Thanks to my parents and my brother, I grew up listening to Bob (both Marley and Dylan), Carlos Santana, Nirvana and Body Count. Before I could even understand what the artists were singing about, I just assumed it had to be something meaningful – they put it on a record, for Peet’s sake! I don’t know when the lyrics stopped being lyrics and became an incomprehensible flood of (sometimes rhyming) words, but no wonder people just block them out nowadays.
When you’re driving in a car or drinking in a bar and Nicki Minaj’s Starships comes on, do you just listen to music or hear the lyrics as well? My guess is that you have no idea what she’s saying and you don’t care. And you’re right, you shouldn’t. “Starships were meant to fly, hands up and touch the sky, can’t stop, ‘cause we’re so high …” You have to be to sing along to that gibberish.
Another one of my favourites is Jessie J’s Laserlight. “You’re like a laserlight, burning up, burning down, on me. You make me feel good, you make me feel safe …” How does a laser that’s burning you up make you feel safe? Perhaps I get that it makes you feel good, if you’re a masochist, but safe? When you see little kids fraying ants with their magnifying glasses – do you think the ants feel safe?
The absolute winner is Katy Perry. With her Firework, she tries to empower and inspire you to “ignite the light and let it shine” and “show ‘em what you’re worth as you shoot across the sky … like a firework”. Ok. Positive. Lovely-ish. But the first sentence coming out of her mouth is: “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind …” A plastic bag? Really? Nothing rhymes with a leaf or a snowflake, just from the top of my head? Maybe a PAPER bag would have been better, but there isn’t an environmental bone in Katy. She had me at “I kissed a girl” but since that was all there was to the girl-on-girl action, she lost me soon after. Guess I just drifted away. Like a plastic bag.
Before venturing into the electronic scene, I listened to hip hop – the lyrics have always been an important aspect of music for me and those guys have a lot to say. I didn’t just listen and hear the words, I took them to heart. When I heard Xzibit’s Symphony in X Major where he raps “I’ll never be seen, like Farrakhan, fucking a white bitch”, I stopped listening to him. If a BLACK man says he wouldn’t have sex with a WHITE woman and not vice versa, then it’s not racism? DMX was also banned from my playlist: “I show no love to homo thugs. Empty out, reloaded and throw more slugs” (Where the Hood At). In case you don’t know, a slug is a bullet. The idiot actually got in front of a mic, pressed the record button and said: “I hate gays, I want to shoot them.” But if you disregard all the swearing and the demeaning of women, hip hop has a lot of great lyricism to offer and I’ll always love it for that, even after putting my baggy jeans away.
It might seem a huge leap from rap to tech-house, but there is some correlation between the two – the admiration for the bass. The louder, the fatter, the deeper – the better. If it convinces your bowels that you have to pay a visit to the toilet, then you know you’ve got a hit. As much as I enjoyed rapping along and cussing my heart out at the Eminem show in Amsterdam some 10 years ago, I appreciate the lyricism of electronic music as well. Just think of Justice’s: “Because we are your friends, you will never be alone again, now come on!” So simple, yet heart-warming, isn’t it? And consider the wittiness of Green Velvet’s “something ‘bout that little pills, unreal the thrills they yield until they kill a million brain cells” (La La Land). But the craftsmanship Faithless express in We Come One is just on another level: “I drain the colour from the sky and turn blue without you. These arms lack of purpose, flapping like a humming bird. I’m nervous ‘cause I’m the left eye, you’re the right – would it not be madness to fight?” Now that’s some tattoo material right there. Starships might have been made to fly across the board, but some people were meant to write lyrics and some just weren’t.