Music · Uncategorized

Terrible Tunes Tuesday

Or, a Case for Diction in Popular Music

This may be the first in a series of several rants posts about popular music.

I often listen to the radio, especially while driving. My current listening tastes extend to a select few local music stations – I refuse to pay a single dollar for XM Radio (however nice it might be to have, their spam mail is incredibly annoying so I refuse on principle), and I can’t listen to talk radio because it stresses me out.

Strangely enough, two of my most frequent stations are for “popular music” – or, to be funny, I like to describe it as “what the kids are listening to these days”. I have mixed feelings about the music on these stations. I generally listen to keep abreast of the current music scene, to occasionally hear a nostalgic favorite, and because for as many songs as I don’t care for, there will be a song or two that I like, or at least find myself singing along to.

Mostly, I’m listening for the words. Music lyrics are a form of poetry, more or less, so beyond a catchy tune or beat, I’m really keyed in to the message of a song. I regard most of the messages I hear in the popular music scene as drivel (at best) but every once in a while I’ll hear something very earnest and genuine, something that if you took the music away would still be poetry worth reading aloud, which makes wading through all the other nonsense worthwhile.

But that’s not what this blog post is about.

This blog post is about diction. Or rather, the tragic lack of it in modern music.

Americans are notoriously lazy in their speech patterns. For example, while in British English the “t’s” in “letter” are generally pronounced clearly and crisply (though it depends on your particular British dialect, I’ll admit) Americans are much more likely to gloss over the “t’s” and turn them into “d’s”. Letter = British, Ledder = American.

I know I’m making sweeping generalizations here – but blogs are about brevity so I’m rolling with it.

I can’t tell you how many times I listen to popular music and the only reason I can understand the words is because I happen to be a native speaker of English. Just today, I heard a song (that may have inspired this post) that included the words “hot” and “stop” in the lyrics. But that is definitely not what was actually said. I will try to recreate them phonetically:

Stop = St-aaaaaaaah

Hot = H-Ah

I solemnly swear that that is what I heard.

This is only one of limitless examples. Now, I fully admit that pronunciation can be a stylistic thing. In certain instances it would sound stuffy and stilted to over-enunciate every syllable of every word. But in the above example, there are consonants at the ends of these words that aren’t simply being glossed over or lazily expressed, but downright ignored.

There’s a reason that there are entire classes devoted to diction in classic vocal training. Because if your audience can’t understand what you’re saying…then what, I ask, is the point?

Lazy or nonexistent diction is also why, I kid you not, whenever I hear Taylor Swift’s song Blank Space instead of hearing the actual lyrics (Gotta long list of ex-lovers) I can only hear her saying:

“Gotta love those Starbucks lovers.”

What.

On the other hand though, I do enjoy laughing at examples of misheard lyrics, which we wouldn’t have if every vocalist had perfect diction. It’s a dilemma…more laughter, or proper pronunciation? I’m torn.

I’ll close with one of my favorite examples of misheard lyrics I was ever told from the The Beach Boys’ classic, Barbara Anne:

“Went to the dance, looking for my pants, saw Barbara Anne so I thought I’d take a chance, Barbara Anne, Barbara Anne…”

I laughed for days.

Have favorite misheard lyrics? Leave them in the comments below!

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I’m Back…?

Is this blog ghostwritten by an actual ghost? Can I get through even a month of blogging without taking a year-long hiatus? These are the questions. They do say third time’s the charm. Or is this…the fifth? I can’t remember.

A good friend of mine has this really awesome blog that gets more and more awesome every time I stop by. Her witty, insightful writing seems effortless, her topics interesting, amusing, and thought-provoking.

By contrast, I struggle to come up with content that is engaging, but not overly top-heavy with research, or crippled by my need for narrative perfectionism. The end result is generally a time-consuming effort that ends in discouragement, allowing the pressures of living life like a Normal Human Being to talk me out of this thing that I’m convinced that I want and yet seem powerless to execute. Thus, my attempt at a blog fades into oblivion.

But something keeps bringing me back…as Thomas Edison once said, the surest way to succeed is to try again, just one more time…or something like that.

I have things to say! So let’s talk about some things.

Who says blogs have to have a theme? I think that kind of mindset is precisely what’s been tripping me up in the past. So I hereby reserve the right to write (ugh, homonyms, English, why) about whatever errant thoughts drift through my brain. True Confessions of a a Hopeless Pedant might be a better name for this blog, but I’m hurting for continuity enough as it is, so Tempest in a Teacup it remains. Here we go again!

Possible posts to look forward to:

  1. Dinosaurs
  2. Adventures in All-Natural Skin Care
  3. Asking the Real Questions: Why don’t people use sun visors in their cars more often?
  4. Star Wars Episode IX: The Force Makes No Sense

Hope you’re as excited as I am, because it’s gonna get lit. As in LITERATURE! Ha! (Why am I still awake.)

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Ron Doesn’t Get Enough Credit

Though I’m sure many readers are familiar with Harry Potter, just in case you aren’t, potential spoilers ahead.

As the season turns colder and the days turn darker and more mysterious, the holiday spirit begins to stir. And while more hardcore fans may disagree, for me at least, winter is the best (and most socially acceptable) time of year to engage in a Harry Potter movie marathon.

Thus I found myself a few nights ago watching the second movie in the saga, The Chamber of Secrets, with my family. I wasn’t really watching, mind, I have to confess to being much more engrossed in online Christmas shopping. But one scene in particular held my attention, and lead to this blog post.

In the scene, Harry and his friend Ron travel deep into the Forbidden Forest on a mission to find out what happened at Hogwarts fifty years ago when the Chamber of Secrets was opened, and who is responsible for opening it now. Their path leads them to the dwelling of the giant spider Aragog. Harry begins to interrogate Aragog, and while major plot points are being revealed through the dialogue, Harry’s friend Ron repeatedly interrupts him, making frightened noises. Irritated, Harry finally turns to Ron to see what he wants, only to discover that while they were chatting, the other spiders of the hollow have been creeping steadily closer.

Taken at face value, this scene shows Harry (the hero) getting the job done, while Ron (his blubbering sidekick) merely makes a nuisance of himself. Right?

Well…maybe not.

Perhaps it was the fervor of my reckless spending spree that induced such a spurt of abstract thought, but suddenly I wasn’t watching two kids on a crazy adventure in a magical forest. When I thought about that scene, I was seeing a medieval warrior in the hall of his enemy, under an uneasy flag of truce, while his trusted right-hand man scans the crowds of restless enemies pressing ever closer, hands on their weapons.

I’ll get back to that thought. But while Ron is not always my favorite character, he is undoubtedly an important one, and, I think, a tad underrated.

Ron gets a bit of a bad rap through the series for being a bit of a scaredy-cat. Much of this (in the movies, especially) is for the benefit of providing some comic relief. But I’m ready to make the argument that despite appearances, Ron’s role in the scene with the spiders (the film version, anyway) was actually critically important to the success of the mission.

During the scene, Harry’s attention was completely monopolized by Aragog, who revealed that Hagrid was framed, while also dropping some hints about the true nature of the creature currently stalking the halls of Hogwarts. Short put, Harry just doesn’t have time for anything else but what Aragog is saying – the welfare of his friend Hagrid, and the safety of the entire school, depends upon it.

But while Harry is busy listening, he’s let his guard down. Now Harry’s welfare depends upon the fact that Ron is watching his back. And when you’re face-to-face with spiders the size of cars, that’s a pretty big responsibility. In short, while Harry was accomplishing the mission, Ron was busy making sure that they survived the mission long enough for it to mean something.

Because discovering what’s in the Chamber of Secrets doesn’t mean a darn thing if you immediately get eaten by a giant spider upon learning it.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that Ron hates spiders more than anything. Which means that following a trail of spiders into a dark and creepy forest in order to go find MORE spiders would probably be his worst nightmare. But you know something? He went anyway. That takes some serious guts.

The moral of this story is that every hero needs a friend to guard their weak side, and that weak side could be any number of things depending on the situation. Whether you’re a medieval feudal lord embroiled in a bitter border war (which is where I went with the analogy, surprise surprise) or a young teenage wizard fighting the baddest man on the planet, a hero needs a friend, and initiative, courage, and heroism come in a variety of guises.

Another takeaway? Don’t let your guard down around giant talking spiders.

You might just get eaten.

I’ll close with this pearl of wisdom from my father. While we were watching Harry and Ron escape back through the forest with a horde of spiders hot on their trail, I was struck by the urgency of their situation.

Me: *struggling to find the right words* They’ve been outflanked!

Dad: When you’ve been outflanked enough, it’s called being surrounded.

Thanks dad. Glad you’ve always got my back!