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
When my friend and I arrived in Birmingham at roughly 3 in the afternoon, we headed straight for the hotel. On our way, we caught a glimpse of the O2 Academy across the road, with ‘TRAVIS SCOTT SOLD OUT’ emblazoned in big letters across the front. The pre-concert butterflies began to stretch their wings in my stomach. Then, as my eyes drifted down below the billboard, my mouth dropped. I turned to my friend, and she was doing the same. There was a queue stretching from the venue doors right down to the end of the block. At 3pm. The show wasn’t set to start until around 9:30, for crying out loud!
After we’d checked into the hotel, gone out to get something to eat and had a couple of cocktails, we started back to the hotel to get changed. On our way, we saw the line had gotten even longer. It now snaked around the end of the block, about 200 metres down that street, and then back around to pretty much where the queue started, in a massive loop. Ugh, we were never going to get in at this rate.
By the time we actually came out to join the line, it was about 7pm, which, for someone who seems to live in a timezone that’s 15 minutes later than everyone else, judging by my inherent lack of punctuality, I thought was pretty early. But clearly, this view wasn’t shared by the 800 people in front of us.
Fortunately, they were letting people inside at this point, so the queue moved along fairly quickly, and before we knew it, we were at the security checks. As the steward scanned my ticket, a frown creased her forehead. My ticket hadn’t been accepted by the machine. No! My home-printed ticket had failed the vital test! She wasn’t going to let me in! I’d travelled all the way to Birmingham just to be turned away at the door. Stupid tickets, I knew I should have bought them off Ticketmaster instead of Viagogo…
It was with these panic-stricken thoughts swirling around my head that the steward casually ran my ticket through the machine again, and a green light flashed on. She smiled up at me, waving me through. Oh. Okay. Well, maybe I overreacted a little.
We were in! And the butterflies were in full force. As we navigated the winding staircase and numerous brightly coloured doors, it felt like we were climbing to the top of the most exhilarating rollercoaster in Universal Studios, a mixture of surging excitement and nervous anticipation pulsing through our veins. We finally reached the balcony where we were set to sit, and spotted a pair of good seats by the far side, which we swiftly claimed. The DJ was playing the Migos hit 'Bad and Boujee', with the mass of people standing below chanting every word and every ad-lib at the tops of their voices. The buzz of excited energy fizzled through everyone, all waiting eagerly for a ‘Straight up!’ or ‘It’s lit!’ to let us know the man himself was about to prowl onto the stage.
By the time it struck 9pm, everyone was already drenched in sweat. It was absolutely boiling, but no one really seemed to care. Everyone was too absorbed in the expectation of the main event. At about 9:30, Travis’ personal DJ, Chase B, hit the stage to start playing some hype tracks, which seemed to be 80% bass judging from the rattling vibrations in our chests, and bellowing out ‘ARE YOU READY FOR TRAVIS SCOTT?’
As everyone screamed ‘YES’ in unison, the black curtain dropped, revealing a huge, red-eyed hawk, its wings flapping mechanically, surrounded by cages. A string of entrails drooped from its mouth. Then the eerie intro to 'the ends' started up, greeted by a roar of approval from the audience. I’m pretty sure my scream was one of the loudest, but hey, I don’t want to brag.
Then he walked on, dressed head to toe in black, a single gold chain sparkling in the darkness. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for.
From the offset, Scott’s energy was electrifying, contagious. I’d heard a lot about his concerts beforehand, and I was worried I’d built it up too much in my head and I was going to be let down by the actual event. Gosh no. It was even better than I’d expected! His ferocious, swaggering rapping, embroidered by his spooky Auto-Tuned vocals that frequently broke into crazed screams only added fuel to the crowd’s jubilation. I’m not ashamed to say I knew most of the words, and yelled them at the top of my voice, which is probably why I’m now nursing a sore throat, but it was worth it! Hits such as 'pick up the phone', 'goosebumps' and 'Antidote' received the most vociferous responses from the mosh pit, which seemed to move and writhe as one giant mass, all thrashing into each other and punching the air frantically every time the orchestrator encouraged them to.
Travis Scott has previously described his concerts as ‘no-holds-barred’ events, and the feeling inside the arena was definitely one of anarchy and lawlessness, which, looking back, could have been pretty scary, but in the moment just felt awesome and liberating. The crowd whooped and gawped in disbelief as Scott clambered up onto a speaker, and then leapt up onto the balcony, shimmying along as he yelled the hook to his hit single, 'Butterfly Effect', before springing into the heart of the mosh pit below. When he could contain himself to the stage, he’d call up numerous members of the crowd to stand beside him, and then get them to run up and fling themselves into the mass of people, crowd-surfing their way back to their friends while the Houston rapper started up another track.
It was pure, breath-taking, theatre. He entered giving 100% and he maintained it throughout, and the crowd fed off that, reflecting his exuberance back at him. He even extended his set by a few songs as though he, like the rest of us, didn’t want it to end. It was a truly unforgettable experience, a night that reinforced to me that there’s nothing like a live performance. The feeling of seeing your favourite artists in their element, in the flesh, and to be surrounded by people who love them just as much as you do, is simply awesome. If anyone ever decides to go to a Travis Scott concert, I would recommend choosing a balcony seat, because you feel as though you’re part of the atmosphere while still feeling safe and being close enough to the bar and toilets. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to take on an infamous Travi$ mosh pit…but for now, I’m just grateful to have had such an amazing time at the O2.
So inevitably, cue a post-concert Travis Scott obsession, where I’ll probably download every song he’s ever breathed on and listen to him non-stop for a few weeks…Maybe my next post should be on the artist that manages to break my trance…!
What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to? If you could see anyone in the world perform, who would it be?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
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?