Last weekend I watched, along with 6.7 million others, the semi-final of the UK edition of the Voice.Although I have my own thoughts on this show (still too similar to X-Factor, but getting better), one of the main things that struck me was during the voting section of the show. They had Shakira and Enrique Inglesias as guest performers on the show. As far as I can tell, most of the news generated by these performances were Shakira's (shock) lip-syncing vocals, and the social drama that Enrique kissed Kylie and high-fived Will. Very exciting. My thoughts drifted in a different direction during Enrique's (I seem to spell that wrong every time I type it) performance - did you listen to the lyrics?
A snippet from Enrique's song 'I'm a Freak' featuring Pitbull (because if you want a dance-pop song to sound edgy insert Pitbull's copy and paste lyrics and poor delivery, and ensure he says his name at the start, and BOOM - you have a hit on your hands)...
"I tried to let it go, But I'm addicted to your chemicals I got a taste, I want an overdose I love the way she gets so physical Fucks like an animal
Day and night I just imagine how you put your love on me Lights off, lights on Ready for some action Baby, come and give it to me
'Cause I'm a freak The way you pop it and drop it All over me No, I don't want you to stop it Yeah, I'm a freak Baby, I can't lie When you move like that I've got a one track mind,"
While there's nothing actually wrong with this song - it's catchy and danceable - those lyrics are just so painfully obvious and completely lack any kind of subtlety. Sometimes this isn't necessary and, on it's own this song wouldn't be so bad. But modern day pop is littered with horribly transparent songs.
Take another song, Flo Rida's 'Whistle'
"Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby Let me know Girl I'm gonna show you how to do it And we start real slow You just put your lips together And you come real close Can you blow my whistle baby, whistle baby Here we go"
Pay attention to the lyrics and it's clear that the song is not, in fact, about whistles.
And this trend continues right through almost every single song that tends to hit the charts.
Ok, I'm being a little unfair.
The trend of total and utter, almost condescending, transparency follows through into the other British pasttime we so enjoy, going to the 'club', telling 'the DJ to turn it up' and going to the bar and 'drinking up'. [See: Rihanna, Flo Rida, Kesha (oh, wait I mean Ke$ha), Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Enrique, Chris Brown, Usher, Calvin Harris, Example, David Guetta, Jason Derulo (remember to sing it) and even Snoop Doggy Dogg].
I feel particularly aggrieved by Snoop Dogg. I mean, the guy is a legend - he made me want to compare prices at MoneySupermarket and be EPIC, but now all my respect for him is gone, completely gone, since his Wet/Sweat singles. Geez, some artists just have no integrity...
Part of the problem is that these songs are all so damn catchy. The are songs written (should say designed) to rocket up the charts both here and in the US, and be played, fairly inoffensively, as the soundtrack to boozy nights out in clubs and bars around the world.
So then the question is, are the hit makers behind these songs, being lazy and obvious with the lyrics because they know, ultimately, that they don't matter, or is it a purposely thought out decision to be so up front with their subject matter? I would kinda like to believe it's the former. To say it's the latter kind of implies that the people at the top of this game (Simon Cowell, Max Martin, Ryan Tedder [No. Not Ryan Tedder, his songs are just poor 'Bleeding Love' rewrites...] etc.) believe we, the music purchasing public are almost too stupid to understand and enjoy a song if they are not totally up front with what it's about. I mean how could we enjoy our night out without being told that we should drink up and tell the DJ to turn it up? What would we do if a dance song came on and the lyrics were:
"The kitchen has been ransacked ski trails in the hall a chicken has been dansacked and thrown against the wall in walks this dumb waiter with a fountain pen and pad saying how do you want this alligator the day my pad went MAD"
[Pro-tip: it's John Cooper Clarke]
Of course, I have missed out one of the biggest (and most highlighted) examples of this clash between music and lyrics from 2013. Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' (no, I refuse to link to it).
I know this still opens up debate, as the man himself denies it, although when you look at the lyrics they do seem incredibly misogynistic:
"I know you want it But you're a good girl The way you grab me Must wanna get nasty Go ahead, get at me"
In this case I find it incredibly hard to believe that they didn't consciously set out to write a song like this - it wasn't the result of apathy or laziness. I've always had this image in my mind that Pharrell and Robin Thicke had a bet about what the worst thing they could write into lyrics, but slap it onto a song with a catchy tune and see if people noticed. And no-one did! This whole dark tone of the song only really started getting put under a spotlight after the video was released which almost too obviously tried to show the theme of the song, almost as if they were baiting people to notice. Despite the questionable content of the song, 'Blurred Lines' has sold a staggering 10.5 million copies since it's release in March 2013, in addition to over 300 million views on YouTube.
The phenomenal success of a song that promotes poor attitudes towards women, may actually show that maybe the people at the top are right - maybe we don't care about lyrics, as long as its catchy and we can go out a drink and dance along with it.
So maybe those writers are more talented than we give them credit for.
I remember in school during English we had to learn about how tabloids present news, and how it varied across different papers. The Sun, which is not typically a newspaper held in high regard for the quality of its writing, was actually the most creative.
The headline of 'Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam (She'll need a new pram)' sounds awful, and tacky, and loaded with puns. But try and write a headline like that - something memorable yet sounding somewhat crude. As someone like myself, just getting into writing, can attest - it's hard!
So then we end up in the most likely position - the people writing the songs know what they are doing.
The songs are usually tight, short, catchy, upbeat and well produced. Instead of viewing the lyric writers as lazy for their totally upfront content - we may, actually, have to say they are pretty good at their jobs. They know what people want to hear, and it is, unfortunately, the case that these songs are successful. If they weren't, there wouldn't be so many of them.
I am being a little unfair to pop music, this disease pops up in a number of genres - however, with pop being the most ubiquitous it is perhaps the most dangerous. Not only do the current generation of pop-orientated youth miss out on a whole culture of impressive lyric writing that delves into storytelling, poetry and art, but they also get pushed a message that there isn't much more to life than going to clubs and getting drunk.
Maybe there is salvation from this situation though. Look a little harder at Flo Rida's lyrics for 'Club Can't Handle Me'
"You know I know how To make em stop and stare as I zone out The club can't even handle me right now"
This lyrical genius - known for his monotone rapping - put into words that feeling towards the end of a long messy night; the feeling of invincibility tempered with the embarrassment of being such a mess.
The come down after the party.
Maybe this generation growing up with the current crop of in your face music will feel that come down, when the life based around drinking, dancing, spending money on expensive club drinks stops seeming so attractive. Maybe Flo Rida will be their voice that will overcome the industry standard. And maybe Flo Rida, with his impressively monotone delivery, will become one of the poet greats of the music world.
But then, maybe not - after all , how could I make my millions by writing a song called 'Drink Me Up' and make my millions if the formula changed?
Currently listening to: Frank Turner - Reasons not to be an Idiot
Currently reading: Of the Abuse of Words - John Locke