Call me old fashioned, but last Friday, I bought a song on iTunes. No, I haven’t got Spotify, Apple Music, nor Tidal. I still like paying for music that I’ll be able to keep, not paying for music that I can keep as long as I pay £10 a month for the rest of my life. Maybe, if you psychoanalysed me, you might find this streaming stubbornness is something to do with an inner desire for some kind of permanence in these times of constant flux, or maybe it’s some deep-rooted sense of greediness that leads me to want to actually own the piece of music… Whatever, all I know is I’m still on Team iTunes, even though Apple, I’m sure, would much rather I transferred to the more profitable Team Apple Music. Well, in all honesty, I’m not sure I feature that highly on the multi-billion dollar company’s list of interests, but anyhow…
Sorry for the diversion! Rant over, that’s for another post…
Where was I – oh, yes, I bought a song on iTunes. For those of you interested, it was Coldplay’s out-of-the-blue collaboration with Big Sean, Miracles (Something Special). I’ve never been too keen on brackets in song titles (to me it looks like the artist couldn’t make up their mind what to call it), but I decided to overlook that minor sticking point on this occasion…
It’s a very motivational, carpe dium, ‘ah but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp’, kind of song – which is why I like it. I’ve written before about the ‘Gap Year mentality’, where you constantly feel like you need to be productive. So the Miracles vibe really resonated with me, because I’m currently trying to push myself and reach for the stars with my golf, my writing, my song-writing, and my academic career.
I’ve mainly gotten this attitude from my dad, who’s always instilled in me a sense of pride and aspiration. So, I thought I’d play him the song.
Now, as you might imagine, my Radio-4-loving dad isn’t exactly too fond of my rap/hip-hop predilections, so I thought ‘hey, let’s ease him into a bit of Big Sean on a song without any swearing, nor any drug references or innuendos, and on a song with my dad’s own crie de coeur at its core. He’s bound to like it, right?’
So as we were driving to golf that same day, I connected up my phone to my cherished aux cable and pressed play. My dad winced, expecting some heavy basslines and hard-hitting rap to jar through the speakers, but instead was greeted with a light, mystical piano. His expression eased, shifting from surprised, to relieved, to contemplative.
As the song meandered through the warm vocals, the upbeat synths and the inspiring lyrics, finishing on a high with Big Sean’s verse, I glanced across eagerly at my dad. What did he think??
He shrugged nonchalantly, and then grinned at me, saying, ‘It sounds to me like they’ve written this pretty dodgy song, and thought, ‘Hmm, lets put a rap at the end to make it sound a little less boring.’’
But…what about the stirring message??
Another shrug, ‘I’m sure the lyrics are great. It just doesn’t sound to me like that good a song.’
And that got me thinking. Every car journey, I try and convert my dad to the wonders of my musical penchants, and every car journey, I fail miserably. I think he once said he liked a Lil Yachty song, which I’ll give him credit for, but apart from that – nada. And in all honesty, that’s fair enough, it’s good of him to even put up with my constant Travis Scott, Kanye West, Drake and Big Sean merry-go-round in the first place, when I know he’d much rather be listening to Test Match Special. And anyway, since when are our parents supposed to share our taste in music?
But my frosty Coldplay reception made me realise something. My dad had criticised its catchiness as a song, looking at it purely as a piece of art, and judging it objectively, as a music critic would. And, listening to the song again, I actually get what he’s saying. The chorus doesn’t really go anywhere, the vocals are perhaps a little restrained, and Big Sean’s verse is tight, but he’s written tighter.
Yet, I wasn’t drawn to this song because of its abstract, musical quality. It might not be an earth-shattering piece of art, and it probably didn’t get amazing reviews in the papers and magazines. However, the lyrics made an impression on me, they made me feel inspired, excited to go out and make the most of life, and they still do every time I listen to the song. And that’s how I judged it, purely on how it made me feel, regardless of whether I thought the song had any objective value.
So what does this mean? Should we judge music how my dad and impartial critics might judge it, or should we just go purely with how it makes us feel, whether it provokes an emotional response from us or not? And how far is music now about the lyrics, the message, what the artist has to say underneath all the shimmering synths and driving drums? Or is it still mainly about the music, and should artists focus on this, rather than trying to deliver any real substance to their listener?
Or should artists be able to strike a balance between the two?
Food for thought…let me know what you think!
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
*2018 Update, seeing as this post was written roughly a year ago - call me week-willed, but I now have Apple Music
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?