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Sounds Like Poetry

March 8, 2023

The wonder of art is that it comes in many different forms, and anyone can create something beautiful. I find music to be a fusion of art; the instrumentals, lyrics, music videos, and performances require an artistic process that results in a piece of art. Music is interpretative and subjective to each individual listener; songs evoke emotion and memory; songs are social statements. 

For me, a key component of a powerful, moving song is its poetic elements. Lucky for me, poetry is everywhere in music. However, there are songs which incorporate poetry in profound, emotional ways. This week, on my WVAU radio show (Wednesdays 12-1pm), I curated a playlist of songs that sound like poetry. Let’s explore it a bit. 

  • Self Control by Frank Ocean
  • Garden Song by Phoebe Bridgers
  • Happiness is a Butterfly by Lana Del Rey
  • Hurts Me Too by Faye Webster
  • Shadowboxing by Julien Baker
  • Timefighter by Lucy Dacus
  • K. by Cigarettes After Sex
  • New Person, Same Old Mistakes by Tame Impala
  • Amoeba by Clairo
  • Close to You by Rihanna
  • Playhouse by Eliza McLamb
  • Deja Vu by J. Cole
  • Dance til We Die by Lana Del Rey 

The underlined songs are ones I want to expand on lyrically. 

“Self Control”- Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean is known to be a poetic singer/songwriter. Picking one song for this set felt criminal, as he sets the bar high when it comes to ‘sounds like poetry’. Not only do his lyrics reflect this theme expertly, but his music does too. “Self Control” emulates the feelings of desperation and longing as a couple slowly diminishes due to timing and maturity. Ocean starts off in his classic high-pitch tone that occurs in other songs on his album Blonde as well. The tone progressively gets higher as he sings: “Could we make it in?// Do we have time?”. A few strums of a guitar and then Frank’s true voice emerges as he angelically sings: “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight”. We can conjecture that the high-pitch tone increases its pitch to the point of disappearing to mirror the lyrics that time is running out. The first line sets the tone for the entire song, Ocean expresses his desperation by settling for a role that is so clearly below his previous one- a significant other. Frank continues to deliver powerful, melancholic lines throughout the song. Here are some of my favorite poetic lines in the song:

“You cut your hair but you used to live a blonded life
Wish I was there, wish we’d grown up on the same advice
And our time was right”

This line reflects the aching pain of change, timing, and differences. 

“Keep a place for me, for me
I’ll sleep between y’all, it’s nothing
It’s nothing, it’s nothing
Keep a place for me, for me”

These lines reflect Frank’s desperation to still mean something to this person, and his reluctance to let go of the relationship they had, so much so that he is alluding to sharing this person with someone else. 

“Now and then you miss it, sounds make you cry
Some nights you dance with tears in your eyes” 

This line shows the listener that the person Frank is singing to shares these feelings of heartbreak and pain. The second line beautifully conveys sadness and grief in a moment that is supposed to be joyful.

“Happiness is A Butterfly”- Lana Del Rey

Del Rey has a large discography of songs filled with figurative language such as metaphors, similes, and imagery. These literary devices fused with Del Rey’s melodic, dramatic voice generate soft, deep poetry in song. 

“Happiness is a butterfly
try to catch it like every night
it escapes from my hands into moonlight”

Happiness is fleeting, much like a butterfly who flies away from our grasp.

“Every day is a lullaby
I hum it on the phone like every night
And sing it for my babies on the tour life”

Every day is a slow descent to nighttime. 

Thank you for reading! I hope you all look for the poetry in every song. 

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