Tuesday, November 01, 2005

There ain't no love, no Montagues or Capulets, just banging tunes and DJ sets and dirty dancefloors and dreams of naughtiness

I suppose it's a bit embarrassing at my age to be rambling on about pop lyrics and the music that the youth of today listen to, but why break the habit of a lifetime?

That Arctic Monkeys tune - it's got a good beat, eh? And great lyrics. And lyrics is what this is all about. The genius of Jarvis Cocker (formerly of the Sheffield beat-combo Pulp, for those of you under 25), Eminem (a popular rapper from Detroit, for those of you over 80) , Tupac Shakur (a sadly deceased rapper, for those of you without the internet) and Dizzee Rascal (the talented garage MC who hails from my postcode - E3 in the area etc...). And that's not to mention, the lyrical genius of Mike Skinner from out of The Streets... and maybe even Pete Doherty's junkie/crackhead ramblings.

So are lyrics worthy of linguistic and/or literary analysis? Are they just a debased form of poetry made up by young punks/stoners/thugs (take your pick) high on a lethal cocktail of booze/weed/crack (take your pick), or perhaps the lovesick meanderings of teenage bedroom poets? The jury is out, but some A Level coursework moderators have issues with students tackling lyrics for their A2 Language Investigations and it's not hard to see why. Unless you take a strong linguistic focus on the lyrics you're studying and get away from crazed hero worship, your work may well be shallow and banal. What's needed - it seems to me - is an engagement with the meanings of lyrics within their specific social contexts and a close attention to the various ways in which lyrics reflect or shape the world they describe.

Should we, for example, take the monosyllabic mumblings of a dimwit like 50 Cent at face value, celebrating his hilarious simile skills such as "I'll lick you like a lollypop", or his claims to have been shot nine times (sadly perhaps, not 10 times, but I wouldn't say this to his face...) or should we read his lyrics as the work of a storyteller, building a fantasy around the bare bones of truth in his life story? And what about Eminem's insane tales of killing his ex-wife and mum, or even the extended stalker track, "Stan"? These all seem like fair game for some in depth analysis.

Jarvis Cocker has recently been in the news as "A specially commissioned verse by the singer will be unveiled this week in Sheffield, as part of the Off The Shelf literary festival" according to The Observer, while "the literary critic DJ Taylor described his lyrics on the 1998 album This is Hardcore as 'one of those rare occasions when a pop artist transforms himself without irony into an artist proper'" (again from The Observer).

Meanwhile, the lyrics of all those mentioned earlier: Dizzee Rascal, Eminem andTupac have been discussed at length in various highbrow publications. In a Guardian article in 2001, the writer Giles Foden compared Eminem to the literary giant Robert Browning. Elsewhere, Counterpunch, a political website in the USA described Mr Mathers as "A hired gun from the poor part of town, who preys on the powerless, extorts money from the poor and celebrates a thuggish brand of gangster capitalism".

Dizzee Rascal's lyrics get a look-in here while Tupac's legacy gets the critical overview here, and Mike Skinner of The Streets gets dissected here.

Useful for:
EA4C - Language Investigation



2 comments:

*Chrissyfloss*- ex SFXian said...

Big up 2 Esther J who did a great lyric analysis last year- yay! *brap brap*! Hope all's cool in Roe..

*Chrissyfloss*- ex SFXian said...

I suppose i shold also also "big-up" the blog and whoever is brave enough to tackle the poetry of Tupac for ENA4..