Matt. It's more interesting if you know the background of the artist or understand the references in a song.

You've identified an important thing about songs - the best ones come from the heart of the songwriter.

Johanna Garth said...

Great analysis! I think I'll download this for my run this morning!

Sarah said...

Never heard the song, and it probably wouldn't have caught my attention if you hadn't analyzed it like this (not really the type of thing I usually listen to), but now I'm growing fond of it ... and listening to the end of it while I type this.

Robyn Campbell said...

Sweet!!!!!!!!! MacNish, you have given me another reason to heart you. Even though I am NOT a pop song lover, this is the exception! :-)

P.S. You never screw up. :-)

Jenny S. Morris said...

My kids love this song and I've always thought the lyrics were pretty thought provoking. You have really added some layers here with all the background info.

LOVE this post. You should do more.

Brinda said...

Very nice! I hear this one all the time and have thought about the lyrics. Although it gets a lot of airplay, it's one I'm not tired of yet.

Luanne G. Smith said...

Sadly, I am old enough to remember Vanilla Ice.

Cool post. Context is everything when interpreting art. I try to tell my son the reason he needs to read the classics is because it helps you recognize that deeper layer when a modern author alludes to something in literature or pays homage to a classic line or scene. Without context the words will just wash over without meaning.

Colene Murphy said...

I'm not a huge fan of the song (I listen to the radio and it's been over-played) but I have to agree 100% on song analysis! I thought the same thing!

Angela McCallister said...

Love this song, and your analysis of it is amazing. I like to compare the D batteries to the investment you have to make for a relationship to work. Some people take more maintenance than others--not me, of course ;)

Christina Lee said...

Look at you getting all snazzy over here with songs! :D I love a good metaphor and the dusty record is a good one!

Elana Johnson said...

Dude, most of my inspiration for the relationships in my novels come from a "silly pop song."


That is all.

M Pax said...

I don't listen to the radio much these days, only when I'm driving, but always liked lyrics and thinking about what they mean.

I wouldn't have caught the music culture symbolism. It's not a world I ever knew that well. But I find that aspect of the lyrics fascinating.

Angela Brown said...

I enjoyed your analysis of this song. You went beyond the beats and did what I sometimes, not always, try to do. You listened to the lyrics.

Lyrically, this is a beautiful piece of storytelling. That's one of the things rap originally start out as, a non-singing way of telling a tale through rhyme laying it all to the rhythm of a fat beat.

This was a great catch, Matt. Nicely done.

Anita said...

Hey, this was really cool. The kids and I do this kind of thing in the van sometimes.

Unknown said...

You are a much deeper dude than me, Matt. I just pay attention to the beat (because I used to play bass guitar) and the music. Most of the lyrics in songs go over my head.

I think I have it on my iPod. Whatever my 12 yo downloads, ends up on my iPod. Fortunately we have mostly the same taste in music.

Wine and Words said...

This reminds me of one of my son's songs:

I find it so interesting...these "Crate Diggers" we have moved so far forward technologically, and yet the younger generations are leaning towards vinyl and princess phones. Listening to the music creators today is an education in itself. Advancing technology has minimized specific qualities. It makes me wonder if any of us know what the hell we're doing other than putting one step in front of the other and crushing things half the time.

Author A.O. Peart said...

Thank you for introducing this song. I rarely listen to pop music, mostly because the lyrics are usually disappointing. This one is a great example to the contrary :-)

Rusty Carl said...

Wow. Reading this post was like watching Inception. You went deeper than I ever thought possible. Nice breakdown.

Steve MC said...

You going Greil Marcus on us? Cool.

Weaver said...

Some nice depth here, Matt. I'm not particularly into poetry and lyrics are very much poetic, but when they speak to me, they really speak to me. Paul Simon is one of my favorite lyricists.

I've heard that lyrics can be wonderful example of how to write meaningfully with very few words and prose writers can learn a lot by studying them.

dolorah said...

Nope; nothing quite like a perfect turn of a phrase.

As a woman who is slowly losing her hearing, I've come to appreciate the written lyrics with music. I like reading the analysis of other writers, just to see if my own interpretations are mirrored in people who do more "listening" than reading to interpret songs.

I liked both the lyrics and your interpretation Matt. Gives me something to think about.


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Great post. I agree, this would be a fun weekly post!
My husband is always giving me a hard time for over-analyzing songs.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Matthew - very interesting read. At some stage I realised that rappers, rock lyrics, pop lyrics sometimes and those models that stand around looking dumb - are actually incredibly clever, intelligent, and quite often wise .. so this is fantastic to read and to have you analyse it for us ..

Cheers - as Jess says - I'd love to be reading more of these .. Hilary

CA Heaven said...

I work for BigOil (sorry about that), but I buy all my CDs in the local heavy-metal shop (small shop, cash only, no credit cards), and I never steal music on the Internet. I'm trying to teach the kids the same, but that's alot harder.

Cold As Heaven

Larissa said...

I absolutely ADORE this song. And I have analyzed the lyrics just as you did. It's really brilliant. And because of that, Stereo Hearts is on my writing playlist. ;)

Great post.

farawayeyes said...

Incredible analysis Mr. MacNish. There is in fact, poetry all around.

I work with teens in the Caribbean, they are always trying to educate me, particularly on rap-hip/hop. In turn I play Jimi. Mick and Leon for them.

I'm gonna print this out and lay it on 'em.


Talli Roland said...

Wow, I'm impressed! I love music, but I'm more of a classical girl myself. Pop songs get me going for their beat, but I don't pay much attention to the lyrics. Maybe I should!

Michael G-G said...

My son loves this song! I'm going to have him read your analysis!!

parenting articles said...

wow! you went so deep with this song!
love this song btw. hehe

parenting articles