A few weeks ago I created the poll on Twitter, “When you listen to music, what do you connect with more?” The options were “the lyrics” or “the music”. I had 55 people vote in it, the winner being “the lyrics”, with 51 percent of the vote. Here’s the reason this question have been bugging me for several weeks:
I was driving back home to Florida for Thanksgiving when this question popped into my mind. Obviously, over a 14 hour drive I was bound to listen to a lot of music, but I hate listening to new music in the car. In the car, I perform. Like- full fledged, if I had lights and staging you’d find me on Off Broadway kind of performing. I don’t know what it is about cars, but thank the lord for tinted windows!
So there I was, driving, listening to a lot of music, and realizing I didn’t know half the lyrics playing over the speakers. When did I decide to disregard the lyrics to music I knew so well? The lyrics were secondary to my experience. It was the notes, the harmony, the rhythms, that’s what moved me.
Thus, my twitter poll way born. I wanted to see where my friends and foes fell in this music conundrum. Was my connection with the music over the lyrics just a me thing? Or was there was a broader pattern? Surprisingly, the final results finished pretty equally, with lyrics winning out in the end. So I started analyzing more of my relationship with music. What do I listen to most often? Why do I listen to it? What music is my favorite, and does my preference for the composition win out here as well?
I have a great affinity for The Shins. If anyone asks me who my favorite band is, they’re always my answer (though I really think when it comes to music and movies there can never truly be a “favorite”). The Shins have a sound that I just really connect with, but their lyrics are complicated. It also doesn’t help that James Mercer, lead singer and only remaining original member of the band, doesn’t seem to know what enunciating is. It’s chill.
Take a section of lyrics from the song, “Kissing the Lipless”
You told us of your new life there
You got someone comin’ around
Gluing tinsel to your crown
He’s got you talking pretty loud
You berate remember your ailing heart and your criminal eyes
You say you’re still in love
If it’s true what can be done
It’s hard to leave all those moments behind
It’s poetic. And I don’t hate poetry. In high school I was the person people asked when they had no idea what Shakespeare was getting at- but I also wouldn’t pick a poetry book at the library. I can sit here today, read the lyrics to “Kissing the Lipless”, and tell you what it means. Tell you the story it’s illustrating. I’ve listened to this song, a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. I have a major crush on this song. But up until I actually read the lyrics, I had no idea what it was about. I couldn’t connect what my brain was hearing and what my mouth was saying to what the band was trying to relay, at least lyrically. It’s sad, but illustrates my point really well. I connected with the music, not the lyrics.
I also listen to A LOT of foreign music. If you take moment to spy on my Spotify listening history 9/10 times I’m listening to music in Hindi or Spanish. I don’t know Spanish, and I really don’t know Hindi. I have no idea what I’m listening to. The lyrics could be a subconscious cult mantra and I’d be like, “Yass this my jam!” But I still don’t know why, why does my brain prefer this over that?
I’d love to write another blog about the why. A quick article about the research on composition (probably a better word than just “music”) over lyrics. What kinds of people, what kinds of learners, what are their backgrounds, or interests? Music is called the universal language, after all. They weren’t talking about the words in a song. They were talking about the resonance found in how notes fit together to form melodies and harmonies. Almost anyone can listen to that and find beauty. I guess some of us relate to it stronger than others, and I’m happy to be one of the people to find that true.