Worst Lyrics of the New Millennium

Being both creative and articulate seems like a given for a songwriter, but as you’ll see, it’s not always the case. Bad lyrics come in all shapes and sizes, and certainly aren’t specific to the new millennium, but here are a collection of lines from contemporary pop songs that are confusing, inaccurate, or just plain shallow!

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“And darling I will be loving you ’til we’re 70”

Ed Sheeran from the song “Thinking Out Loud”

Does this mean that Ed Sheeran is going to dump his lover on her 70th birthday? “See ya granny, the last 50 years were mediocre at best.” In a pop song love can be endless, and go on forever, so it’s odd that Mr. Sheeran would give his love an end date. I guess to him the idea of being 70 is such a distant thing that it might as well be forever. Maybe by the time he’s 70, he’ll have written some decent lyrics.

Ed Sheeran as Chuckie
First you turn 70, then you DIE!

“Hey brother, do you still believe in one another”

Avicii from the song “Hey Brother”

Hey brother, are you a chimera? A host? Is there another organism whose cells dwell within your body? Because if not, I’m not sure who the other or others in this “one another” are supposed to include. One can believe in concepts like love, freedom, capitalism etc. One another is just not a thing you can believe in if you’re one person. If there are two of you, then it works, but the line should be “do we still believe in one another”. This song is so full of crap lyrics that it warrants its own post.

Swedish DJ Aviici accepts award
Avicii, creator of crap lyrics

“I’m only one call away, I’ll be there to save the day, Superman got nothing on me”

Charlie Puth from the song “One Call Away”

Can you fly? Can you see through walls? Do bullets bounce off of you? Can you bend railroad ties? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then Superman indeed has something on you. He has something on all of us. He’s Superman. If given the choice between Charlie Puth and Superman in any situation that requires someone to “save the day” I think I know who most (all) people would choose.

Charlie Puth looking at his phone
Superman or this guy?

“She wants to dance like Uma Thurman, bury me till I confess”

Fallout Boy from the song “Uma Thurman” 

How would you bury someone until they confess? Would you put them in a hole, throw dirt on them, wait ten minutes, dig them up and then say, “Spill it or you’re going back in”?  As someone who’s done more than his share of hole digging, I can tell you that this is a very labor-intensive form of torture. Perhaps they will bury said person in a coffin with an intercom system? This line is a reference to a scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 in which Uma Thurman is buried alive, but the confession part is where they lose me, especially when you consider that the confession they’re referring to is “ And I can’t get you out of my head.” The whole song is a collection of biblical references and overblown drama about having an intense crush on a woman. A woman in a movie. I guess you shouldn’t expect more from a song in which the strongest and most prominent feature is a sample from the Munsters theme.

Fallout Boy dressed as video game characters
Fallout Boy, they have mad crushes

“Come along if you feel like a room without a roof”

Pharrell Williams from the song “Happy”

Incomplete? Broken? Unable to perform my primary function? These are the things that come to mind when I hear about a room without a roof. Admittedly, after some thought, Pharrell’s intended meaning is somewhat clear. But still, I find it distracting. Come along if you feel like a car without a wheel.

“‘Cause if you like the way you look that much, Oh, baby, you should go and love yourself”

Justin Bieber from the song “Love Yourself”

Article after article and book after book have been encouraging people to value themselves and focus on their strengths via the phrase “Love Yourself” for years. Therefore, I was confused by the angry “screw you” vibe that I got from this song, which is meant to be punitive, sending Bieber’s lover (Selena supposedly) to a romantic timeout, where she can pout and be deprived of his love. It’s a confusing paradox, and not surprisingly was co-written by Ed “I know you love Shrek” Sheeran. 

“Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, sometimes I get a good feeling, yeah, I get a feeling that I never never never never had before, no no”

Flo Rida from the song “Good Feeling”

So, sometimes you get a good feeling, a feeling like you’ve never had before. Does this mean that every time it happens, the feeling is completely different from the other times? If so, why are you comparing these feelings?  Does one feeling remind you of the other? If so, then it isn’t really a feeling that you’ve never never never never had before. It would merely be a variation on another feeling that you’ve had at some point. I suspect that Flo Rida is just saying that sometimes he feels really really good and to emphasize how good he feels, he adds the “never felt this way before” element, even though it’s not really accurate to say that. The writing credits for this song include a whole crew of people and you’d think ONE of them might have noticed the dog chasing its tail nature of the song’s most prominent line. Amongst the slew of credited writers is Avicii. I bet he was in charge of the words.

“I can make your tears fall down like the showers that are British”

One Direction from the song “Over Again”

This line was concocted in order to fit a rhyme scheme, and even in that context, it doesn’t work that well (“British” is supposed to rhyme with “spirit”). To be fair, I guess if we can call rain that falls in April an “April shower” then calling rain that falls in England “showers that are British” isn’t completely out of the question, but it’s clunky and completely foreign to the way we talk.  Even if you’re referring to people, would you say, “I have an accent like the people that are British”? Nope. You wouldn’t. I also don’t understand why the rain that falls over England is more comparable to tears than the rain that falls over, say, West Virginia, but who knows.

Onesie Direction

“I would be the smartest man, If I was invisible”

Clay Aiken from the song “Invisible”

If you were invisible, you could cheat very easily, so maybe it would help you get better grades. Other than that, it’s hard to really understand how being undetectable to the eye would have any impact on your intelligence. It would really help you if you were a stalker, which Aiken also addresses via an earlier line: “If I was invisible, I could just watch you in your room”. It’s a creepy line for sure, but at least it makes sense.

If he were invisible, he’d be smarter

Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad

Carly Rae Jepsen from the song “Call Me Maybe”

Add time travel to Carly Rae Jepsen’s list of talents, and then put a big x through “writes comprehensible lyrics.” The ridiculous nature of this line is the most obvious of any on the list, so much so that I don’t even want to explain it. If you don’t see the problem with it, then you’ve got very big problems yourself. But here’s the thing, despite its lyrical flaws (of which there are many), Call Me Maybe is classic bubblegum, and the absolute best song of its kind thus far in the 21st century. It features a walloping hook that is uplifting and unforgettable (don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about), plus a memorable and easy to sing chorus. I cringe to think that it was originally written as a folk song, but after a  makeover by producer Josh Ramsay, it became a puppy love anthem. Where many pop songs aim for a teenage audience, Call Me Maybe had mass appeal amongst younger kids, which makes sense because it kind of sounds like a third grader wrote the lyrics. And I should know, I’ve written lots of songs with third graders.

Carly Rae Jepsen would give pennies  and dimes for a kiss.

All of the lyrics on this page attempt to express something and do it poorly. They offer shoddy wordplay along with a “C’mon you know what I mean” attitude and presumption. It is true that you can understand what these lines are attempting to say if you allow a little give and take, but it’s also lazy writing. These lyrics are created by professional songwriters and pop stars who have vast resources and are rewarded handsomely for their work. I understand that their underlying goal is to make money, but I think it’s reasonable to expect professionals to produce work that is clear and to some degree intelligent, instead of relying on listeners compromising their intelligence.

Songwriting for Kids – A lesson plan and tips for teaching!

Teaching Songwriting to Children

Songwriting for Kids
Teaching Songwriting for Kids in the Czech Republic

In addition to writing custom songs, I have a background as an educator. One of my most successful teaching ventures has been a class called Songwriting for Kids. Today, I thought I would share a very basic lesson plan that I’ve used in numerous settings which has always gotten great results.  Many of the steps in the process can be viewed as stand alone tips. Naturally different age groups require different lessons, but here is a list of activities that can be applied to nearly any bunch of youngsters in a classroom setting with the goal of writing a song. Enjoy!

1. Start with a group project in which the whole class writes together.

You can do an entire song this way, or you can do the first portion of the song together before splitting into smaller groups or doing individual work.

2. Establish a broad theme or subject for the song.

The more specific your theme is, the less the students will know about it, and some might feel left out. For instance, Animals or Outer Space make great topics, whereas Raccoons or Mercury do not (unless the students have been educated specifically about these subjects).

3. Illuminate the theme.

If you know your subject ahead of time, choose a theme related read aloud book to share with the class. This can really help with creating word lists.

4. Make word lists!

Start by asking students to name words associated with the topic. For example, ask “What are your favorite animals”. If possible, display your list by compiling words on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or large sheet of paper. After you have received a good number of words for your initial list, ask a related question “What do animals like to do?” or “Where do animals live”. You can add these words to the list you started, or create different lists.

5. Play a freeze dance game using the words from your list(s).

Have some music ready, either pre-recorded or you can play an instrument. Call out a word from the list and start the music. Have the students pretend to be or act out what the word suggests until the music stops, at which time they will freeze and make a statue (standing still/quiet). For example you could say “horse” and students could gallop and make horse sounds until the music stops. Similarly you might have the word “roar” on your list and the students would make that sound until the music stops.

6. Begin writing lyrics.

Have students sit on the floor in front of the word list. Ask the question “How do we want to start our song”? Have a paper and pencil ready and to write down suggestions. This is where things get tricky as the results are unpredictable, but in my experience one of two things usually happens:

1. You are flooded with suggestions. If this happens acknowledge each answer by writing it in on your paper.

2. The students are shy and do not make any suggestions. In the latter case, refer to words on your list (for instance “Squirrel”) and ask “Can anyone tell me anything about a squirrel? Keep prompting students with more questions until you get a suitable opening line for your song. In the former case, acknowledge each answer by writing it in on your paper.

Once you have a number of lines, look to see if any of them rhyme, or could be made to rhyme easily. If so, start your song with those two lines. If not, choose a line that has an end word that lends itself well to rhyme (anything with an ay ending for example). Start your song with this line.

7. Rhyming Words

Compile a list of words that rhyme with the ending word of the first line (or first two lines). You may or may not need to write them down. Ask students to come up with sentences that end with one of the rhyming words. You may need to help students with the length of the sentences to make sure they will fit rhythmically and aren’t too long or too short.

Continue this process until you have about four lines. Or, for younger students you might want to repeat the lines several times (think She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain). If there is room, write the first verse on the whiteboard.

8. Now it is time to create the music!

If you do not play a musical instrument and are not musically inclined you can consider adapting your words to an already existing song such as This Land is Your Land, Camptown Races Etc.

If you do not have an instrument, but are musically inclined, take the lyrics and simply sing them with different improvised melodies, or allow students to try it. After two or three rounds of this, have students  choose the melody they like best.

If you have a musical instrument play some chord patterns and improvise singing the lyrics over the chords. Again, after doing this with two or three different patterns let the children choose a pattern that they like. (I find that strumming I to IV patterns such as G to C is a great place to start, then make sure the next pattern features a minor cord).

A fourth option would be for you to come up with the lyrics and send them to me. I will write the music and make a professional recording that your students will love! Details here.

10. Take a break

If time allows, take a break at this point and play the freeze dance game again.

11. Repeat the process

Review the song and then repeat steps 6 and 7 until you have another verse

12. Chorus

At this point you either have a short song with two verses, or you can teach the students what a chorus is (a part of the song that repeats itself) and choose one of the verses to be a chorus. Alter the melody and chord pattern for the chorus and then sing it before and after the verse.

13. More verses

Repeat steps 6 and 7 as time allows if you would like to have more verses.

13. MAKE A RECORDING OF THE SONG.

Despite recording technology being so accessible these days, kids still love hearing themselves on a recording and still get excited about making them. Even if it is just on your phone or ipod, make a recording of the song and play it back for them. This will also prevent you from forgetting what you’ve done in case this project is going to continue for more than one class period.

Things to consider

Before you begin a new songwriting project with kids, I like to ask myself the following questions:
Is it important that there be a rhyme scheme?
Is it ok to have non-facts in the song (things like talking animals)?
How long should the song to be?
Is the purpose of this exercise for students to have a chance to be creative, or are we using the song to teach them about a topic?

I hope that some of this information will be valuable to you, and that your Songwriting for Kids endeavor will be rewarding. Let me know if you have any questions about any of the information that I’ve included, or if you are interested in ordering a custom song!

Here are some samples of songs from the classes I’ve taught.

How master songwriters approach their songs

Being songwriters ourselves, we at Custom Serenade are interested in what some of the masters have to say! Enjoy this collection of tips and musings from some of pop music’s finest, and consider getting a custom song from us! It will make any happy occasion even happier!

Tom Petty and Elvis Costello

Tips and Musings from top songwriters

 

Songwriting ability is a gift. After a while, you come to realize, “I’ve really been blessed. I can write these things and it makes me happy, and it makes millions of people happy.” It’s an obligation, it’s bigger than you. It’s the only true magic I know. It’s not pulling a rabbit out of a hat; it’s real. It’s your soul floating out to theirs.
Tom Petty

 

For a songwriter, you don’t really go to songwriting school; you learn by listening to tunes. And you try to understand them and take them apart and see what they’re made of, and wonder if you can make one, too.
Tom Waits

You work on your songs, but your songs also work on you. So you absorb and you excrete and in some way you retain, and slowly you start to become some place that songs are passing through.

Tom Waits

I can’t write drunk, and I rarely write entirely sober. I think just a little bit of tipsiness is a great asset for turning off that super ego that tells you to Google every title you can think of, because someone might have thought of it before. Of course someone has thought of it before, who cares?

Stephen Merritt (Magnetic Fields)

Most love songs are complaints, I think. Or about unrequited love, coming at it from some oblique angle. Only the ones that say “I love you” over and over are the cheesy, corny ones that people complain about.

Stephen Merritt

”When I write a song, it starts with a feeling. I can hear something in my head or feel it in my heart. It may be that I just picked up the guitar and mindlessly started playing. That’s the way a lot of songs begin. When you do that, you are not thinking. Thinking is the worst thing for writing a song. So you just start playing and something new comes out. Where does it come from? Who cares? Now is not the time for interrogation or analysis. Now is the time to get to know the song, not change it before you even know it. It is like a wild animal, a living thing. Be careful not to scare it away. That’s my method, or one of my methods at least.”

Neil Young

Neil Young and Patti Smith

“Poetry is a solitary process. One does not write poetry for the masses. Poetry is a self-involved, lofty pursuit. Songs are for the people. When I’m writing a song, I imagine performing it. I imagine giving it. It’s a different aspect of communication. It’s for the people.”

Patti Smith

Once the inspiration comes, that directs where the perspiration goes, where the work goes. I don’t mean to sound like it’s some hippie philosophy of [in a high, fairy-like voice] you just sit down and it’s all flowing through you. Because there’s a lot of hard work involved in songwriting. The inspiration part is where it comes through you, but once it comes through you, the shaping of it, the craft of it, is something that I pride myself in knowing how to do”

Carole King

If you are sitting down and you feel that you want to write and nothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back again and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it.

Carole King

When I’m working on a song it takes weeks and weeks to finish and the orchestra stuff takes even longer than that. It’s like working on a construction of an airplane.

Frank Zappa

“I’ll just be out and I’ll get some zinger in my head and I’ll just write it down in an endless note-thing in my phone. A lot of those lines were just things that I came up with in the past year, like ‘Darling I’m a nightmare dressed as a daydream.’”

Taylor Swift

“It’s very important for the listener to have somewhere to go with their imagination. You know if you’re telling people what to think, I mean I think it’s one of the fallacies of protest music, if it’s too dogmatic, it’s not a debate, it’s not stimulating and the same is true of a love song or any spiritual song. If it’s too dogmatic then there’s no place for the listener’s imagination to exist within the music”

Elvis Costello

“Knock on every door, and write seven days a week. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but let that be your priority. Write, write and write some more.
—Lamont Dozier

“Your work ethic has got to be to the bone. Writing songs should be your first love, and give it all the time it needs until you feel like you’ve accomplished or gotten the song that you think is worthy of letting the world hear.”
—Lamont Dozier

I can’t say that I’m always writing in my head but I do spend a lot of time in my head writing or coming up with ideas. And what I do usually is write the music and melody and then, you know, maybe the basic idea. But when I feel that I don’t have a song or just say, God, please give me another song. And I just am quiet and it happens.
Stevie Wonder

I’m not a fast writer. Never have been. I may get the whole synthesis of something, or most of it, an initial impact. But you’re not going to get something every day. But it’s important that you visit your worksite every day, even if it’s just to improvise, touch the piano, play some chords. Be in touch with your music. I equate it with being a tennis player on the circuit. You don’t take three weeks off and expect to get by the first round at Wimbledon, you know?

Burt Bacharach

“Since I was 10 I was writing shit songs. Maybe they’re still shit, I dunno, but they were really shit. It was the first EP when I stopped trying to write something that I thought people would like. I was locked in my room, not doing shows and not caring what people would think if they heard them.”

Courtney Barnett

“I don’t have structured writing habits. I’ve written hundreds of songs and have enough material for three albums so I don’t see writing as a problem. I play my guitar every day and always have fragments of ideas floating around my head, but I never force a song into being. My songs aren’t autobiographical, but they usually combine a variety of things I’ve seen, heard or read about. Occasionally it will be something that happened to me, but I’ll combine that with other things.”

Tracy Chapman

You can’t write a song out of thin air you have to feel and know what you are writing about.
Irving Berlin

“If I write a song there has to be a catalyst. It can’t just be like ‘I had a nice day.’ It has to be like ‘I had the best day ever’ or the worst day ever. You can’t write a song from a bland experience, but you can write a song from two extremes.’”

Ed Sheeran

“If you’re in a really good mood, you can write the best song, and if you’re in a really bad mood, you can write the best song, but if you’re just vanilla, you can’t.”
Ed Sheeran

The Sleater-Kinney songwriting process is really unique. The kind of sparks that we get in our practice space are really special to this band. We feel pretty comfortable just letting it all fly in the basement, which is conducive to getting a lot of cool ideas. Even when we were writing “Price Tag,” I was screaming the word price tag. A lot of those ideas come for me as a songwriter when we’re working together…I just start singing or yelling things when we’re making all that noise together.

Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney)

Bob Dylan and David Bowie

Maybe I’ll write out five or six chords, then discipline myself to write something only with those five or six chords involved. So that particular dogma will dictate how the song is going to come out, not me and my sense of emotional self. Of course, I’ll cheat as well. If I’ve got the basis of something really quite good coming out of those five or six chords, then I’ll allow myself to restructure it a bit, if I think, well, that could be so much better if it went to F-sharp [laughs], or something like that. But to define the rules, then take it as far as you can go with that little rule, then break it, I find is really a way of breaking writer’s blocks as well.
David Bowie

“I can’t say when it occurred to me to write my own songs. I couldn’t have come up with anything comparable or halfway close to the folk song lyrics I was singing to define the way I felt about the world. I guess it happens to you by degrees. You just don’t wake up one day and decide that you need to write songs, especially if you’re a singer who has plenty of them and you’re learning more every day. Opportunities may come along for you to convert something—something that exists into something that didn’t yet. That might be the beginning of it. Sometimes you just want to do things your way, want to see for yourself what lies behind the misty curtain. It’s not like you see songs approaching and invite them in. It’s not that easy. You want to write songs that are bigger than life. You want to say something about strange things that have happened to you, strange things you have seen. You have to know and understand something and then go past the vernacular. The chilling precision that these old-timers used in coming up with their songs was no small thing. Sometimes you could hear a song and your mind jumps ahead. You see similar patterns in the ways that you were thinking about things. I never looked at songs as either ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ only different kinds of good ones.”

Bob Dylan

There has to be a certain amount of darkness in my songs for the happiness to matter. Just ’cause I’m not singing about sex and sports doesn’t mean I’m sad.
Elliot Smith

I work with my guitar and a legal pad and use about 50 pages to develop a song. I get going fairly early in the morning, because my mind is sharp, and start by dating the pad and putting down personal comments, such as how I am feeling that day, so that it becomes a diary of sorts. Slowly, a song will begin to emerge although sometimes it will stagger along, day after day, making no progress at all. The first page might have all sorts of lines that will never be used, but as I turn the pages, a little thought might come forward and suggest potential for development.

Paul Simon

“I’m writing all the time. And as the songs begin to coalesce, I’m not doing anything else but writing. I wish I were one of those people who wrote songs quickly. But I’m not. So it takes me a great deal of time to find out what the song is.”

Leonard Cohen

“If you want to be good at anything, you have to work hard at it. It doesn’t just fall from the sky. I work every day at trying to improve my writing, and I really enjoy it. Nothing fascinates me more than putting words together, and seeing how a collection of words can produce quite a profound effect.”

P.J Harvey

“My best songs come from two different ways, either when I have a really good gut feeling about something, it’s written in the shower or on a plane.”

Pharrell Williams

Let’s Talk Lyrics: Cold Beer With Your Name On It

Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics via this blog.

You can say what you will about New Country, but it is a genre that values lyrics.  The words are to a country song what a beat is to a techno song, it’s core.    So,  this time around I will be looking at Josh Thompson’s country hit “Cold Beer With Your Name On It”, which was written by Brent Anderson and Clint Daniels.  In general, I’m not the target audience for new country, nor am I really a fan, but as a songwriter I have to give the devil his due.  These are clever lyrics.  Let’s jump right in:

I hear you’re out there now and you’re doing alright

A new lease on life in Hollywood

Riding around with the ragtop down

Bet the west coast sun looks good on you
The country girl going to the big city and leaving her good ole boy lover behind is a common theme in country music.  The fact that this cowgirl chose Hollywood  tells us that she’s ambitious, and probably trying to make it big as an actress or a model which would also lead us to believe that  she’s quite a looker.  The good old boy is me.  And you.  Or at least the country listening equivalent of you and I.
Wasn’t very long ago we were sitting
On a lost dirt road by the railroad tracks
A lost road and a railroad track are a match made in heaven.  They are both icons of  country music that exist side by side in real life and provide the ideal setting for a rural romance.

If you ever think about that
And wonder where I’m at and wanna come back

Grammatical errors are a staple in modern Nashville.  They are included intentionally  so that the  the words will be written in the way that the target audience allegedly speaks, which is ripe with colloquialisms that are grammatically incorrect and would compel stuffy librarians in bifocals to shudder as they sip their tea, which is just fine with the audience and probably the writers too.

I’m sitting’ on a tailgate in the middle of a stargaze
Wishing you were in my arms
Chillin’ right here, baby if you want it
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it

I am impressed that the writers didn’t merely come up with a rhyme for the word “arm” here.  It would have been the obvious thing to do, and probably easier.  Instead, they turn things around with a pair of lines both ending with “it”, which some would consider lazy, but it beats rhyming with “arm” in my opinion.  It also gives them a chance to introduce the song’s title and catch phrase early on.  Also of note here, the word “chillin’ ” which seems a bit out of place, but times are changing.  Some people in the country talk like that.  Some of them are under 50.

Back 40 on a Friday night
Me and you dancing in the firelight

I know hipsters that have co-opted fire pits in the same way that they have adopted moustaches and knitting, and I have enjoyed these fires.   I hope though, that it still happens out in the sticks the way that this song describes it.  If you’ve never danced in the light of a bonfire, you should.

Girl you gotta admit it sounds pretty good, don’t it?
I’ve got a cold beer with your name on it

Yeah, it sounds good.  It would sound better to me without yet another intentional grammatical error (don’t it), but I’m not the target audience and the more I find it annoying, the better.

Pop the top, kick back like we used to do
Sipping all night long to your favorite tunes
If you ever get tired of the concrete life,
Those honking horns, them flashing lights

Got a jar of shine if you need it,
Under the seat, you know where I keep it

Here we have a glorification of the fun one can have drinking in the country contrasted with a condemnation of the alleged hassles of urban living. Again we have  the double “it” rhymes, and again I’m ok with it (no pun intended).  The use of the word “shine” here gives us more insight into this good old boy.  He’s also a rebel.  He drinks and drives, he buys illegal, homemade liquor.  Bet you won’t find that on the sunset strip!

Hey girl turn off your cell phone,
Put your blue jeans on, get back home

Slamming technology never hurts when you’re trying to appeal to a down home crowd.  Trade in your cell phone for blue jeans!  Especially if you’re a hot cowgirl!

Next we repeat the chorus, no need to repeat myself.  Then finally we have:

Cooler loaded down, picture perfect view
All that’s missing now is… you

I like the way the first line finds common phrases that are rhythmically identical.  Then there’s the melancholy reminder of the girl that inspired this song.  And then the chorus kicks in again and ends the song.

In all  the country songs I’ve heard recently, the lyrics are usually  a fabric  woven of  common phrases with the goal of effectively preaching to a choir that  praises simplicity, loyalty, and all things rural.   Every day sayings are employed, twisted, modified, and in some cases even created.   For me, new country challenges the notion of what a cliche actually is, and at what point it (or they) become a cop-out  in terms of lyric writing.

 

I doubt that I’ll begin sporting a cowboy hat any time soon, but I do appreciate the craft that is put into these and other lyrics in modern country music.

 

Let’s Talk Lyrics, “Hey Brother” by Avicii

Lyrics are a huge part of what we do here at Custom Serenade. Whether they are written by clients or for clients, the words that accompany music to make it a song are extremely important to us. So, naturally there is a keen interest in what other people do with words in music. I personally find it helpful to examine the lyrics of established songs and songwriters as both a means of improving as a lyricist, and also just for fun. So, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts about lyrics
via this blog, and I hope to start doing this on a regular basis.

This time around I will be looking at “Hey Brother”, an international dance hit from a progressive D.J. known as Avicii.

When I came up with the idea of blogging about lyrics, my intention was to take a popular song and dissect it line by line, offering opinions on the quality and meaning of the lyrics. After embarking on this task with “Hey Brother” I soon got a headache and realized that pointing out all the inconsistencies, weeding through the cliches, and trying to decipher any real meaning in this hodgepodge of mutated catch phrases would take at least twelve times the brain power as was put into the lyrics themselves, so I decided to change paths. I will include the lyrics in their entirety at the end of the post, and have also embedded a video that presents the lyrics. As for my opinions, I will only take the time to comment on several low points and let you judge the rest for yourself. At this point,  I would like to say that there are plenty of things to  like about this song.  It has a strong melody, interesting vocals and a solid acoustic guitar part. But the intention here is to discuss the lyrics.  So let’s jump right in with the opening line.

Hey brother, there’s an endless road to re-discover.

If a road is endless, there is always going to be something that lies ahead which one could discover initially. Therefore, if a person is keen on discovery, as these lyrics imply, and they found themselves on a road with no end, why would they go back to rediscover a certain part of it? As a friend pointed out, the only way this scenario really works is if there is one road that goes around the globe that this “brother” has already traveled previously in its entirety.

The next verse starts with a query which is certainly the equivalent of the opening statement in terms of being confusing:

Hey brother, do you still believe in one another?

Hey brother, are you a chimera? A host? Is there another organism whose cells dwell within your body? Because if not, I’m not sure who the other or others in this “one another” are supposed to include. I get the intended “meaning” here. I know that by saying “one another” Avicii or whoever wrote these lyrics meant some sort of unity, or togetherness. But there are so many ways that this could be expressed, and in fact, numerous simple fixes that could have made it a reasonably clear line, that I just don’t feel the “hey, you know what I mean” card can be excusably played here.

Moving on, let’s skip down to the chorus:

What if I’m far from home?
Oh, brother I will hear you call.

In this day and age, it is less than remarkable that a person who is far from home may hear their brother’s call. This can be accomplished my numerous means. But if you’re willing to stretch things a bit, you can derive that one brother is telling the other that he will “always be there for him” or something of the sort. But then we get this:

What if I lose it all?
Oh, sister I will help you out!

First of all, losing it all doesn’t make one a prime candidate for bailing a sister out. But, more to the point,
one of the major problems with “Hey Brother”, is that it is never clear who is speaking, who the “sky comes falling down for”, or who is “far from home”. Not that a pop song necessarily needs to adhere to grammar school rules for establishing setting, but this song attempts to tell a story, so attention to at least one of the four W’s could have gone a long way. For instance, if we are to imagine these two lines as an exchange between this unknown protagonist and the sister character, with the sister posing the question and the narrator answering, then it makes sense. But, this is not clear here or elsewhere in the song.

Argh, my headache is coming back. Instead of trying to decipher any more of this, I will end my analysis by offering this general criticism: the words to this song are a collection of faux deep banalities thrown towards the ears of a hopefully sympathetic listener who is willing to settle for something that kinda sorta alludes to some universal longing. The combined mistakes in these lyrics are things that any undergrad English major with a highlighter and thirty minutes could easily fix, or at least vastly improve.

I am aware that Avicii is Swedish and that English is most likely not his first language. But the Swedes are more than capable of writing pop songs in English. Starting in the ’70s with Abba and continuing to the present with writers such as Max Martin, the top 40 charts have been filled with songs written by Swedish writers that are certainly bubble gum, but at least make sense. In fact, Swedish teenagers First Aid Kit write lyrics which are both clear in meaning and more thought-provoking than those of many native speakers. I find it hard to believe that Avicii didn’t have the resources to come up with something better than what we have with “Hey Brother”.

The thing that irritates me the most about this song is that it sends the message that lyrics are no longer important – that words in a song are a minor detail existing only to embellish the high tech smoke and mirrors known as “production”, and to give the voice something to do. I’ve always been irked by the overall vapidity of top 40 lyrics, but most of them at least express decipherable thoughts. This song relies on and assumes a shallow audience that either doesn’t care what is being said, or is too stupid to realize that it says nothing. But, as Dick Clark would have said, it has a nice beat and you can dance to it.

Hey brother, there’s an endless road to re-discover.
Hey sister, know the water’s sweet but blood is thicker.
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

Hey brother, do you still believe in one another?
Hey sister, do you still believe in love, I wonder?
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

What if I’m far from home?
Oh, brother I will hear you call.
What if I lose it all?
Oh, sister I will help you out!
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

Hey brother, there’s an endless road to re-discover.
Hey sister, do you still believe in love, I wonder?
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.

What if I’m far from home?
Oh, brother I will hear you call.
What if I lose it all?
Oh, sister I will help you out!
Oh, if the sky comes falling down for you,
There’s nothing in this world I wouldn’t do.