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.
There is a certain species of popular music critic who tends to conflate the genuinely profound with the merely obtuse, and this has bred a culture of pop lyricists whose work is painfully awful, but is granted the luxury of a blind eye because no one wants to admit that they didn’t understand it. In reality, very few pop lyricists manage to combine poetry with meaning. Leonard Cohen did. Pink Floyd did in their best moments. It’s entirely possible that Bob Dylan also did, but I confess that I am not as well-acquainted as I should be with Dylan’s work, mostly because I can’t get past the fact that his voice sounds like an irritable cat in a blender.
Previously, High School Musical demonstrated more than adequately how not to arrange lyrical lines for maximum effect, but it would be unfair not to give an example of how to do this well. First, I feel that I must preemptively apologize for my love of all things Billy Joel. While for a large part this obsession is sentimental, I maintain that Mr. Joel is one of the best pop lyricists of all time. If you are not a fan, by all means don’t stay silent. Just be aware that this is an issue on which I will not be swayed.
The example I wish to draw from Joel’s oeuvre is the song “Christie Lee” from the album An Innocent Man:
Few lyrical tendencies irritate me quite so much as the persistent but ultimately fruitless attempt to pretend that “girl” rhymes with “world.” It doesn’t. “Girl” rhymes with “curl,” “pearl,” “whirl,” and “hurl,” plus a handful of others. If none of those suit your purposes, then you might want to give consideration to not ending a line with a word as dull and exhausted as “girl.”