Song lyrics are not poetry. Alone, they are paint in search of a canvas. They are clingy lovers who insist on doing everything with their partners. They gaze longingly into the eyes of music and say, “You complete me.” Music grits its teeth and thinks, why are you so goddamn needy?
Yet who gets all the glory?
When Americans OD’d on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill in 1995 (in those ancient times when record stores existed outside of Nick Hornby books), pretentious music writers held a “praise art” orgy in her honor. Her shatteringly awesome lyrics regaled us with the story of her breakup from a boyfriend who turned out to be a cheating jerk. It was so edgy, so intense, so cutting that…
Wait. Back up a second. Men are two-faced jerks who don’t appreciate women? Apparently, these folks were stunned that a rock artist discovered a topic county singers have been beating to death since the 1940s. In fairness to pretentious music writers, they have to rave about the lyrics. It’s job security.
But it was not Alanis’s words that sold us, peeps, it was her delivery. She’s so earnestly pissed off, she’s hyperventilating. She may indeed be brilliant, but not as a lyricist. Maybe, when she’s not singing rock songs, she’s on the cusp of unlocking the secret to cold fusion. That would make her a brilliant physicist. There’s a slight distinction.
Pop lyricists don’t need to be brilliant, just earnest. Whether Chris Martin of Coldplay is telling the tale of a washed-up king who one ruled the world (?) or Chris Brown is crooning