Analyzing Song Lyrics Greatest Hits Vol. 3

Last Name Sherov, First Name Michael

Head of Song Lyric Analysis

Behance Team @ Adobe

The Rules

Rule #1

Leave your Ideology at the Door

  • Offensive vs Offended
  • Remember Fahrenheit 451

Rule #2

All Interpretations are Valid, Not All are Equal

  • Death of the Author
  • Infer vs. Imply
  • Remember Fahrenheit 451

Rule #3

There are No Experts

  • Wikipedia
  • Vox

Analyzing Lyrics As "The Message"

Discovering The True Meaning Of Selected Lyrics

Why is meaning often ignored in music?

  • Passive Medium
  • Missing Context
  • Interpreting Too Literally
  • Message vs. Medium

Born In The U.S.A

Missed Context

Seemingly: A patriotic call for endurance through potentially rough times.

Actually: A vet comes home after fighting for his country and gets no help. "Born In The U.S.A." is more like "But I was born in the U.S.A.! How can this be what's happening?"

George Will: He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: 'Born in the U.S.A.!'"

Born In The U.S.A

Missed Context

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says "Son if it was up to me"
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said "Son, don't you understand"

Hey Ya

Seemingly: ??? Good Dance Song?

Message Overshadowed By Medium

Actually: I think my girlfriend wants to cheat on me, but is afraid of losing our relationship, so let's end it now because staying together and being unhappy is dumb. Everyone else, lets just have a good time to avoid all this nonsense.

Hey Ya

Message Overshadowed By Medium

If what they say is "Nothing is forever"
Then what makes - then what makes
Love the exception? So why oh why oh, are we so in denial?

My baby don't mess around
Because she loves me so
And this I know for sho
But does she really want it
But can't stand to see me
Walk out the door?

Silly Love Songs

Actually: A comment on the value of love songs. An ironic response to John Lennon's accusation that all McCartney does is write poppy love songs.

Too Literal

Seemingly: Professing Love To Someone

Silly Love Songs

Too Literal

You'd think that people
Would've had enough of silly love songs
But I look around me
And I see it isn't so

Some people want to fill the world
With silly love songs
And what's wrong with that?
I'd like to know
Cause here I go again

I love you
I love you
I love you
I love you

Baby Got Back

Too Literal

Seemingly: Sir Mix a lot really likes big butts.

Actually: Yes, he loves big butts, but so does everyone else. The established concept of "skinny = beautiful" is wrong, and comes from whitewashing perpetrated by popular media.

Baby Got Back

Too Literal

Becky, look at her butt...

she's just so... black!

I like big butts and I can not lie,
You other brothers can't deny

I'm tired of magazines
Sayin' flat butts are the thing
Take the average black man and ask him that
She gotta pack much back

Baby Got Back

Too Literal

So I'm looking at rock videos
Watching these bimbos walking like hoes
You can have them bimbos
I'll keep my women like Flo Jo

when it comes to females, Cosmo ain't got nothin'
To do with my selection...

So Cosmo says you're fat
Well I ain't down with that!

To the beanpole dames in the magazines:
You ain't it, Miss Thing!

Closing Time

Lightning Round!

Seemingly: It is closing time at a bar, time to perform the requisite mating ritual.

Actually: It is closing time in the womb, time to go into the places you will be from.

This Land is Your Land

Lightning Round!

Seemingly: A folksy tale about the good ol' U.S.A.

Actually: Communist Rebuttal to "God Bless America"

Total Eclipse of the Heart

Lightning Round!

Seemingly: A person laments the end of a relationship.

Actually: Two vampires are in love.

Sweet Home Alabama

Lightning Round!

Seemingly: The south is great!

Actually: Hey Neil Young, the south aren't a bunch of racists.

Staying Alive

Lightning Round!

Seemingly: A ladies man goes out for a fun night of disco.

Actually: A "ladies man" goes out to cover up the existential despair and angst he's feeling.

Bohemian Rhapsody

#166 on Rolling Stone's top 500 of all time

Most Played Song of All Time on BBC Radio 1

On It's Surface...

A Man Commits Murder...

Confesses to His Mother...

His Mother Please For His Life With Demons...

He resigns himself to the Demons...

His Mother Storms Away in Anger...

He Acts as if His Fate is OK...

Bohemian Rhapsody

Beneath The Surface?

Freddie Mercury has his first homosexual experience...

Confesses to his then wife...

He battles with himself and his wife over his sexuality...

He accepts his homosexuality...

His wife storms away in anger...

He is upset over hurting his wife

Bohemian Rhapsody

Methaphoric Symbols

Death / Devils = Homosexuality

God / Christ = Heterosexuality

Gun = A Certain Body Part

Mama = Mary Austin (his then wife)

Open Questions?

Why Does Mercury use negative symbolism? 

Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie Mercury has his first homosexual experience...

Confesses to his then wife...

Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he's dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I've gone and thrown it all away

Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama, ooh, I don't want to die
I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all

Bohemian Rhapsody

He battles with himself and his wife over his sexuality...

  • Mercury: I see a little silhouetto of a man
  • Mercury: Scaramouche, Scaramouche...
  • The Devil: will you do the Fandango?
  • Mercury: Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very fright'ning me
  • Mercury: (Galileo.) Galileo. (Galileo.) Galileo. Galileo figaro magnifico
  • Mercury: I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me
  • Mary: He's just a poor boy from a poor family
  • Mary: Spare him his life from this monstrosity

Bohemian Rhapsody

He accepts his homosexuality...

  • Mercury to Mary: Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
  • Mary: Bismillah! No, we will not let you go
  • The Devils: Let him go!
  • Mercury to Mary: Mama mia, let me go... Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me!

Bohemian Rhapsody

His wife storms away in anger...

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me, to die?
Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby!
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here!

Bohemian Rhapsody

He is upset over hurting his wife

Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
Any way the wind blows

Lin-Manuel Miranda

How can we discuss song lyrics without discussing the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda?

Can we ignore the 2016 musical smash hit?...



Theme: Only you can decide who you are!

Underlying Conflict: Moana can't decide whether to obey tradition or follow her calling.

Underlying Metaphor: physical outer journey as personal inner journey. Interchangeable use of "where" and "who".

Looking at track listings, we see this metaphor playing out:

  • Where You Are
  • How Far I'll Go
  • We Know the Way
  • I Am Moana
  • Know Who You Are

Moana - Where you are

Theme: Relying on tradition is better than change. 

Metaphor: The Island and Chief Tui are Tradition, Water and Tala are Change

Tui: There comes a day
When you're gonna look around
And realize happiness is where you are

Moana: Cause every path
Leads you back
to where you are.
You can find happiness right where you are.

Tala: The water is mischievous, ha!
I like how it misbehaves
The village may think I'm crazy
Or say that I drift too far
But once you know what you like
Well there you are...

You may hear a voice inside
And if the voice starts to whisper
To follow the farthest star
Moana, that voice inside
Is who you are

Moana - How Far I'll Go

Theme: The external call of the sea tempts Moana, as she is unaware that her people were voyagers!

Metaphor: The horizon as uncertainty, but also as calling

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know where I cannot go

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows,

how far it goes

If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know
If I go there's just no telling how far I'll go

And it seems like it's calling out to me, so come find me

And let me know
What's beyond that line, will I cross that line?

Moana - We Know The Way

Theme: Moana's people were Voyagers, a much deeper tradition than the Island. Tradition and Exploration are not opposites.

Metaphor: Wayfinding as personal discovery. Island as tradition. 

At night, we name every star
We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are

We keep our island in our mind
And when it's time to find home
We know the way

We tell the stories of our elders in a never-ending chain

Moana - How Far I'll Go (Reprise) 

Theme: Armed with personal knowledge of her true heritage, Moana trusts her own internal instinct.

Metaphor: Paths as personal choices. Grandma Tala as instinct.

All the time wondering where I need to be is behind me
I'm on my own, to worlds unknown

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Is a choice I make, now I can't turn back

See her light up the night in the sea, she calls me
And yes I know that I can go

Moana - I Am Moana

Theme: Moana's declaration of all she's learned and become.

Metaphor: Distance as personal progress.

Tala: Sometimes the world seems against you
The journey may leave a scar
But scars can heal and reveal just
Where you are

Tala: The quiet voice still inside you
And when that voice starts to whisper
"Moana, you've come so far"
Moana listen, do you know who you are?

Moana: I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me!

I've delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I've learned and more
Still it calls me!

And the call isn't out there at all
It's inside me!

I will carry you here in my heart
You'll remind me
That come what may
I know the way

Moana - Know Who You Are

Theme: Moana's discovers Te ka is Te Fiti, and restores her heart

Metaphor: Te ka is Moana

I have crossed the horizon to find you
I know your name
They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you
This is not who you are
You know who you are

Analyzing Lyrics As "The Medium"

Appreciating Lyrics As Art In And Of Themselves

Why Hip Hop?

  • Persistent use of simile and double entendre

  • The human voice as percussion instrument

  • Sampling and hidden references

Simile and Double Entendre


You stopping us is preposterous
like an androgynous misogynist

- Talib Kweli - Twice Inna Lifetime

I refugee from Guantanamo Bay
Dance around the border like I'm Cassius Clay

- Praz, Ready Or Not

My rhymes are like shot clocks,
interstate cops
and blood clots,
my point is your flow gets stopped.

 - Talib Kweli - Hater Players

Double Entendre

If I sell a brick I can buy a house
If they find the key they might lock me up

- Logic, Gang Related

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the 45

It ain't to play games with you... probably mame you.

 - Jay Z, Encore

I don’t half-step on the ‘caine

- Jay Z, Hello Brooklyn 2.0

Human Voice as

Percussive Instrument

  • Consonance (and alliteration)
  • Assonance (and half-rhymes)
  • End Rhyme vs. Internal Rhyme


Rap rejects my tape deckejects projectile / Whether Jew or gentile, I rank top percentile

- Fugees, Zealot


Diddy didn't do diddly, dead it, did it with dignity
You dilly dally and diss from distance dig it I disagree
You did it for digits, dickhead dummy I do it differently
I define deliberately diligent delivery

 - Lowkey, Alphabet Assassin


How could you possibly stop the Apocalypse
When I'm atomic bombing the populous
Shock the metropolis

hostile as a kid Popping the Glock at his moms and his pops

- Crooked I, Loud Noises

Slant Rhyme

And be prosperous, though we live dangerous 

Cops could just arrest me, blamin’ us, we’re held like hostages

 - Nas, NY State of Mind

End Rhyme

Breaks on a bus, breaks on a car

Breaks to make you a supastar

Breaks to win and breaks to lose

But these here breaks will rock your shoes

 - Kurtis Blow, The Breaks

Internal Rhyme

But can you detect what comes next from the flex of my wrist?

Say indeed and I'll proceed 'cause my man made a mix 

If he bleed he won't need no band-aid to fix

 - Rakim, Eric B. is President

Eric B. is President

I came in the door, I said it before
I never let the mic magnetize me no more

But it's biting me, fighting me, inviting me to rhyme
I can't hold it back, I'm looking for the line
Taking off my coat, clearing my throat
The rhyme will be kicking until I hit my last note
My mind remains refined, all kind of ideas
Self-esteem makes it seem like a thought took years to build...

Eric B. is President

I made it easy to dance to this
But can you detect what's coming next from the flex of the wrist?
Say indeed and I'll proceed 'cause my man made a mix
If he bleed he won't need no band-aid to fix
His fingertips sew a rhyme until there's no rhymes left
I hurry up because the cut will make 'em bleed to death
But he's kicking it cause it ain't no half stepping
The party is live, the rhyme can't be kept in-
, it needs erupting just like a volcano
It ain't the everyday style or the same old rhyme
Cause I'm better than the rest of them
Eric B is on the cut and my name is Rakim


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Analyzing Song Lyrics Greatest Hits Vol. 3

By mikesherov

Analyzing Song Lyrics Greatest Hits Vol. 3

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