sung lyrics vs written poetry

I’ve been listening to a lot of music for inspiration, and I’ve been thinking about how poetry and song lyrics are tied together, yet so different. Rythym in poetry needs to be carried by the meter- the words themselves need to have a consistent pattern in emphasis and release that create a rhythm where there is none. Music does the same thing- but with an underlying beat and rhythm, the lyrics need to conform to the beat. 

A lot of pop songs, I’ve noticed, resort to simpler and repeating lyrics to do this. It’s difficult, to have a song that has no repeating lyrics and still conforms to the beat. It adds that extra layer of difficulty, and I’m blown away by artists that can pull it off and have their lyrics still sound good. But, the song has roughly four mins to kill, the artist might as well repeat the same word or phrase a couple times to emphasize the beat. You can see this, when you look at written song lyrics versus heard. There’s an incredible amount of repetition. 

A lot of experimental songs get around the incredibly difficult meter and rhyme scheme by using partial or internal rhymes, along with lyrics of a similar syllable count. R&B is interesting, in that it uses the same repetition as pop songs, but it gets around the meter constrictions by just changing inflection to fit the rhythm. Most electronic music forces the lyrics to fit to the beat by chopping them at the needed intervals. This is all generelization- each genre, artist, and even song will approach this problem differently. It’s impossible to narrow down each method without creating millions of sub-genres within sub-genres. 

The written word, however, gets around this by not having any beat to conform to, but presents unique opportunities as a visual medium. The words are the same- but the medium changes everything. You can’t use shape poetry in song, and it’s incredibly difficult to convey tone through written words without resorting to sheet music. 

[i have zero music experience so this is all very interesting]  

One Reply to “sung lyrics vs written poetry”

  1. I’ve always appreciated the band Yellowcard’s habit of making their first chorus different from their other choruses, usually through the method of adding additional lines as the song goes on. Consider “Ocean Avenue”:

    “If I could find you now things would get better
    We could leave this town and run forever
    Let your waves crash down on me and take me away”

    becomes

    “If I could find you now things would get better
    We could leave this town and run forever
    I know somewhere, somehow we’ll be together
    Let your waves crash down on me and take me away”

    or their song “The Hurt is Gone”:

    “Change comes for you, even if you’re hiding out
    So wake to this truth, and maybe you’ll believe me now”

    becomes

    “Change comes for you, even if you’re hiding out
    So wake to this truth, and maybe you’ll believe me now
    No safety in illusions of a place where you belong
    So take hold of me and hang on until the hurt is gone”

    To me, it signals a change or a progression in the “plot” of the song.

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