I like music. Sometimes I sing along. Sometimes I listen. Sometimes I think. Sometimes I escape. Frequently it’s a combo box.
I like pop music. I like hip hop. I like many jazz styles. I like rock, gospel and classical (including opera). There’s even metal I like. I like zydeco, Irish, polka and other traditional music. I like Bollywood tracks and Broadway musicals. I like rhyme and rhythm and stories.
I don’t like all of it. But I like a lot of it.
I like it because it has a crazy hook that I am programmed to sing along. I like it because it tells me about someone’s life. I like it because I can relate to that life, or because I can’t. I like it because it makes me dance. I like it because it makes me feel something–joy, loss, sadness, hope. And, like I said, not all of these likes at the same time.
I know that there is an industry built around music. That folks make money off my likes. This doesn’t mean that it’s not art. It also doesn’t mean that it is. This doesn’t mean it is worthy. Or unworthy. You decide.
There are pieces that make up music. There are the lyrics, the melody, the instruments, the beat, the vocal, the backup vocal, and effects. Effects that make echos, that cut the music to drive it, that make some instruments louder and others recede.
Leonard Cohen wrote a beautiful song, Hallelujah. It is such a beautiful song that even when I sing it it sounds alright. From the lips of Jeff Buckley, though, especially as accompanied by his weeping electric guitar, it is the human experience. It is full of spirituality, of sadness and despair and, somehow, of hope. From the first intake and exhale of breath to the final sweet ooooh and guitar chord, it is art. It is Buckley adding his art to the art of the composer. It is good.
There are 240 words in the song. I didn’t count every hallelujah for this exercise, although each one is important and right for the piece. But for the purpose today, it wouldn’t be fair.
“What purpose is that?” you ask.
There is another song, one that is not as moving but is a better than decent club song. This Is What You Came For is a producer’s song. It’s the beat, the tempo the mix. The vocals are used as an instrument, so the lyrics are a tool for the singer to perform. There are sixty words to this song, not including all the You, oh, oh, you, oh, oh‘s of which there may be dozens.
The lyrics aren’t awful, just not interesting. I mean, if you want awful, try and make it through Juicy J— but I gotta give it to that rapper, he spits over some great beats.
My point? In some tunes, the vocals recede like a rhythm guitar or the sound of a beeper in Where It’s At. The words are not what makes the music. They are a part of the whole that the producer weaves into a mix designed, in this case, to get you to the dance floor for some writhing. This Is What You Came For does that, propelled by the vocals of Rihanna looping again and again over the electronic house beat. It’s made for dancing. Any singing along is more akin to dancing with your mouth. It’s dance music.
My real point? Shut up Taylor Swift. You’re 60 word contribution was noted. You are no Leonard Cohen in this instance. So just shut up. And cash your check.