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LONDON, Friday 1st August 2014: A new study reveals that when it comes to understanding the meaning of song lyrics, many of us are left well and truly baffled.
Music streaming service blinkbox Music polled 2,000 Brits and found that 65% struggle to understand the meaning of lyrics in today’s chart toppers.
Topping a list of puzzling lyrical offenders was The Killers’ ‘Are we human, or are we dancer?’ (30%) from their hit track Human.
The Beatles’ ‘I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob’ (27%) from I am the Walrus was in second place, with Michael Jackson’s head-scratcher ‘What about elephants? Have we lost their trust?’ (18%) from Earth Song taking the third spot.
Lyrics from The Black Eyed Peas, Duran Duran and Taylor Swift also appeared in the rundown.
When asked what the main reasons are for not understanding peculiar lyrics in tracks, 40% said they could not make out the actual words being sung, over a quarter (27%) said the lack of logic in the lyrics makes it tricky to grasp the meaning of a song and 10% said they don’t understand the slang used. Almost two-thirds (64%) also said music lyrics have become more confusing over time.
Despite all this, 28% of respondents said baffling lyrics don’t stop them enjoying a song.
The top 10 most confusing lyrics, with proposed explanations from Professor of Popular Martin Cloonan from Glasgow University, are:
1. ‘Are we human, or are we dancer?’ – The Killers, Human (30%)
Prof Cloonan: “Brandon Flowers of The Killers has admitted that the line is taken from a Hunter S. Thompson quote: ‘We’re raising a nation of dancers.’ Flowers said: ‘I say that it’s a mild social statement, and that’s all I’m gonna say.”
2. ‘I am the eggman, they are the eggmen, I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob’ – The Beatles, I Am The Walrus (27%)
Prof Cloonan: “John Lennon spoke of writing some of this while on an acid trip, which might help explain things. It is an exercise in surrealism and word play – a true highlight of UK psychedelia. Lennon did once declare that ‘The Walrus was Paul’ but it appears to in fact be a reference to Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter and so, a reference to surreal or imaginary worlds.”
3. ‘What about elephants? Have we lost their trust?’- Michael Jackson, Earth Song (18%)
Prof Cloonan: “Ultimately this is a misjudged protest song, which sees a world in which the innocent simply have things done to them by malevolent forces. It could be construed as an attack on the ivory trade.”
4. ‘Tom bol li de se de moi ya, hey jambo jumbo’ – Lionel Richie, All Night Long (12%)
Prof Cloonan: “Richie has himself admitted that the lyrics are ‘A wonderful joke’ and an attempt to insert some African dialect into the song, which he couldn’t do in time, so just made up. They have no meaning outside of sounding right in the song.”
5. ‘Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad’ – Carly Rae Jepson, Call Me Maybe (11%)
Prof Cloonan: “You really can miss something you’ve never had and Jepson has spoken of the song being about her current boyfriend. So it is about having something (rather than an actual person) missing in your life, a fairly common experience. ”
6. ‘Beats so big I’m stepping on leprechauns’ – Black Eyed Peas, Boom Boom Pow (10%)
Prof Cloonan: “Sometimes I think that we just have to accept songwriters are strange.”
7. ‘The reflex is an only child, he’s waiting in the park’ – Duran Duran, The Reflex (8%)
Prof Cloonan: “The band have denied that the song has any particular meaning; there is no deep and meaningful metaphor here. It is a case of the words sounding fine in the song, but not making sense on the page.”
8. ‘Club Tropicana, drinks are free, fun and sunshine, there’s enough for everyone, all that’s missing is the sea’ – Wham!, Club Tropicana – (8%)
Prof Cloonan: “For those in the know the answer is obvious – ‘Club Tropicana’ is in the hills above San Antonio at Ibiza’s legendary Pikes Hotel (now known as Ibiza Rocks House), where the video was shot. So some distance from the sea.”
9. ‘Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter, and my daddy said stay away from Juliet.’ – Taylor Swift, Love Story (7%)
Prof Cloonan: “It seems to me this is a thinly veiled reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter which is about a woman who conceives a child from an adulterous affair. However in this context, the reference could be considered to represent Swift’s movement from innocence towards knowing womanhood.”
10. ‘Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball’- Oasis, Champagne Supernova (7%)
Prof Cloonan: “Noel Gallagher has admitted that he just likes rhymes, and that these lyrics mean different things to him on different days. He has also offered his thoughts, after being asked about this song’s meaning, in his own forthright style: ‘Are you telling me, when you’ve got 60,000 people singing it, they don’t know what it means? It means something different to every one of them.’”
Respondents were also asked who they thought was the worst lyricist from a selection of the most popular acts in today’s charts. Miley Cyrus, Pitbull and Robin Thicke took the top three spots, respectively.
The top 10 ‘worst lyricists’ as voted for by the British public are:
1. Miley Cyrus (17%)
2. Pitbull (16%)
3. Robin Thicke (15%)
4. Will.i.am/The Black Eyes Peas (11%)
5. Sting (5%)
6. Taylor Swift (5%)
7. Robbie Williams (5%)
8. Simon Le Bon (4%)
9. Noel Gallagher (4%)
10. Brandon Flowers/The Killers (2%)
blinkbox Music managing director Mark Bennett commented: “It’s true that song lyrics are sometimes as crazy as a box of frogs, but then that’s show business. It would be a really boring world if everything was logical and made sense.”
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