I typically consume my pop songs online these days, and it‘s from online consumption that I derive material sufficient for my roughly monthly pop song limericks. Of late, I‘ve made more of an effort to listen to pop music on the radio when I can, which gives me a very odd impression of what‘s popular at any given moment. Maybe it‘s just the stations I listen to, but the week after “Want To Want Me“ by Jason DeRulo seemed to me to be in its heaviest rotation, it dropped out of the top ten. I hear “Talking Body“ by Tove Lo all the time, but if it was ever in the top ten for long enough to get well and truly limericked by me, I must have missed it.
I say this to preface an account of my initial reaction to this song when I first heard it on the radio a few weeks ago: “Oh. Wouldn‘t it be nice if this became a hit?“
And now, there it is just behind Taylor Swift in a comfortable #3 slot. This pleases me.
That‘s not to say that I think it‘s a perfect song. Well, okay, that‘s not a fair criterion anyway, even “Uptown Funk“ isn‘t perfect and I love the hell out of that. Let‘s try again: I don‘t think that it‘s a particularly great song, but I do think it‘s good, and more importantly I do think it‘s different, and different is something the pop charts always need.
Let‘s talk music first. It sounds like nothing else on the charts right now. The tropical drums, the sturdy chord progression, the laid-back vocals, the trumpet that busts in right from the start to steal the show, this is what charmed me when I first heard it. The lyrics could have been pretty much anything from that point and I would have been at least highly sympathetic. The trumpet‘s solo in the middle fills me with joy, and the fact that it keeps on riffing under the vocal line even after its allotted bars have elapsed is a trick that I always love, even when – like here – it isn‘t used for any particular dramatic purpose.
But my knowledge of such things is limited. Eternal Salieri that I am, I can‘t plausibly presume to pass judgment on the music with any real degree of authority. As such, let‘s talk lyrics.
The lyrics are…well, I would definitely give them a passing grade, at minimum. If you didn‘t bother with listening to the version embedded up top, the central notion of the song is that looks are nice, but what the narrator really loves about his girl is her emotional supportiveness and dependability. And to be fair, the first verse does a good job of conveying this.
Some of the rhymes don‘t land, like corner and want her, but I love the rapid-fire internal rhyme (or at least intimate assonance) of “All these other girls are tempting but I‘m empty when you‘re gone,“ disavowing any interest the narrator might have in others almost as soon as he admits their merits. As you would.
But observe also how the musical emphases tend to land on the most important words. This is a common technique in musical theatre, but is more rarely observed in pop music. In this song, there are typically two emphasized words in each line, the word that gets pitch/rhythmic emphasis and the word that gets to end the line. Those words, in order, are “motivation,“ “solution,“ “queen,“ “strong,“ “always,“ “corner,“ “there,“ “her,“ “other,“ “tempting,“ “empty,“ “gone.“ In short, the key words of every line tend to get the most emphasis. This is a perfectly serviceable way of going about things that most pop songs don‘t exploit as much as they ought to.
The pre-chorus is fine, reiterating that there might be other girls who are just as pretty, but the narrator is uninterested. The demure, casual, “No, not really,“ is a lovely little detail that works perfectly.
The chorus is not as good, but it‘s still fine. Cheerleading is a bit of a clumsy metaphor for emotional supportiveness because cheerleading remains deliberately the most artificial and choreographed expression of team support one can observe at a sporting event, but you can at least grasp the intended meaning. It‘s merely an imperfect metaphor, not one that‘s antithetical to what it‘s intended to represent.
Then we get to the second verse, where things go kind of stupid. It contains my least favorite lyric in the entire song, “I‘m the wizard of love/And I got the magic wand,“ which essentially translates to, “Hope you liked all that sincerity! Now let‘s talk about my penis.“ Also, the genie metaphor in this verse adds an unpleasant layer of ick to the scenario presented that feels out of place with the rest of the song.
The third verse, while not as good as the first, is a return to form, reiterating the most positive points of the prior material while additionally informing us that the narrator‘s mother gets along well with the love interest and that the narrator is getting ready to propose. Aww. And the emphases are where they should be in this verse as well, so full marks there.
Yes, it‘s eleven kinds of corny. Yes, it‘s one of those songs that expresses its ideas so perfectly in the first verse that the rest is left with nowhere to go but straight down (see Billy Joel‘s “I Don‘t Want To Be Alone Anymore“ for an unsettlingly perfect case study in this). But its musical merits keep it afloat even when the lyrics are diligently trying to ruin everything, and it‘s obvious that more thought was put into the lyrics of this song than those of pretty much anything else in the top ten right now.
For that alone, I both commend and recommend it.