LIVING LYRICALLY, LITERALLY.
In which we apply human-like scenarios to popular songs, which may or may not have been written with said philosophical intentions in mind.
Rebellious analysis at its most ludicrous.
By Natalie Reiss
Lorde is a sophisticated teen, or at least she appears to be. Sure there are lyrics that allude to excess – “dropping glasses just to hear them break… drinking like the world was gonna end” – but I doubt these are self-referential, however assumptive that thinking might be. All I know is that while I spent much teen-time reflecting in my journal, I also reflected in a dodgy Spanish-themed nightclub, which somehow became my musical haunt.
Red lighting, salsa dancing, and much older men, but most importantly there was easy access to alcohol – and we were sixteen. Makeup and questionable styling enabled entry and once inside, the bar was our oyster. Oh we were so sophisticated, and what do sophisticated people drink? Long Island Iced Tea of course! Without hesitation, we ordered and snatched our fancy concoctions before sucking down the contents in record time. Record time meant that motor control was compromised, mainly because we were drinking to excess, like the world was going to end – and we were dropping glasses. But we weren’t doing it ironically; we were doing it because we were inexperienced with alcohol testing our teen limits and – like everyone else on that sticky dance-floor – trying to push our happiness levels to the max.
Fast-forward a rough fifteen years and cue music of the moment – the vocal delivery is a low hum, calmly lulling the listener into a safe place where the wavy melody kindly coats the dark and sometimes depressing subject matter. “We gladiate but I guess we’re really fighting ourselves” Lorde speak/sings in ‘Glory and Gore’, “roughing up our minds so we’re ready when the kill time comes.”
Lorde’s success is a media tale we’ve seen before, but the refreshing quality comes from her depth of thought, choice of language and obvious intelligence, which suffice to say, has been a solid part of the press campaign. But what of the stories she is telling, and how she is regaling them?
It’s a new age of pop (thankfully), and judging from the charts and purchases world over, there is vast appreciation for layered lyrical subject matter. However, it is also curious that the reflective content currently being favoured is complimented by shadowy hip-hop beats and echo chamber-esque production. This is a coquette in sonic clothing – mysterious musical smoke dancing in a glass, daring you to breathe in without warning of what you’re inhaling.
The ever ‘smiley’ Miley Cyrus was recently chastised for twerking/tweeting/working with Terry Richardson, and yet on her most recent trip to BBC Radio 1, she chose to cover ‘Summertime Sadness’, a pensive ballad written by the beautiful, yet consistently sullen Lana Del Rey, she of moody expressions and longing story arcs of lovers lost. Lorde has been compared to Del Rey on a surface level, and for good reason; both adopted monikers, both were sold through indie buzz supported by heavyweight industry machines, and both exploit urban soundscapes and splices of its lexicon, legitimising the new pop-scape, save for a parody or two. But what of the messaging?
Pop music, similar to the supermodels of the 90s, used to be aspirational pieces of culture – things that were pleasant to look at, listen to, and assist in the escape of one’s day-today malaise, injected with a sliver of reality to seal the deal. However, as with all art, the reflection has changed and become more confrontational and shall we say, high-def. Lorde’s lyrics, along with those by The Weeknd, Del Rey and Sky Ferreira rest heavily on weighty emotion and dreamy imagery, resembling melodic mood boards for and from the tumblr generation. This in itself is not a crime but rather a semi-grey, tuneful cloud that hovers over the charts, and begs the question, why so serious?
In her book, ‘Generation Me’, Jean Twenge asserts that Generation Y (or Millennials) ‘”speak the language of the self as their native tongue” and expect to feel good about themselves as a primary virtue – couple this thinking with the rise of easily (and cheaply) accessible fame, and throw in a slew of social media platforms overwhelming enough for any technophile, and we are subsequently presented with a diaspora of young, good-looking pop stars emoting without so much as a smile. Ok, so sometimes we get a smirk, but it only seems to exist in irony.
Being jaded and unimpressed is an all too familiar part of the human experience and validly expressed in music throughout the ages, however, all emotional landscapes reach a tipping point and for goodness sake, I think someone (other than Pharrell) needs to get happy already.
‘Glory and Gore’ is a masterly crafted tune with wordplay that would make Jay Z proud – oh hell, with those Gladiator references in the chorus, it’s criminal that ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ soundtrack hasn’t been amended. Lorde is a young and exquisite mind to watch, with enough emotional range to safely assume that broader concepts and shades will be explored in her music to come – I’m just hopeful that the current wave of pop people remember to show their pearly whites from time-to-time.
Natalie Reiss is a London-by-way-of-Sydney writer who blames all of her neuroses creativity on being an only child. When she isn’t writing songs and stories, she can be found empathising with small creatures and practicing the dark arts of publicity. Communication makes her feel safe so do get in touch: @natreiss.