I wrote a piece earlier this year questioning how far music is about the lyrics and the concepts contained within a song, or whether it is more about the melodies and the audial agreeableness of a song. I concluded that it was about striking a balance, underlining that I personally like some songs because I really connect with the lyrics, even if the actual music isn't all that spectacular, and vice versa – sometimes it sounds great but the lyrics are trash.
And it is this second instance that I want to focus on in this post, taking it beyond whether we simply like or dislike a set of particular lyrics. Recently, on the advice of my friend at University, I have started listening to a lot of the rapper Young Thug. He assured me that his vocals are exceptional, but warned me to ignore the lyrics, because they are well and truly abominable. And I found, interestingly, that despite the name and despite the aura of negative publicity Thugger seems to carry around with him, a lot of his songs are indeed quite soft and vocally delicate.
However, his lyrics, as my friend warned me, are entirely the opposite. While his croons may tempt some to place him in a genre other than Hip Hop, his subject matter anchors him firmly in the rap realm. And it's a shame, because the explicit and often crass lyrics jar starkly with the innovative vocal techniques Young Thug uses, meaning it is hard to really empathise with the song. We’re left unsure as to whether we’re supposed to feel in awe of all the money, drugs and girls Thugger supposedly has at his disposal, or be moved by the vulnerability in his voice. It seems my friend got it right, and you can only really appreciate the rapper's masterstrokes if you block out his lyrics. But surely we shouldn't have to do this? Although we admitted earlier that you can enjoy music without loving the lyrics, at the same time, surely the lyrics are still important to the overall listener's experience. Music is, after all, often about identifying with the artist as they supposedly reveal the innermost layers to their soul. So if the voice is beautiful, but the lyrics are unpalatable, how can we truly latch onto the song's wavelength?
But okay, perhaps if the vocals are really that good, we can look past the lyrics. How many pop hits have had earth-shattering rhyme schemes and cleverly interweaved metaphors anyway? Good lyrics are not, it seems necessary.
Or are they…?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Photo credit Tom Øverlie NRK P3, flickr.com
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?