Saturday, 28 September 2013

Don't Dance to This

I'm fond of music and I have a lot of songs that I really enjoy, but I'm definitely no Music Nerd. I hate the Beatles, I think they're overrated; I don't understand the idea of listening to a whole "album" (sounds boring); I don't think any band is worth following & I genuinely enjoy the music of Ke$ha.
So I'm not any kind of authority when it comes to music. However, I do believe I'm an authority when it comes to story. Stories come in all shapes and sizes, and the most interesting mediums of story would be . . . well, books - but a close second would be music.
My favourite songs are the ones that tell a story. Music isn't the best for telling stories, but to me it's great at conveying emotion and simplistic, visceral thoughts. That's not to say "simple" is bad. For example, if I were to take any of the songs, like: "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele"Fuck You" by Cee Lo Green or "Take Care" by Drake (featuring Rihanna), sure, I could turn it into a book. But as a book, it would be weak and played out, and it would be really short since there's not much plot to it.
But with all of the emotion involved, since the passion is so deep and heavy, the plot becomes immaterial to the feelings involved. Because music isn't about telling a complicated plot, it's about getting you to feel something; it's about poetry.
If you manage to create that unity and match the narrative of the lyrics with the emotion of the music, then you can create a masterpiece. However, creating that match is not always so easy. In fact, it's really hard to find that harmony, so there are a lot of songs that fail on this front. Today, I want to talk about those songs. The Word of the Day is: 'DISSONANCE'

Dissonance /'disənəns/ n. 1. An inharmonious or harsh sound. 2. Music A combination of notes usually thought of as being in a state of unrest and needing resolution (opposed to consonance). 3. Disagreement; incongruity.

There are a lot of bad songs out there, with bad lyrics or bad music. In fact, there are too many to list, so I don't want to talk about all of those maladies of melody; rather, I want to talk about a select few musical misfires.
See, if you want to write a sad song, you could give a slow beat and a mournful, classical instrument along with lyrics about pain, oblivion and death - you'll have a sad song. If you want to write a happy song, you could have some happy, jaunty whistling tune with a fast pace and lyrics about sunshine, rainbows & love.
But lately, I've started hearing some strange songs that are a mix between the two. There are a couple of songs out there that are supposed to be happy, but they sound sad to me. It's quite jarring to hear these songs that have so many people going: "Oh My God! I can't stop smiling when I hear this song!" and "This is the best party song ever!" While I'm sitting there on the verge of tears saying "This is tragic!"

At first, I thought this was just one or two songs that sounded off, but I've found a bunch of songs like this. In fact, after just two weeks of searching, I've found FIVE modern Pop songs that are implied to be happy, but sound sad.
Before I tell you what they are I should to clarify: This is not a list of sad songs with a happy tune. Songs like "Hey Ya" by Outkast; "Semi-Charmed Life" by Third Eye Blind or "Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People - these songs all sound happy, but they were supposed to be unhappy songs. The songwriter wrote the lyrics with a clear intention of singing about something that is depressing, then they sang it with upbeat instrumentation for artistic purposes. You'll find these on a Cracked list or two about sad, upbeat songs, but these will not appear on my list.
This is a list of songs that were meant to be happy songs, but due to artistic ham-handedness, ambiguous lyrics or my own twisted interpretation - make me feel sad when I hear them. If you're confused, then just check out my list and hopefully you'll understand, what I'm talking about. This is . . .


5. "We Are Young" by fun.

What it's about: The band Fun is something of a melancholy band that enjoys the heavy, happy beats. Just look at their name, it's officially spelled with a lowercase "f" and a full-stop. It's fun in a very restrained way and their music often reflects that. They're lyrics, also, are often incredibly ambiguous, as is the case with "With are Young" as well, but unlike their other popular hit "Some Nights", this song actually sounds like it's supposed to be happy. A lot of people see this as a youth power-ballad about drinking heavy, partying and enjoying yourself while you're young. That is a sentiment I should be able to get behind, but with this song, to me, isn't one about youthful excess . . .

What I hear: I can't help but feel like this is a song about stalking, jealousy and abuse. From the word go, our narrator isn't telling the truth (needs to get his story straight). He talks about a girl he calls "lover" although she is conversing with another guy, so it's obvious to me this isn't the singer's girlfriend. Apparently, the singer gave her a scar, whether emotional or physical, she wants to forget about it . . . suspicious. She won't accept any of his apologies, as they're all half-hearted and they spend the rest of the song getting shit-faced drunk.
Half-way through, narrator claims that "the moon is on his side" because if, at the end of the night, girl is "falling down" (i.e., black-out drunk) he'll carry her home. Considering how much she hates him and wants to forget the "pain" he caused her, it seems like she wouldn't agree to that sober. I can't help but feel like our narrator is a controlling ex-boyfriend that won't let his old girlfriend move on. He could even, potentially, be a date-rapist, although I wouldn't go that far, it's a bit of a stretch.

That's pretty horrible . . . but it's low on this list because the song sounds like it intended to be a little ambiguous rather than happy, so it's not all that dissonant. But it scrapes in by a hair because it's so damn happy about being young and living it up and "set the world on fire", that the stuff about scars and apologies freaks me out.

4. "Ridin' Solo" by Jason Derulo

What it's about: Love isn't everything. If you've managed to move on from an old relationship it can be depressing; but hey, don't fret! Single life has it's perks. You can party all night, hit on all the girls and live a free life without worrying how your partner feels or getting into silly arguments all the time.
I mean, you're not "depressed, lonely & single", you're ridin' solo! A party of one without any cares in the world. Why so glum? You're free!

What I hear: For one thing, this song fails to inspire me to "enjoy being alone". But that's not what makes this sad, that just makes it ineffectual.
For me the sadness comes from the subtle implication that Jason Derulo's ex-girlfriend was ridiculously cruel and that the singer is emotionally and physically scarred from that relationship. Sure, he sings about how he's having so much fun that he's practically high off being single . . . then again, that's the first hint. After my break-ups, mutual or no, I always feel a bit uneasy stepping back into the ring. Why would Derulo be so "ecstatic"?
The second verse is basically "I'm good, I feel alright. It's good tonight, everything's alright". The repetition of "no, I'm alright" to me sounds more like someone in denial. After saying it four or five times, it seems like he's trying to convince himself not me, especially since he keeps saying "I've got myself together". He also says he's finally free to "do the things I like" and says there's "no one to argue". It sounds to me like his ex' has been guilt-tripping him from enjoying himself.
Okay, all of this sounds like conjecture and misreading, until we get these two lines:
  "It's over now, the pain is gone" okay, maybe he's talking about the pain of the break-up . . .
  "I'm puttin on my shades, to cover up my eyes" . . . okay, when people wear sunglasses, specifically to cover up their eyes at night time (as we've established it is) they've either been crying, or they have a black eye. What the hell did this woman put you through, Derulo! Did she break your heart or did she hit you?

Yes, this is a song about moving on, but because we keep hearing about how bad his old relationship was and that he's been recently crying (or bruised) this just sounds like someone who's still healing pushing himself too far in an attempt to seem like everything's okay, when it's obviously not. I can't help but feel sorry for the singer, and pray that his attempts to move on so quickly while he's still hurting doesn't get him hurt again . . .

3. "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga

What it's about: Another song about youthful excess! Hey, partying gets a little crazy sometimes, we get it. You get lost and lose your mind, but none of that matters when you dance. You could be so drunk that you've forgotten the name of the club you're in . . . but none of that matters when you dance. Dancing is, after all, about being carefree and expressing yourself.

What I hear: When I hear this song, I hear a bitter and disenfranchised girl trying desperately to fit in.
To me, this isn't the story of a girl at a party trying to live a carefree life. No, this is about a singer/songwriter named Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a pretty brunette that played catchy songs on her keyboard. She made heartfelt ballads and piano songs all the time in her youth, but when she failed to find her place in the industry, she created a stage persona called "Lady Gaga" and started singing party music until she finally entered the charts with the song "Just Dance".
To me, this song isn't about dancing to be carefree. To me, dancing represents the mindless crowd. "You don't listen to the lyrics, so why should I bother writing them?" it seems to say. This Lady Gaga, rather than writing heartfelt lyrics as she once did in her youth, started writing songs filled with gibberish lyrics, repetition and mindless dance music because that's what the people wanted from her. "Just Dance" to me, might as well be called "If you can't Beat 'em, Join 'em". Lady Gaga is a shadow of her former self, with all of those flashy outfits nothing more than masks, in an attempt to hide the girl underneath; that unique girl is hidden beneath a blonde bombshell and partygirl, because she's ashamed of herself. Once or twice, she's returned to her piano and done cover versions of her party songs in a way that exploits her passionate voice and technical ability, but those will never be as popular as the "party and bullshit" songs she was famous for.

Ironically, she wasn't "Born this Way", she used to be someone else before "The Fame" changed her into a, well, "Fame Monster". Perhaps I'm reading too much into it, but with songs like "Poker Face" about hiding your true feelings, more songs with gibberish lyrics and calling her fans monsters, I'm starting to think this "subtext" is more of a "context".
Someone else, please, tell me I'm not the only one that feels sorry for this poor soul.

2. "Girl on Fire" by Alicia Keys

What it's about: I am woman, hear me roar! Yes, being female isn't the easiest thing in the world, with all this global sexism; industrial patriarchy; modern objectification & the myth of the weak and stupid, but pretty housewife. I do think women get it pretty rough . . . of course, this song doesn't talk about all of that, this is just supposed to be a song about female independence and strength. How you can use beauty as a strength, and walk away from your problems.
Ladies, you are strong. Don't believe what men, or brainwashed, ditzy girls say - you are powerful.

What I hear: I'm all for feminism, hell I am a feminist, but this song doesn't sound like it's about a strong independant woman. I can't help but feel that this is the story of an arsonist.
Yes, fire is often a metaphor I know, but due to the ambiguity of this song I don't really understand what "fire" metaphor means in this song. Is it good or bad? Strength or pain? Power or Tragedy? This song can't make up its mind, so I'm left to assume that it's not a metaphor, they're literally talking about fire. When you think of it like that, the story becomes clear.
This is the story of a girl that's lonely, so for some kind of control she turns to setting things on fire - textbook pyromaniac. The song mentions that she's "got her head in the clouds" and "on top of the world", to me this translates as the euphoria of setting the fire. A lot of the song just talks about all the things that are burning, but the real tragedy is revealed in the second verse:
  "Looks like a girl, but she's aflame." she's literally on fire. I have to assume that she set fire to a building then got stuck inside. She's got "both feet on the ground" and is now "walking on fire" sobering to the fact that she's burning alive. The worst part is, even though she's going to die, "she's not backing down", implying either that she is choosing not to put out the fire, or that she is going to proudly burn in the fire of her own creation.
It's such a pointless tragedy, it's no wonder that "You can try but you'll never forget her name".

I think this song is one of dark reminiscence, the whole song is about what lead up to this tragic self-immolation, but the first line says it all. After all the "power" she gained from setting things on fire, at the end of the day "She's just a girl, and she's on fire". The saddest part is, I'm still rooting for this girl.
To me, she's like a tragic villain. She was lonely, and probably had no father at home (according to the psychology of pyromania), so she's almost like an anti-hero until her untimely death. But I'll mourn you, little firebug, because if someone had paid you a little more attention, perhaps this tragedy could have been avoided.

1. "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus

What it's about: Just like songs 5 and 3 on this list (all the odd numbers? Imagine that) This song is about youthful excess! More than that, the focus of this party song is one of rebellion. Not just about drinking, but doing drugs, dancing, having sex and living life by your own set of rules.
It's about living carelessly and having fun, because when you're old enough to live on your own, you don't have to do what anyone else asks of you. You're your own person and can do whatever you want.
This is about freedom . . . so why is it so sad?

What I hear: That slow, heavy beat. Like the steady thump of a dying heart, that beat sounds so mournful. Then the lyrics . . . as much as Miley sings about freedom, she sings so slowly with so little emotion, that it feels empty.
If this is supposed to be a happy song, "We Can't Stop" has a very poor choice of words. The first line sounds like the opening of a horror story "Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere". Then, after asking if anyone wants to go home, Miley says they'll keep partying until sunrise. Then we enter the chorus, and the poor grammar sounds slurred, with lines like "This is our rules"; "Can’t you see it we who bout’ that life" & "We run things, Things don’t run we" it sounds like the singer is drunk.
Sure, it might seem fun to sing while drunk, but Miley's not drunk, she's "dancing with molly" and "tryin' to get a line in the bathroom", that is to say she's doing drugs, particularly ecstasy and cocaine. That's not a misread either, the singer herself claims that she meant MDMA and crack.
With this in mind, the surreal music video, the creepy beat and the slurring all make sense. These are the words of someone with a skewed reality. But the worst part, and what makes this song so sad to me, is the chorus - the very line that inspires the title:
  "We can't stop; and we won't stop."
That sounds almost like a threat. But worse, it doesn't sound like someone that's having fun. It doesn't say "we don't want to stop" It says "we can't". This, paired with the drug use and the slow mournful rhythm, sounds like a cry for help. It says she "can't stop", but not that she doesn't want to. I mean, think about it, at the start of the song she asks if you want to go home, then she says "this is our house". It was an empty question all along. She can't leave even if she wanted to, because she can't stop.

To me, this entire song sounds like a girl trapped in a culture of partying and addictive drugs with no way out. Hell, with all the references to sex and cocaine, this song could be a prequel to "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran. When I first heard this song, I got a little teary-eyed. That's not a joke, I feel sad for this girl. It sounds like she's so deep in denial, trying to be seen as a party girl, that she doesn't realize how broken she is.
But the saddest part of all, the part that I just don't understand, is how people enjoy this song. I'm not saying that it's a bad song, but this was once as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. People love this song and say that it's a fun party song, but how? It's so depressing, so why am I the only one that sees how sad this is? It's almost like this is a girl crying out for help, and there's no one there to hear . . .

In conclusion, I'm not saying you can't enjoy these songs. Hell, I'm not even saying that you are wrong if you find them upbeat and happy (except for "We Can't Stop", that is seriously depressing, and I'm not the only one that thinks so). What I am saying - if I'm saying anything at all - is that art is open to interpretation, even if that interpretation is the opposite of the meaning that the artist intended. More importantly, I'd like to think that I'm encouraging people to look at art with a critical eye. I encourage you to share your own alternative interpretations of modern art (and feel free to let me know about it in a comment if it's interesting enough).
Not only can you have fun reading against someone's intended message, but you could even learn something more about yourself and the way you view the world. Though, to be honest, this list was mostly written for the fun of it.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time I'm going to listen to some upbeat music that's not so depressing.

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