Escapism in Summer

In her debut album, Pure Heroine, released at age 16, musical artist Lorde grapples with a variety of topics, including youth, fame, social status, materialism, and mainstream culture. She explores her experience of youth in her song “Buzzcut Season,” imparting this experience through various poetic and literary devices, including understatements and overstatements, personification, metonymy, imagery, and metaphors. The theme Lorde constructs in “Buzzcut Season” is that summer is an escape among adolescents, allowing them to abandon school and the intimidating real world that is approaching and instead live in a suspended state of carefree bliss, however, an undertone of fear persists nonetheless. 

In the beginning lines, Lorde references when she accidentally set fire to a friend’s hair in a school science class, writing “I remember when your head caught flame/It kissed your scalp and caressed your brain.” Lorde then writes “you laughed, baby, it’s okay/It’s buzzcut season anyway.” In this situation, buzzcut season is a metonym for summer. The school year is coming to a close, and the flame gives the friend a taste of the warmth of summer. This is conveyed through the personification of the flame caressing and kissing, indicating it is a comforting force. Being set on fire is downplayed and brushed off here because the students have summer into which they can escape their current pains, such as being burned, so these pains are largely insignificant, seeing as they will disappear soon. Additionally, the friend having their hair set on fire only takes them closer to summer because they can shave it off to enter buzzcut season. 

Lorde then shifts to life during summer, with “Explosions on TV/And all the girls with heads inside a dream/So now we live beside the pool/Where everything is good.” The line “Explosions on TV,” which directly follows the line “It’s buzzcut season anyway,” introduces a new meaning of buzzcut season. The explosions convey the hardships and seriousness of real life, viewed only through a TV by the teens because they are not yet exposed, however, their participation in buzzcut season expresses that they, with their shaved heads, will soon join the war of the world. Following this daunting message, Lorde writes of girls’ heads inside a dream, meaning they, including Lorde, are escaping the world to spend their summer in a dream. Overstatements of them living “beside the pool,” where “everything is good,” communicate their abandonment of their responsibilities in the summer, solely immersing themselves in fun activities. This carefree behavior, like the metaphorical “dream” they are in, is unsustainable though. 

Later in the song, Lorde shifts her tone, writing “Cola with the burnt-out taste/I’m the one you tell your fears to/There’ll never be enough of us.” Cola is a summer drink, and its burnt-out taste conveys the bitterness lingering in one’s mouth as the illusion of an endless, joyful summer begins fizzling out. This also connects to the flame at the beginning of the song, which was ignited with the arrival of summer, but now cola accompanies its burning out. With summer’s illusion dying, fears surface because they are no longer able to be suppressed. To limit their acknowledgement to preserve summer for as long as possible, they are expressed in confidence to very few people. Ultimately, however, Lorde recognizes that there are “never…enough of us,” us being carefree adolescents, so escaping into buzzcut season is only a temporary luxury that will soon no longer be available. 

Lorde closes the song with returning to summer as an escape from difficulties and responsibilities. She writes, “The men up on the news/They try to tell us all that we will lose/But it’s so easy in this blue/Where everything is good.” The formidable real world, or the “men up on the news,” threatens to remove Lorde and her friends from their summer fun by exposing its unsustainability and its deviation from reality, however, they maintain their approach of “nothing’s wrong when nothing’s true.” These adolescents choose to deny the fact that they cannot avoid their mounting responsibilities forever because “It’s so easy in this blue/Where everything is good.” “This blue” is a metaphor for summer, and it also ties into the motif of pools the adolescents live beside during summer. While the exaggeration that “everything is good” applies when floating unburdened in water, one must eventually come to land so as not to drown. For now though, as the final line “I live in a hologram with you” implies, Lorde and her friends will prolong their transient, blissful hologram that is summer (metaphor) for as long as possible. 

Terrorists Working From Home?

“Where is the Love?” was a lead single released on June 16th 2003 as a part of the Black Eyed Peas’ album “Elephunk”. The song was a huge success and was able to hit 8th on the US Billboard Hot 100s charts and was nominated for “Record of the Year”, and “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration” at the 46th Annual Grammy Awards. The song was written about the state of the United States post-9/11 and had some very important messages that can be applied to the current condition of the world as well. The main theme/message of the song is that the US should first focus on resolving the problems within its own borders before getting involved with foreign conflicts outside of them. The use of language in this song is very complex and creates a unique experience for the listener. The lyrics to “Where is the Love?” by the Black Eyed Peas is in fact poetry.

The first usage of poetic language appears right at the beginning of the song.

Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin'
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK

The word choice in these lines is very poetic and does a great job of providing the listener with a central message. In this excerpt, the word “terrorist” is used in a very unique way that helps the song deliver this central message effectively. The first appearance of the word is conventional but the second appearance is much more abstract.  It is easy for the reader to picture terrorists in foreign countries plotting against the USA. However, most people would not consider America’s own people to be terrorists as well. Many know about “The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK” but probably do not regard their members as terrorists. The repeated use of the word terrorist, bridges the problems happening abroad with our own, and creates a sense of similarity. The word choice is able to convey that all the issues happening within the US borders are just as big of a threat to the American people as the terrorism threats happening globally.

This next excerpt is my personal favorite usage of poetic language from the song lyrics.

But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you're bound to get irate, yeah

In these lines, The Black Eyed Peas provide insight as to how discrimination escalates conflict in the US. Having love for your own race is commonly seen as a very positive thing. However, these lyrics bring up the fact that having too much love for the people of your same race can actually result in distancing from the other races (ultimately leading to conflict). The purpose of these lines is to teach the reader to accept all people, not just those similar to you. The use of the first two lines mentioning “love” and “discrimination” allow the listener to remember and retain the message more clearly. In these lines, the rejection of “loving your race too much” first creates the enticing hook, and then the clever mention of how this actually facilitates more discrimination adds great depth and imagery to a unique take on how to combat discrimination (by identifying its cause).

This final excerpt provides the reader with a topic that relates directly to our current situation in 2020.

Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images, is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria

The goal of these lines is to prevent the corruption of our youths’ minds by sometimes false or biased news from the media. The lyricist uses a hyperbole and metaphor on the third line in order to produce an image in the reader’s head of what a child succumbing to the gradual brainwashing via the media would look like. I also noticed that the first word in each line has a very negative connotation associated with it. The use of the words “Wrong”, “Negative”, “Infecting”, create a negative tone for the entire set of lines. This will allow the listener to greater understand the importance of tackling the issues within the US before getting involved with the global issues abroad.

Facing Problems In LIFE

Saba’s 2018 album CARE FOR ME was all about his process of coping with the deaths of family members and other issues in his life. “LIFE” encapsulates all of these ideas into one song. The standout aspect of “LIFE” and CARE FOR ME is Saba’s ability to paint a vivid and personal account of his state of mind in this time so listeners can empathize with him. The biggest theme on “LIFE” is the unpredictable and transient nature of life and what the people’s lives mean to other people.

Saba opens the song with a commentary on the prison system in America and it’s unfair treatment of black people.

They want a barcode on my wrist (barcode on my wrist)
To auction off the kids
That don’t fit their description of a utopia (black)

Saba uses allusion to fit multiple meanings into these 3 lines. First, the “barcodes on my wrist” most predominantly reminded me of the treatment of Jewish people in Nazi concentration camps but the later inclusion of “to auction of the kids” made me think of slave auctions. The mini theme within these lines is about the prison system and mass incarceration of black people in the US and racial tension in general. While these don’t specifically relate to losing loved ones, it does give some backstory as to why there is so much turmoil in his life as well as others with these same experiences. Giving listeners the ability to experience what Saba goes through and how he views the treatment of black people in America is one example of how “LIFE” is poetic.

The chorus in “LIFE” repeats the names of people Saba has lost that had significant influence on his life,

They killed my cousin with a pocket knife
While my uncle on the phone
He was gone for more than half my life
He got out a year and then he died
I was honor roll, talking to my father on the phone
Left the city when I was just four

These few lines relate to the main theme of loss being unexpected and life being temporary, but in order to really experience his emotions you need to listen to the music. One of the aspects of poetry we talked about in class is how delivery of lines affects the meaning of the words. Whenever the chorus comes up, Saba’s voice becomes very deep, distorted, and sped up with a booming bass line setting the tone for the few seconds of the chorus. I believe he chose to rap the chorus this way because it adds to the impact of his losses and the dark/deep places that he ended up in because of them.

Something a lot of people struggle with is expressing their true feelings. It is common in people who feel depressed or are just struggling to be happy with their lives and Saba illustrates this feeling in these following three lines,

Tell me it’ll be okay, tell me happier days
Tell me that she my bae, that I won’t be alone
Tell ’em I’ll be okay when he ask, “How’s my day?”

Saba uses the repetition of “tell me” to show he’s asking other people for validation in what he’s doing and to give him hope for the future. The last line is the most impactful in showing how people hide their true emotions. Almost everyone can relate to saying “I’m okay” when they’re really not but either don’t want to trouble other people or don’t want to face their feelings. Saba shows how the combination of wanting the help and validation of other people while simultaneously feeling unable to seek help creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing and depression.

While this song focuses on the sad feelings of loss, other songs on CARE FOR ME address how he overcame his sadness by facing his problems head on instead of continuing to run away and stay in denial. It’s only 40 minutes long so I highly recommend listening all the way through if you feel you’re trapped and need some music to relate with and potentially learn from.

Does the Sidewalk End?

“Open Road” by Roo Panes from the Weight Of Your World EP is a sweet song essentially about living life to the fullest potential while keeping home and family close. Although the meaning isn’t blatantly obvious, the listener is able to take from it what they want. When I listen, I focus on how the song is broadening my view of my own place in the world. I am reminded of the importance of living as free as possible, that our only real bounds are the ones we create for ourselves. There are a number of paths we can follow throughout our lives and all we have to do is start walking.

The song starts off with a hyperbole pertaining to an emotional state we all know too well. Sadness. 

And even from afar I hear you crying

Verse 1

This lyric is not meant to be taken literally. Panes is commenting on the strength of the emotion carrying from one person to the other without direct communication. Sadness is such a raw emotion that even when someone seems fine, anyone who knows them best can see through it. This is a powerful line as it suggests that someones sadness is so “loud” that it can be heard from far far away. 

The chorus is first accompanied by a Metaphor.

Let me out of this cage, ‘fore I swell up with rage

Chorus

Panes is obviously talking about a metaphorical cage here. It is a cage of our own making that limits us to certain gratifications in life. Using diction like “cage” creates an image that is easily understood especially in the context of a fast paced song.

The chorus also consists of personification of the sky. 

Let me shout to the skies that I’m too young to die

Chorus

This line can be interpreted a number of ways. Depending on how the listener interprets the lyric, the sky could be God, “the universe”, a different higher power, or the sky and world as in everything under the sun. As someone who is agnostic, I interpreted this line as simply the sky, in which case I consider this line to be personification since a sky cannot hear or receive a verbal shout. This line is also comforting in a number of ways as a seemingly much needed release of fears and emotions. 

The third verse utilizes one more lyric of personification. 

Wisdom knows the eyes through which you’re crying 

Verse 3

This line suggests that one emotion, which in this case is most likely sadness, is one dimensional on a unique multi-dimensional individual. We are so much more than one state of emotion, and as the eyes are the window to the soul, wisdom can see through the eyes into who you truly are. However, as we know, wisdom is not an actual person and that is where personification comes in as a useful device here. 

The purpose of this song is to comfort its listeners. Through the use of several poetic devices along with a steady tempo and voice, this song certainly achieves that.

An Era of Errors

The song I chose was II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night) by Childish Gambino. The song is the second to last track on his album Because The Internet. The album is about finding meaning in the age of the internet and is accompanied by a screenplay that includes which songs should be played over each scene. The album and screenplay tells the story of a character named The Boy who lives off his family money and spends his days trolling people on the internet and throwing parties in his LA home. Soon The Boy gets tired of this and tries to find something else to give his life purpose. During this quest The Boy goes from trying to restart past relationships to taking a trip to Sweden and eventually ends up giving up and decides to sell drugs. 

The song Earth: The Oldest Computer is played when he arrives at his house for a drug deal and realizes he has been set up. Knowing it is possible he could die and soon he does. The title is an allusion to the novel A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book the earth is a computer trying to find the question that will give people the meaning of life because they already know that the answer is 42. Just before it can give the people the question, the earth is destroyed. Just as in the book, Gambino dies just as he begins his epiphany

The Boy gets emotional as he begins to think about his life. He wants to live forever and the fact that he cannot makes him feel like he is missing out. Gambino sings: “See, now I don’t wanna see an era, an era, an era/ See, now I just wanna live forever and ever” (Childish Gambino, lines 1 and 2). Gambino understands he has only lived part of the human experience and longs to continue on. While in the official lyrics it is written as era, referring to a period of time, in the song this could be interpreted as “error”. This is common in his songs as he often uses lines that could be heard as two different words. The word error works in the song as it would be: I don’t want to see an error. This calls back to the themes of how the internet has changed human perception of the world as error is commonly used when talking about computers. This allows the line to have multiple meanings as he both wants more from life and does not want to live with mistakes.

Next, Gambino reflects on his life and thinks about what he could have done differently and what he is proud of. He soon seemingly goes on a tangent as he begins to reference pieces of culture represented by the letter A: “That ‘A’ on my chest like adultery (Yeah)/ That “A” on my chest, put your fist up (Yeah)/ That ‘A’ on my chest like a chipmunk” (Childish Gambino, Lines 10-12). First, he brings up an “A” representing adultery. This is seen in the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which the main character Hester Prynne must wear a red “A” because the father of her baby is unknown. As and fists are symbols of anarchy, a movement to remove all government. The final line talks about the “A” on the chest of popular cartoon character Alvin the chipmunk. This could be seen as a few of the many influences on a person’s life as books, political movements, and cartoons can shape who a person becomes. In addition, this use of anaphora while speaking about this letter shows these symbols ultimately mean nothing. If a red letter “A” can mean anything from a singing chipmunk to a lawless state it really represents nothing. All symbols are only social constructs that people apply worth to.

Soon after the lines about the letter “A” Gambino begins rapping about the way that in the internet age what gets put online is there forever. He believes that this could cause problems. Then he begins to think about how hypocritically this is of him to think as he raps: “Even I won’t survive, is it unfair?/ Is it unfair? Cause I don’t care/ When I step on that ant on the grass” (Childish Gambino, Lines 41-43). The rhetorical question “Is it unfair?” asks if this is even worth thinking about, as everything dies and most of the time he does feel bad about it. Gambino feels odd being sad his life will be over if he feels nothing when wiping something like an ant out of existence. While caring about the life of an ant is extreme this could be applied to people. This creates another question for the listener: should we care about everyone or no one? It seems in this moment The Boy has chosen just to think about himself. This question that interrupts him thinking about his life allows Gambino and the reader to reflect on their more selfish thoughts and possibly push some towards mutual recognition of all things.

Grooving to the Very End

Using a diverse pallet of funk, hip-hop, big beat, house, techno, blues, soul, jazz, and more, composer Hideki Naganuma illustrates a vibrant variety of serotonin-laced jams. Unlike traditional artists, most of his songs do not use lyrics to provide the “meat” of a song. He instead uses sampled vocal cues that act as compliment to the instruments.”Teknopathetic” is a standout song in his discography, as it relies more on its vocals to send a message.

The song establishes a chorus which is repeated many times:

Stop
playing games
Thinkin’ I’m done
exchanging names

Beginning on the second repetition of the chorus, a woman’s chanting provides a rhythmical backing. A “conversation” between the two persists.

Later, the second verse employs the use of iambic pentameter:

You’ve been taking much too long
tryna’ find what’s going on.
Wasting all my precious time
while you’re making up your mind.
You think you’re really in the know,
waiting for the sign to go.
I’ve been waving that green flag
and you still ain’t moving.

A sense of rhythm is maintained through the lyrics, as the first seven lines stick to a distinct seven-syllable beat, broken by the last line’s six. Additionally, the first six lines contain three sets of consecutive rhyming pairs, adding to its poetic nature.

“Teknopathetic” speaks of “love and its troubles”, evident through its usage of dating terms and conversational vibe. This pairs well with Hideki’s other song “The Concept of Love” which shares a similar overtone. The break at 2:54 uses a dissonance of synths followed with disharmonic piano plinks, the woman’s voice is noticeably replaced, and it ends abruptly after the word “stop”. The dissonance is disorienting and contrasts to the harmony present earlier. Both the woman singer leaving and the abrupt ending signify the termination of the speaker’s relationship. Love is complex, confusing, unpredictable, and at times, pathetic.

Jet Set Radio Future (the work where “Teknopathetic” is featured), is a video game depicting an alternative future to Japan. Freedom of expression is illegal and gangs of teenagers roam the streets, fighting against oppressive forces via graffiti and roller blading. Released in 2002, its namesake stems from its explosive soundtrack featuring both licensed hip hop and Japanese punk rock, as well as tracks original to the work.

Rise Up

Andra Day’s song “Rise” from her album Cheers to the Fall is a power ballad that seems as if it was made for Covid times. Doing the same things day in and day out with no reprieve brings the feelings of hopelessness to a new level. Day’s song acknowledges these feelings but then uses her song to inspire resilience and hopes for the future.

Day starts her song with a metaphor:

You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can’t find the fighter

The song starts off slow with an emphasis on strategically placed minor chords and then the lyrics start… The metaphor of a merry-go-round right from the get-go perfectly captures the feeling of hopelessness that Day wants to address. It captures the feeling of doing something over and over again but never feeling as though you can do it right so you just keep doing it again only to yield the same results. 

When you move into the melody she features multiple different literary devices singing:

I’ll rise up
Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I'll rise up 
And I’ll do it a thousand times again

The melody comes in with a progression of chords picking up the pace giving off an uplifting tone. The simile in the first part of the melody compares getting back up again to the day rising. This inspires resilience and hope in the listener that the next day will be better. She moves on to the repetition of “I’ll rise up” which also inspires resilience. The way she repeats it illustrates to the readers how many times one needs to get back up again, which is every time. Lastly, she finishes the melody with hyperbole, this serves to depict the resilience Day is trying to inspire in her audience. 

Throughout Day’s song, she uses perspective so that she talks directly to the audience. She uses you a lot so then the listener feels like she is talking directly to them and encouraging them to keep going. It inspires the listener because it feels like someone understands their feelings of hopelessness but believes that they will make it through. At the end the perspective changes a bit and Day begins to use we, “We’ll rise up/ Rise like the waves/ We’ll rise up/ In spite of the ache/ We’ll rise up/ And we’ll do it a thousand times again.” This makes the listener feel as though they are not alone but they have someone to fight with them. When one starts to feel hopeless having someone to just be with them is often one of the best things for them.

The whole song is an anthem designed to lift people up when they are at their lowest. The message that even when you are at your lowest to get back up again and that you are not alone is powerful and endlessly impeccable to almost any situation.

“September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire

Do you remember? Well, do you? Maurice White, singer of Earth, Wind, and Fire, reflects on a night that was important for him and his significant other in the song “September.” In order to convince the reader of the significance of an arbitrary night, he makes use of several literary techniques. The singer tries to improve memory recall uses metaphor to link abstract emotions to physical details of the night, rhetorical questioning to emphasize the action, and synesthesia to link different senses.

The singer uses metaphor to give physicality to significant emotions of the night. There are several notable ones:

as we danced the night away, remember / how the stars stole the night away, oh yeah

verse 1

By having the listener picture the act of stars “stealing” the night, they are able to envision how, as time flies by, relativity seems to cause the stars to exit the night sky quickly—and taking the darkness away with them.

golden dreams were shiny days

chorus

They juxtapose “dream” with “day” while linking two related syonyms, “golden” and “shiny”. What, exactly, is a gilded dream? Perhaps it is a dream of accumulating wealth or some type of achievement. Now these dreams have translated into “shiny days”‘, signaling that there has been some change in their reality–that they have achieved their golden dreams.

As you can see, metaphor gives body to the aspects of memory White is trying to pull.

Secondly, White utilizes rhetorical questioning to emphasize the action of remembering. This is likely the most famous line in the song, based on the portions sampled on streaming services.

White begins large:

Do you remember the 21st night of September?

verse 1

It is unlikely that one will remember a specific date, especially if we are at as large of a temporal distance from that event as the lyrics suggest.

But a simple, second-person question prefaces the rest of the imagery in the song, leading the viewer to question their own memory before envisioning the lyrics in their head:

Say, do you remember?

chorus

This tone is more informal, and therefore lends itself to better recall. The usage of the exclamatory “say” before the question emphasizes the surprise of the question. (Therefore, we’re likely reflecting far into the past.) It reminds us that we should be looking back.

Lastly, White uses synesthesia to link the senses. This too emphasizes the act of recall. Have you ever heard someone tell you to chew gum while studying? Linking one sense, like taste, to another, like sight (the flashcards you are looking at, for example) is an integral part of memory.

only blue talk and love, remember, the true love we share today

verse 2

Using a color to refer to the sound of talk helps the listener characterize the talk by another powerful sense. This improves the specificity of their recall.

My thoughts are with you, holdin’ hands with your heart to see you

verse 2

Obviously, one cannot physically touch a heart, which does not have hands. But by linking the sensation of holding hands with the feeling of love, the figurative heart, White is able to again improve the specificity of the listener’s recall.

Of course, most of us are not recalling anything in particular. But throughout the song, White is addressing one specific listener, and we are able to imagine ourselves as if we are that listener.

MF DOOM’s Villainous Wordplay

I will be analyzing the song “Accordion” by hip hop duo Madvillian on their 2004 album Madvilliany. This duo consists of emcee MF DOOM, the underground metal faced villain of the rap game, accompanied with producer Madlib, the dusty fingered crate digger, arguable the most prolific beat maker of all time.

Being the first real track on the album, aside from an intro track, we are given our first look into Madvillian’s grimy, raw, and villainous sound/aesthetic. This song, carrying themes of personal identity and being a rapper that is aging, serves to introduce the listener to MF DOOM and his evil facade, while starting off the album inducing a hypnotic head nod. DOOM opens the track/album delivering these lines with his signature deep voice and sporadic flow,

Living off borrowed time,
the clock ticks faster,
that'll be the hour
they knock the slick blaster

In just the first two lines, DOOM brings lush multidimensional language along with multiple poetic devices. Here, DOOM is saying that as he is aging his life is going by faster, bringing him closer towards death. He then says that when he dies, that’s when people will start playing his music, using the word “knock” to mean play and, “the slick blaster,” referring to himself. He accentuates the theme of aging by using words like “time,” “clock,” and “hour.”

Hey you, don't touch the mic like its AIDS on it, 
It's like the end to the means.
F**ked type of message that sends to the fiends.
That why he bring his own needles,"

Here, DOOM makes a comparison between hip hop heads and drug addicts. He starts these lines by saying wack rappers who glorify drugs and don’t put actual effort into their music, should stay off the mic. He thinks this because it sends a bad message to the “fiends,” or, people who listen to hip hop. DOOM completes this metaphor by saying that’s why he “brings his own needles,” meaning, that’s why he has his own style and puts something real into his music.

As for the title of the track, “Accordion,” this is in reference to the beat which contains a sample of an accordion sounding instrument from off kilter musician Daedelus. DOOM also references the title of the song in one of the last lines,

Slip like Freudian, 
your first and last step
to playing yourself like accordion.

A Freudian slip is a saying that means misspeaking and accidentally exposing yourself or “playing yourself,” so that is what DOOM is referencing here. In this song, MF DOOM uses carefully crafted metaphors and creative language to share with the listener a glimpse into his perplexed and villainous mind.

Your Lyrics are Getting Way Too Literal

Free at Last” is a song by the band PUP from their album Morbid Stuff. The song falls in the middle of an album dedicated to nihilistic expression and existential woes through melodic/cute melodies and high tempo punk instrumental. The theme of this song is the desire for people to prescribe meaning to their mental health issues so their suffering wasn’t pointless. In other words; when you become depressed and feel as though you’re the only one who truly understands what it’s like, and that there is some deep reason that you specifically have depression that only you can express. While expression is very helpful for mental health issues; relishing in the “aesthetic beauty” of being a depressed artist is not. It’s a punk song, a genre which is very much associated with angsty lyrics, as opposed to PUP’s existential lyrics.

Motivation, it comes and goes

Keepin’ expectations low

So when I let you down

I won’t feel so bad

“Motivation, it comes and goes” is anastrophe, but the lines themselves are very literal. The quote seems to describe the generally accepted mindset of depression; apathy, self destructive, and lack of motivation. The reason this more literal rendition of mental health is refreshing is because it doesn’t try to force any self pity on you. He’s openly just talking about it like it is without making it super deep. They lack of depth is important because having depression isn’t super deep, it’s just another illness. It does not cause one to become a tortured artist that no one can understand.

“Have you been drinking?”

Well, of course I have

Why the hell would I be here if I wasn’t?”

The song has a woman singing “Have you been drinking” implying a girlfriend. But my interpretation of this line is based off of the fact that his response isn’t a recognition of the problem of drinking. Instead, it reads as a genuine “No Sh*t” line. The singer goes through addiction once, gets sober once, and thinks it’s a meaningful moment in his life. Sadly the cycle is going to start again and on the 4th or 5th run of sobriety and addiction, it makes sense his attitude towards it is much more realistic and apathetically accepting.

Just ’cause you’re sad again

It doesn’t make you special at all

And lastly, another very literal line without a distinct poetic element. This line just takes the point of the song and explains it to you in as simple language as possible. It’s not a personal attack on those with depression, but thinking you’re special for being sad is just going to make you more depressed in the long run. Remember that self love is different from self pity. It seems harsh but it’s important to give yourself that reminder or else you will fall into worse mental health issues when the world reminds you you’re not special.

Modern Life

Pink Floyd’s song “The Thin Ice”, from their conceptual album The Wall, is a deep emotional song that has impacted my life because of the meaningful lyrics. The instrumental is melancholy, and from the first listen many may only see the song as that, but the lyrics tell a deep, poetic story through only two verses.

The lyrics are from two different perspectives. The first verse coming from the perspective of Pink’s mother. Pink is a character that Pink Floyd created to embody their struggles and The Wall is a story about his life. “The Thin Ice” is the second song from this conceptual album, and it is introducing one of the first struggles that causes Pink to spiral into a depressive state throughout his life and the album. 

The song starts with Pink’s widowed mother consoling her child…:

 Momma loves her baby
 And daddy loves you too
 And the sea may look warm to you babe
 And the sky may look blue 

Throughout the album, we see the band taking on various rolls outside of their character Pink. In verses like this, the lyrics seem comforting, but also hopeless. Cooing her baby, telling him that life may look beautiful, yet implying that it isn’t is an odd way to calm a child down. This is intentional, hence it is one of the first instances Pink feels hopelessness, one of the driving points of this conceptual album.

We can see this soft, somber verse from the mother contrasted by Pink’s harsh view in the last verse…:

 Dragging behind you the silent reproach
 Of a million tear-stained eyes 

This second verse, from Pink’s perspective as an adult, almost seems like he is mocking his Mother’s cooing, and instead he’s warning that life is inevitably going to send you into suffering. This warning is close to the same warning his mother was giving him, although his interpretation is not as soft and concealed as his mother’s. This modern life holds personal struggles for the person skating and it was created from other’s suffering that the skater must feel dragging behind them. Skating on “the thin ice of modern life” is an emotional risk, but it doesn’t seem like a choice, even though it is phrased as one. 

 Don’t be surprised when a crack in the ice
 Appears under your feet
 You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
 With your fear flowing out behind you
 As you claw the thin ice 

Although it is blatantly stated that the thin ice represented modern life, arguably not everyone felt these events unfold the same way Pink did. Pink lost his father at a very young age because of WWII and his mother was severely depressed from it. Introducing loss into his life at an early age may be the cause of his thin ice. Throughout his post-war life more things build up while his support systems also have a negative outlook which may be cracking the ice, causing him to eventually lose himself to his own fear and depression.

The cautionary message of this song is arguably an existentialist one: pain felt from past generations will never leave and life will inevitably hurt you. 

Nature and Growth in “Fussy”

Fussy” by Malia from her 2019 album Ripe is a song that I would consider poetry. If poetry can either expand or deepen your experience, this song falls into the “deepens” category. It describes personal growth– growing up and learning to leave behind things and people that don’t make you happy, despite the judgement you might face, so that you can be more fully yourself. The song is directed at the people from the speaker’s past who had once held them back, and adopts a tone of peaceful freedom. 

The song maintains an extended metaphor surrounding plants and nature, shown through lines such as the repeated “The fruit off the tree ain’t sorry to be where it’s sunny.” Fallen fruit is typically a negative symbol, because it means the fruit will begin to rot, but in this case the speaker subverts expectations because they aren’t at all sad to be distant from the “tree” they grew up on; instead, they’re happy to have left it behind for the better times represented by sunlight. These references to growth in nature, to trees in particular, symbolize the speaker’s growth that is the theme of the song. 

Like the food I eat

That comes from the trees

Save flowers for bees

Only take what I need

Just keepin’ the peace

These lines show how the song also uses the nature metaphor to suggest peace and security, like everything in the speaker’s life is now in its proper place, just as every organism has a place in an ecosystem. The speaker is focusing only on what they “need” to be happy, and this mindset has allowed them to exist much more peacefully in the world, without the stress that they used to experience from trying to fit into a role dictated by someone else. The food from the trees represents how their personal growth has become a force that sustains them. 

The speaker also explicitly addresses their audience at times, with lines such as “I’ll be here when you come for me.” This line, particularly the use of the very direct “you” pronoun, shows their confidence– they’re at a place in their life where they’re happy and don’t care what others think of them. They also aren’t afraid of these people “coming for” them, both in the slang sense of trying to start a fight or argument, and in the metaphorical sense of the rest of the poem– these people can no longer disturb the speaker, who will continue to do their own thing in this nature-filled happy place.

2 Have “Moment 4 Life”

In 2010, the music industry came to a halt when Nicki Minaj’s album, Pink Friday, came out. The album featured 13 different songs, but most noticeably it had, “Moment 4 Life“, with Drake as a feature. In this single, Minaj reflects on her rise to fame and the work it took to become respected in the music industry after coming from such a drastically different background. She explains in the song that she comes from a rough neighborhood in New York, and has struggled to become so successful and is proud of how far she has come. She writes that she wishes she could stay in this “moment”, as in the peak of her success, and she wishes to enjoy this for the rest of her life.

Nicki Minaj’s writing prowess shows in “Moment 4 Life” through her use of allusion, metaphors, and imagery to convey her rise to fame and success. In the first verse of the song, she has written:

In this very moment, I slayed Goliath with a sling

Nicki uses the figurative language of allusion when she references Goliath. Minaj cites Goliath, who derives from the Bible. In the Bible, Goliath is a Philistine giant and was a formidable foe. But Goliath is slain by a sling wield by David. In this line, Nicki compares herself to David because they both defeat their enemies. But unlike David, her “Goliath” was finding success in the music industry. She claims that she has slayed her own Goliath, and is now free to enjoy her fame and achievements.

Clap for the heavyweight champ, me

Next, Nicki uses a metaphor to compare herself as a heavyweight champion even though she is a rapper. In boxing, heavyweight is the heaviest weight class. This class does not include an upper limit but only minimum weight. Nicki compares herself to a heavyweight boxer because like these boxers, Nicki has no limits. Similar to a boxer, she is the reigning queen of her own game. Nicki is at the level of famous heavyweight boxers like Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali but in her own field. This line proves to listeners that she has become apart of the greatest rappers of all time and has achieved her success similar to the likes of the best heavyweight boxers.

Drifting away, I’m
One with the sunsets
I have become alive

Nicki Minaj cleverly uses imagery to describe her accomplished dreams. In movies, when the hero rides off in the sunset, it is depicted as a happy ending. She explains that she has reached her own sunset. This is Nicki’s happy ending because she has completed her goal of becoming the best rapper. She has achieved her “moment” and hopefully will continue to be able to drift that wave for the rest of her life.

All That Grows in a Garden

Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers on her album Punisher tells a story of reflection and growth through retellings of her experiences and her dreams. Throughout the song, she tells stories from different stages in her life, transitioning from her childhood, to her adolescence, and eventually to adulthood, in which she is finally able to forgive herself for her past. The entire song centers around the idea of growth, and in finding the beauty in destruction.

The song begins by describing her dreams as a child:

And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing

I’ll plant a garden in the yard, then

They’re gluing roses on a flatbed

This start of the first verse uses imagery to set the scene of her killing a Nazi, and planting a garden over his dead body. This creates an unnerving contrast between the beautiful and peaceful garden filled with roses, and the dead Nazi it covers up. This juxtaposition forces the listener to consider what the origins of growth mean for its outcome – is growth still beautiful if it comes from something scary and devastating?

She then continues on to discuss the loss of her childhood as she moves on into adolescence:

I grew up here, ’til it all went up in flames

Except the notches in the door frame

When Bridgers was about 19 years old, her family home caught on fire, literally going “up in flames.” However, this was at the same time that she was witnessing her parents go through divorce, symbolizing her childhood going “up in flames.” The second line then alludes to the notches families often keep on their walls to indicate how tall a child has grown to be, continuing the theme of growth. Since these notches aren’t actual objects, they can’t technically be destroyed by the fire, symbolizing the idea that this catastrophic event in her life didn’t erase her growth.

After discussing the loss of her childhood, Bridgers moves on to reflecting on her transition between adolescence to adulthood:

Then it’s a dorm room, like a hedge maze

And when I find you

You touch my leg, and I insist

But I wake up before we do it

Dorm rooms are often associated with entering young adulthood, and the changes that come with. The mentioning of a hedge maze as a simile in the same line alludes to the image of navigating a complicated maze, indicating the struggle to find your way in life, especially when entering adulthood. This image of a dorm room hedge maze appears to be a dream, but before she can find her way out of the maze and figure herself out, she wakes up abruptly.

The final chorus goes back to the ideas from the beginning of the song:

Everything’s growing in our garden

You don’t have to know that it’s haunted

Bridgers revisits the garden that was planted over the dead Nazi from the beginning of the song. This garden seems to be thriving, and so she leads to listener to wonder if the garden’s history truly matters, or if it’s ok for the death that haunts the garden to remain unknown, since it doesn’t take away from how much the garden has grown. The garden is still beautiful, despite the fact that it’s fertilized by the corpse of a Nazi.

Finally, after revisiting the garden of her childhood, Bridgers discusses recent experiences from her adult life:

The doctor put her hands over my liver

She told me my resentment’s getting smaller

In traditional Chinese medicine, liver health is closely linked to emotional health, meaning that if her liver is in good health, her emotions are too. As her emotions grow healthier, her resentment shrinks away, and she is able to forgive herself for her past, and accept her growth.

“Garden Song” leads listeners to reflect on their life and the idea of growth, and how some of the most beautiful things can bloom from trauma and pain.

The Other Day

Yesterday” from the album Help!, by The Beatles is considered to be one of, if not the greatest pop song of all time. The opening verse utilizes personification in the lyric, “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,” to set the theme of the song that represents desiring better times. They personify one’s troubles, as being a distant event that won’t negatively effect a person’s life at that moment. This creates the façade where they can reminiscence of the time their lives contained bliss and peace. Although The Beatles released this song in 1965, the message of the song still resonates with the listener 55 years later. Especially in the current state of our country. With lockdowns and quarantine, everyone longs for a better and happier time.

The metaphor written in the song, “Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be/There’s a shadow hanging over me,” compares a literal shadow eclipsing a person engulfing them in darkness, to a metaphorical shadow that darkens one’s mind into a state of despair. The metaphor allows the listener to remember a time or certain experience where they had that same metaphorical shadow cast over them, and how in that moment they wanted nothing more than to reside in a different time.

Throughout the song the artist repeats the word, “Yesterday,” in order to reinforce and strengthen the main message of the song. Every time the word “Yesterday” is repeated, the listener is reminded of a time period in their life where they existed without strife or trouble.

Pretentious Ideality in MGMT’s “Time to Pretend”

“Time to Pretend” from the hit early 2000’s album Oracular Spectacular by MGMT entails the struggles of a faux ideal world created by those who have reached pinnacle success, but have in no way found happiness. While the song consists of an exceptional beat and melody, the lyrics portray some of the less fortunate realities of life. While still on their climb to immortality, the group wrote their masterpiece in anticipation of what was to come. The piece ultimately becoming a statement that they will have to endure the pain of never being able to have life how it once was growing up.

I’ll miss the playgrounds
And the animals and digging’ up worms.
I’ll miss the comfort of my mother
And the weight of the world.”

Missing the weight of the world refers to the disassociated feeling that comes from using a lot of drugs and constantly living in this world void of emotion. Saying that he will miss feeling connected to life, and expressing sorrow for no longer being able to identify as part of the normal world at large, and not being able to have a sense of importance about life decisions.

I’ll miss my sister, miss my father
Miss my dog and my home.
Yeah, I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom
And the time spent alone.”

They miss the people that genuinely care for them and the freedom of having time to oneself. He references the often told price of fame, loss of anonymity and ability to just blend in and be one’s self, as opposed to pretending to be someone you’re not.

But there is really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew
The models will have children, we’ll get a divorce
We’ll find some more models, everything must run its course.

Using such fatalistic language as “everything must run its course” about something so garish and clearly unnecessary probably suggests a more high minded subtext. The line facetiously affirms the premise that stardom is a job with certain roles and expectations, such as self-destruction and self-centeredness.

We’ll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend

Alike, Choking on one’s own vomit after a drug overdose or heavy drinking has caused the death of several prominent musicians, perhaps most notably Jimi Hendrix, John Bonham, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass, Keith Moon, Billy Murcia, and Bon Scott. The narrators will die in vain, literally destroyed by their own excess, having gained no real value from life. Throughout all of MGMT’s experimentally sound pieces, “Time to Pretend” has to be the most poetically challenging. The emotion evoked provides the feeling of emptiness which counteracts the positively tuned melody and beat. This, I believe, contrasts in order to further express the falsehoods that are displayed in life.

Once Upon a Time

John Cage is perhaps most famous in popular culture as the poster child of the avant-garde music movement, with his piece 4’33” — which consists of 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence — reaching particular notoriety. While his style of challenging common notions of aesthetics is a fun novelty for most listeners, Cage put a lot of thought and work into building a considerable repertoire of cutting edge musical ideas. After earning his chops as a traditional composer early in his career, he shifted his focus to the avant-garde, including pioneering the concept of Aleatoric Music, or music with some sort of chance-based component. Aleatoric music has quickly grown in popularity and deployment since Cage’s time, particularly in video game and film music.

One of the pieces Cage composed pretty early in his career, Living Room Music, exemplifies his transition from more common styles of performance to avant-garde ideas. The piece consists of four movements, though the third is optional. The first, third, and fourth movements all have players selects items that might be found in a typical living room (cups, tables, papers; the particular items are at the players’ discretion) and use them to create a certain rhythmic pattern. The third movement also pairs this rhythm making with a melody to be performed on a suitable pitch inducing instrument.

The second movement, however, stands out. Unlike the other movements, this one can be performed without any auxiliary items. That’s because it consists of four individuals repeating a certain set of words with a particular rhythmic pattern and occasionally pitch bend. The words are a deconstruction, reordering, and layering of the first few lines of a lesser known Gertrude Stein children’s book called The World Is Round. The way cage deconstructs and re-arranges the words has much intrigue and meaning, and even begs the question about how lyrics that are part rhythmic and part message based and spread across multiple parts should be conveyed in non-musical writing, but alas this is after all an assignment for which I will be graded and looking at those things entails a tangent this post can not afford. So for the purposes of this post, I will analyze the base set of lines Cage uses to construct the work, as he conveniently includes them at the beginning of they score for the movement (linked above):

Once upon a time the world

was round and you could go on

it around and around.

So, what is this excerpt about? Some hint could come from the content of Stein’s book itself; through the book’s main character, Rose, it highlights the importance of asking questions and feeling a connection to the world. But it’s notable that Cage choses only to focus on this opening sentence from the book when he had ample musical “space” to include additional lyrics. What’s also telling is this particular movement’s title: “Story.” Much in the same way that the other movements of Living Room Music invert traditional conceptions of music by embracing the every day rhythms one might make with objects in their living room, “Story” takes the idea of a story at it’s very core, at it’s simplest form, and transmutes it into something that is halfway between narrative and song. Cage’s purpose, then, is to convey the non-story story — the archetypal stand in that captures infinite possibility because it embodies the very concept of a story.

A further examination of the phrasing in the excerpt Cage uses makes this point patently clear. Starting at the very beginning, the lyric opens with the phrase “Once upon a time.” On the one hand, this clause is serving a literal purpose — by placing the sentence in the past tense it set’s up a narrative trope of “retelling” that fits more naturally with the archetypal narrative of a story (as opposed to stories which are told in present tense, and therefore feel more like they are unfolding live than being retold). At the same time, “Once upon a time” holds an important place in popular culture as the classic opening to many children’s tales, so parroting this language here not only sets a tone of retelling but also places that tone specifically in the childhood story milieu. Finally, because the phrase does not specify a particular time beyond the ambiguous “once,” the sentence takes on a sense of timelessness (in the very same way the aforementioned children’s tales often seem timeless), allowing it to further invoke the archetypal concept of a story.

The next line is also notable in creating the sense of an archetypal story, but in a more innovative way. The use of the 2nd person in storytelling and especially children’s books is quite rare with perhaps If You Give a Mouse a Cookie being the only notable example. Yet here the use of the word “you” in “you could go on it” does not stand out as odd. This is because the “you” portrays a sort of “place holder” or “filler function” — it serves a similar purpose meaning-wise in the sentence as “one could go on it.” That is to say, it is not important who is going as much as that going can occur. However, the use of the word “you” does serve some sort of personalizing function as well by forcing the reader to place themselves in the sentence. Though the reader understands the generic function of the word “you” outlined above, the reader also can’t help but imagine themselves “going on [the world].” This serves to facilitate the reader’s understanding and relation to the story even though the story itself is fairly straightforward and uncomplicated.

Finally, the repetition of the word “around” in the last line secures the sentence’s meaning. In a literal way, the word points to the circular nature of storytelling: much like this particular story never ends but instead simply lands on the observation that one could go around, the archetypal story does not end in spirit even if it has a literal ending because it is perpetually repeated ad infinitum. Additionally, the vowel heavy sounds of the words “around and around” not only make this repetition literal (since the word around is repeated), but also by give this idea a more physical character as the round shape of one’s mouth when saying “around” and the lack of sharp stop constantans like t or p (except at the very end) give the word a circular feeling. By recognizing this innovative word construction, John Cage uses his work to convey broader ideas about not just the content but the form of stories.

It’s About To Be Writ Again (But My Way)

As listeners hook their headsets to the silver screen, they transport to the surreal world of Bowie’s universe marked by shocking red mullets, clown-like rouge, and comical blue eyeshadow. Perhaps the hallmark of Bowie’s signature art-rock style, “Life on Mars” embodies the enigmatic, theatrical, and quirky characteristics that embody Bowie as an artist. Despite being one of the most renowned and culturally significant songs in music history, listening to “Life on Mars” evokes a sense of obscurity comparable to stumbling upon a never released experimental vinyl. This unusually composed song paired with its accompanying music video deviates so far from mainstream music, yet perfectly belongs in Bowie’s strange, intergalactic universe.

Life on Mars” was released on Bowie’s sophomore 1971 album, Hunky Dory. It was later released as a single. Bowie’s inspiration for the song derived from one of his earliest, unreleased pieces: an English adaptation of Claude François’s “Comme d’habitude” (As Usual). In the 60s, it was common practice for English artists to write their own lyrics to the melodies of hit European songs. Bowie titled his adaptation “Even a Fool Learns to Love.” Bowie never saw the project to completion and left it to the wayside. Paul Anka then bought the rights to the original French song “Comme d’habitude,” and rewrote it as the famous classic “My Way.” Frank Sinatra’s performance of “My Way” rocketed the song to fame, and Bowie then took it upon himself to revisit his interpretation of “Comme d’habitude,” which was “Even a Fool Learns to Love.” After much deliberation, ruminating, and hours of musical genius; Bowie produced what we now know as “Life on Mars.”

The piece hodge podged together several 20th century cultural references. Further influences include the Hollywood Argyles’ doo-wop hit “Alley Oop.” Bowie took the line “Look at those cavemen go” directly from “Alley Oop.” The orchestral crescendo of Bowie’s tune can not only be recognized in its parodic inspiration, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” – it also echos in Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, The Beatles’ “Somewhere,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” (“Stairway to Heaven” came after “Life on Mars”)

Life on Mars” remains one of the most enigmatic songs of all time. Though many people enjoy parroting its catchy tune and memorable lyrics, listeners and fans alike often don’t have the slightest idea as to what the song means. With lyrics such as “Sailors fighting in the dance hall/Oh man! Look at those cavemen go” and “Rule Britannia is out of bounds/To my mother, my dog, and clowns,” “Life on Mars” is both a nonsensical word salad and a masterly allegory.

Life on Mars” is a critique of the media consumption culture, systematic oppression, and capitalistism that were prominent in the 1960s (obviously, this was not limited to the 60s, but Bowie was critiquing a very specific period in history at the time that he wrote this song). Bowie criticizes this culture through a satirical story narrated by the lyrics of the song. In this story, a girl’s parents forbid her from going out, so she lives vicariously through media consumption (particularly film and TV). She uses media as a form of escapism and way to travel past the confines of her mundane life. This escapism and vicarious exploration correlates with the title and repeated line “Is there life on Mars?” which expresses a yearning for life beyond Earth. Yet the girl quickly becomes unfazed by the very source of her escapism and excitement. She soon realizes the ridiculous, formulaic, and trite nature of escapist media. She concludes that artistic fantasies derive from experiences and phenomena present in the very world they seek to avoid. Bowie expresses this theme trough lyrical illusions to pop culture, vivid satirical imagery, and metaphors portraying mass consumers as primitive and oblivious to the cruel reality of life.

In the first verse, Bowie establishes the monotonous, desensitizing nature of video media:

As she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she's hooked to the silver screen 
But the film is a saddening bore
For she's lived it ten times or more

The hyperbole exaggerating the number of times the girl has relived the film (or comparable films) admonishes the unoriginality of cinema culture. The girl becomes dejected by living the film “ten times or more,” realizing that everything eventually repeats itself. As she watches society continue to feed the exploitative, capitalistic movie industry, she grows detached from both the far off universes in movies and her own mortal life. This strengthens Bowie’s argument that capitalism and media culture are harmful and pervasive aspects of global life.

Bowie further denounces mass entertainment and capitalism through an allusion to the pop culture figure Mickey Mouse:

It's on America's tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow

“Cash cow” is a metaphor comparing steady businesses to a dairy cow that can be milked for several years with very little care. This line asserts that Disney is a cash cow, milking the same basic stories and characters to continually reap financial benefit.

Following this metaphor, Bowie shifts his critique to music media:

Now the workers have struck for fame 
'Cause Lennon's on sale again

These lines allude to John Lennon’s song “Working Class Hero,” which artistically stretches John Lennon’s childhood narrative into a proletariat power struggle. This is ironic because Lennon grew up in a detached, comfortable upper middle class life and built his musical career upon the very capitalist system he rebukes in “Working Class Hero.” Bowie attributes musical stars like the Beatles as just as guilty of playing into this corrupt system. Lenon exploits his own story just as Disney exploits Mickey Mouse. They squeeze all they can muster out of their own form of media in an effort to make the most money with little creative exertion. It is important to note that Bowie wrote this before reaching rock star fame. As his career progressed, he too contributed to this corrupt system.

Next, Bowie compares consumers to animals with a herd mentality:

See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

This establishes an image of people en masse, following whatever norm is set for them. This connotes that they are void of individual thought by letting systems control them. Ibiza and the Norfolk Broads were popular British tourist destinations. Comparing the tourists to mice in hordes reflects the idiocy of commercial tourism. Since people travel in hordes to the same destinations, they fail at escaping. Even though they change physical location, they do not break away from group norms which define the world they want to escape.

Finally, the chorus repeats this set of ever prevalent lines:

It's the freakiest show
Take a look at the Lawman 
Beating up the wrong guy

“Lawman” is a metonym for the corrupt police, security, and law enforcement system. Bowie both scorns the violent criminal justice system and the media’s fetishization of pain and suffering. Through this image, Bowie corroborates that mass systems are inherently oppressive. Furthermore, he articulates that this corruption is a two way process. Yes, the system enforces a dehumanizing power imbalance; however, this system maintains its legitimacy through consumer fascination with violence, pain, and suffering. This is similar to Benjamin’s assertion that dominance requires participation from both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Bowie uses these poetic devices to prove that media industries are corrupt monopolies, that consumer culture is an unhealthy and dissatisfying form of escapism, and that mass public support of these corrupt industries only strengthens their power. This illustrates the vicious cycle of capitalism.

Although “Life on Mars” never reached the household stardom of “My Way,” the song is both a musical and literary masterpiece. It reveals several layers of societal flaws whilst regaling a captivating narrative. Even if “Life on Mars” fades further out of public recognition, it will continue not influence music for decades to come.

Playlist with all songs mentioned in this post as well as notable covers of the song. Yes, “La Vie en Mars” is a French cover of an English song that parodied another English song that was derived from a French song.

Walking Through The Woods of Mac Miller’s Mind

Mac Miller’s song “Woods” is featured on his posthumous album Circles. This album was released a little over a year after the death of Mac Miller and was said to complement its preceding album Swimming, so that the two together create the concept of “Swimming in Circles.”

This song gives a great insight to the mind of Mac Miller, who died of a tragic overdose. Miller struggled with depression and addiction which he expressed through many of songs including “Woods”, in which he raps about being emotionally lost and how his relationship with a woman seems to have guided him. In the beginning of the song Miller states,

Things like this ain’t built to last

I might just fade like those before me

In these two lines, Miller refers to his relationship with a woman as being so positive to the point that he feels it’s almost too good to be true or it “ain’t built to last.” This shines a light on how intense the darkness was in Mac Miller’s life that when he finally had a relationship that was important to him he worried it wouldn’t last. He goes on to say “I might just fade like those before me.” This line carries several meanings. By using the word “fade” he refers to falling out of the music industry as preceding artists have while simultaneously referring to his life, body, and mind deteriorating due to drug abuse, also similar to many other artists. Miller continues on to say,

Too many days in a daze, better wake up

Put your face in the place where the space was

Again, Miller eludes to his two states of emotional struggle along with drug abuse. With the words, “too many days in a daze, better wake up”, Miller might be referring to several aspect of his life. As a popular rapper, his life includes the darkness that is drug abuse which he could be referencing when he states that he is in a daze. Miller could also be talking about his emotional state, expressing that he is stuck in a “daze” caused mental illness, or he could simply be expressing his lack of sleep and rest due to his fast-moving life as an artist. The following line displays how the woman he was with at the time filled an empty “space” for Miller, foreshadowing that this woman was a savior for Mac Miller. Nearing the end of the song Miller states,

So far beyond all our control

You saved a soul so close to broken

This final line is so powerful to me and what really makes this song poetic. When Mac Miller says “you saved a soul so close to broken” he sends out several different messages to his listeners. First, he provides an insight to the struggles he endured during his life that may not have been perceived by the public eye. He also seems to be referring to the same woman by saying that she “saved” him when he was “so close to broken.” I think this notion is so powerful because many people can relate to it. In our world today, people can be experiencing so many things and others on the outside might never know it but also how even the simplest acts of kindness can change someone’s whole life which is why this line is so relatable. Not only does it allow the listeners to experience Mac Miller’s personal experiences but it also connects to the listener’s lives as well. This is a quality that many of Miller’s songs hold which is only one of the many reasons why Mac Miller’s music is so significant in the music world today.

Life in “2009”

Mac Miller’s song “2009” from his album Swimming gives off an emotional rollercoaster effect. While Mac was writing this song, he was going through addiction, heartache, and depression. The song lets you into his mind and allows you to realize a fraction of what he was going through. The immense amount of pain and suffering he was going through alone was what let him create this song. Within the lyrics spoken by Mac, he expresses the feelings he got from drugs, depression, love and affection. Here is a portion of the lyrics from the first verse expressing him moving forward through his depression each day:

Yeah, okay, you gotta jump in to swim
Well, the light was dim in this life of sin
Now every day I wake up and breathe
I don’t have it all but that’s all right with me

Mac’s lyrics all seem to have a deeper meaning compared to some other artists. You can see in the example above that he draws you into his life by expressing his feelings poetically through music. His use of rhyme and rhythm in his songs make them catchy which adds to the eye opening writing. When listening to the song, Miller’s voice sounds calm and relaxed during this part which shows how battling through depression is a struggle, but he does it everyday. You can tell that his tone is a big part of his writing. The use of volume also has affected how I interpret what he means in his songs. He communicates his feelings through music and it is almost like you are there with him while listening to his music.

I don’t need to lie no more
Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind, and
She don’t cry no more
She tell me that I get her high ’cause an angel’s s’posed to fly,

Mac Miller learns to take one day at a time by relaxing and being himself. Through these lyrics above, he also mentions his ex; Ariana Grande. She was an angel to him, hence him calling her angel. One of the people in his audience is Ariana who seems to have made a major impact on his life. These lines use imagery by painting a picture/scene of when Ariana stops crying and they are getting high together while she looks like an angel. We all interpret lyrics differently, but that is how I interpreted these lines.

It ain’t 2009 no more
Yeah, I know what’s behind that door

These two lines occur four times within this song. The repetitiveness happens for a reason, especially in poetry. The line constantly reminds the listeners that Mac did know that 2009 was over and that he knew what was going to happen. He released two mixtapes in the year 2009 and was not too sure where or what he was going to write next. He ended up talking about his personal struggle with drug addiction within this period of time.

Mac, throughout all of his songs, seems to use language that can be perceived as inappropriate and outstanding at the same time. Just like in poetry, you need to entree the reader by having words that have deeper meanings then it appears. Mac Miller does that in all of his songs, especially in “2009.”