As I often do around 2am at night while I'm watching cartoons on Teletoon Retro, I started doing some more research in an effort to learn something new. Part of my on-going process in life is to constantly be learn a new approach or new skill. So, as I was having difficulty with writing lyrics in a new song I'm working on I suddenly found myself wondering "Self, are lyrics really even THAT important in Pop music currently?"
As it would happen I came across this article in the process:
Let me summarize some of the points for you as best I can...
1) No matter how hard we may try, certain themes will always be in style
2) History repeats itself over, and over, and over, and over (this is the song that never eennnddss) and
3) We're taught that lyrics aren't important in Pop music, but they'd be wrong
The whole reason I came across this article in the first place, as I stated earlier, is because of that last point. From what I hear on the radio now I have a hard time believing that lyrics are really THAT important outside of a catchy chorus. Who really sits and listens to the message in the verses now?
When I listen to "Starship" by Nicki Minaj it really doesn't seem like the verses have ANYTHING to do with the chorus at all. This has bugged me since the moment I heard it. Very catchy chorus, but the three main parts of that song seem entirely unrelated to one another and the post-chorus section seems just obnoxious compared to everything before it. LMFAO over the last few years has some of the biggest singles that have been released and yet their verses are almost irrelevant compared to the chorus and the rhythm of what's being said, rather than the content. But, the aforementioned article really brings a few things into perspective for me regarding Pop lyrics. Of all the major singles of the last few years to be released, which songs are most memorable and which ones have received the most awards based on public and industry opinions? And, what themes can we see that make them so popular?
I love the examples this article uses so I'm blatantly going to use them without any regard for originality. You can berate me for it later if you so wish, but they're just perfect. From 2012, the top singles were:
Adele - "Rolling In The Deep"
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"
Gotye "Somebody I Used To Know"
Now try to put aside the obviously over used meme's and funny pictures that were created with the same rhythmic timbre or lyrics as the Carly Rae tune and think about it critically. What made it relatable? Why did the public like it? Why did it stick in your head? For the same reasons as the Gotye and Adele songs. They have highly relatable content. The emotions are generalized enough that everyone can reminisce about a time in their life that they wanted to ask out that boy/girl, then had to deal with the broken relationship after it ended with that person and the heartbreak you felt.
Musically, and production wise, I'd say that the Gotye tune and Adele are a step above Carly Rae. They both have fantastic instrumentals and a haunting aura about them right from the get go that leave you wanting more than a couple of choices hooks. I love the bluesy growl Adele uses and it had a lot of impact for me personally in that first single. The lyrics are by no means typical and the content has a couple of key lines like "the scars of your love leave us breathless" while the whole time the message is clear and to the point. I usually use metaphors sparsely so the meaning of what I'm saying is clear, but Adele finds a way to use them everywhere in this song without you being lost for relevance or understanding. Simple thoughts are communicated clearly and beautifully.
Carly Rae uses lyrics that are more cutesy and bubblegum, but still make you relate to that awkward nervousness that you felt when you first approached that cute person you liked and they're current enough in their usage saying "Call me, maybe?" with uncertainty in her tone. The story walks you through the first sights, meeting, words, and actions while conveying the emotion throughout with little attention to detail, just a general situation.
Gotye's single walks you through turmoil, heartache, and inevitable anger after a broken relationship. The content is descriptive and modern making it tangible for a variety of ages to find value in his words. The rhythm is catchy and spacious creating an easy to follow storyline until the chorus where it becomes more panicked and edgy. Most importantly though, the lyrics strike a chord with anyone that has been through such an emotional breakup at some time in their life. Its impossible to listen and not recall a traumatizing moment of pain and confusion. None of it is done with any complicated words or symbolic statements.
I find myself reflecting a lot more on the lyrics in current pop music. Yes, some of it is obviously ridiculous and written only to catch the attention of a brief moment in time, but the three singles the article referenced and I elaborated on are good examples of songs that will likely leave an impression for a good number of years. The content is valid, relatable, and the emotions timeless and memorable, proving you don't have to look to the more 'classic' genres (singer/songwriter types, R&B, country?) to find effective meaning.
To put the point home, I highly recommend you read the article linked at the top of this blog. It does a fantastic job of referencing some classic songs with comparable content in current pop music and why these will forever be staples in music. Reflect on the songs you love and why they're so indelible and you'll probably find some similar themes to help you improve your own lyric writing.