If there is anything I love more than an angst-filled love song, I’m not sure what it is.
As long as the lyrics are overflowing with abject longing and wanting, I’m not even picky about genre. If the yearning is plentiful and the vocals deliver abundant aching—I’m in.
Think I’m overstating this? Tell that to my sister’s friend who came knocking on our front door back when I was a freshman in high school. Apparently she had to knock “forever and a day” because it was “clear someone was home” since she could hear Barbra Streisand blaring through the open windows and the sound of “something else that sounded like an injured animal.”
Whatever. “The Way We Were” was my favorite and I’ll not apologize for giving it my all.
Mem’ries, may be beautiful and yet
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
As if the lyrics themselves aren’t enough, have you heard Babs deliver it? How could I not get involved?
My point is, when you adore ballads the way I do, genre is irrelevant—especially if the song contains sufficient levels of hunger and craving.
Once in awhile, a song—even one I love—goes too far.
An immediate one that comes to mind is “What Can I Say” by Carrie Underwood. It’s not a new one, but it illustrates a few ways a song can go too far. Let’s unpack the lyrics.
Piercing words, eyes are red
Watched your taillights in the rain
Empty heart filled with regret
I know we were both to blame
A break-up has occurred, but so far it’s fairly cookie-cutter, with not much to get worked up over.
And I’m not sorry that it’s over
But for the way we let it end
So I said all I had to say
In letters that I threw away
We’ll come back to this verse soon, trust me.
And you should know, please believe me
I’ve picked up the phone a thousand times
And tried to dial your number, but it’s been so long
It’s never easy, it’s like tryin’ to spin the world the other way
What can I say?
Here is where Carrie takes a sharp left turn down Dramatic Avenue. Picking up a phone ten or fifteen times isn’t particularly noteworthy. Picking it up a thousand times without actually placing a call is disturbing.
The only explanation that makes sense here is that she’s like my sister and some math is involved in every quantifiable statement she makes. Let me explain. During our many years as sisters, I’ve had to spend a fair amount of time honing my internal sister calculator so I could get a somewhat more accurate read on anything she says involving numbers.
If she says she slept one hour, she slept 3.5.
If she says she’s made a recipe more times than she can count, she’s made it twice.
If she says her throat is so sore she can’t even swallow, that doesn’t include the four Diet Cokes.
If she says she had to wait at the DMV for two hours, she waited approximately 31 minutes.
If she says she’ll be there at 6pm, it’ll be 6pm (in another time zone).
Anyway, it’s not an exact science. I don’t use a formula that cuts everything by a third or anything. It’s more of a gut feeling and knowing her the way I do—and the culmination of years spent fine-tuning this impressive craft.
My point is, maybe Carrie has just tried to pick up the phone 20 times.
But after that gross exaggeration jab, she comes in with an unforgivable left hook:
It’s never easy
It’s like trying to spin the world the other way
WHAT?! Carrie, “never easy” is trying to open a jar of marinara with olive oil on your hands. I’m giving you a misdemeanor for equating your tangled love life with REVERSING THE EARTH’S AXIS OF ROTATION. You can’t go straight to astrophysics and expect our sympathies.
And what exactly is that hard? Picking up the phone? Trying not to pick up the phone? Trying to remember his phone number? I hope what’s hard is simply getting over him, because that’s something I can get down with … ANGST.
I calmed down a bit when I remembered this was a duet. I figured her ex would step in for his verse and cooler heads would prevail.
He doubled down with more picking-up-the-phone-a-gazillion-times LIES and also swore it was as hard as trying to spin the world the other way. Oh come on! Being a love sick puppy doesn’t mean you should perjure yourselves!
I know, I know, they’re dramatizing it for artistic sake—fine. So let’s go back to the verse I skipped earlier, because it’s the crux of the problem for me.
They’re both singing—in their upper register—about how hard it is, but then they both say they’re “not sorry that it’s over.”
WHAT?! Why? What kind of warped love is this? Why aren’t you sorry? You’ve written letters you’ve thrown away … you’ve spent a good portion of your adult life trying to pick up a phone … you’ve claimed it’s as hard as trying to spin the world the other way … but you’re not sorry that it’s over?
I need a part two that explains WHY. Something’s fishy in Nashville. There’s a fungus among us and I need some answers.
I want to cover one other ardent offender before we wrap up. It’s not his newest song, but I can’t let Bruno Mars off the hook. For those of you unaware of the disturbing lyrics to one of his biggest hits, fear not. Let’s dig in.
Easy come, easy go
That’s just how you live
Oh take, take, take it all
But you never give
Should’ve known you was trouble (the poor grammar here kills me)
From the first kiss
Had your eyes wide open
Why were they open?
So far, so good, right? Wait.
Gave you all I had
And you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, yes you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
‘Cause what you don’t understand is…
Here it comes—hope you’re sitting down.
I’d catch a grenade for you
Throw my hand on a blade for you
I’d jump in front of a train for you
You know I’d do anything for you
Oh, I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won’t do the same
Bruno Batshitcrazy Mars. Can we tap the brake here and calm ourselves down?
I’m not a relationship expert, but I do know that the jumping off point for a couple in love—THE #1 UNSPOKEN DESIRE—is that they’re both among the living. So for him to freely volunteer ways to off himself is not only a fallible premise, but an indicator that he’s not ready for big boy love.
Side Note: Actually, I lied about my expertise. In high school, I was Miss Lady Bulldog—the advice columnist for our school newspaper. A relationship expert is exactly what I am.
Final ridiculousness …
Black, black, black and blue
Beat me ’til I’m numb
Tell the devil I said “Hey” when you get back to where you’re from
Mad woman, bad woman
That’s just what you are
Yeah, you smile in my face then rip the brakes out my car
SERIOUSLY? He’d throw his hand on a blade (why?) and take a bullet to his brain for someone who beats him and talks to the evil one? Why all the self-loathing? He has the voice of an angel and the dimples to match. He can do so much better than some wanna-be mechanic chick who rips the brakes out of his car. And I hesitate to get off course here, but can you rip brakes out? Never mind.
It also doesn’t sound like he’s got a real solid grasp of what it means to die on impact.
It doesn’t hurt.
So this bullet he’s taking and his willingness to “go through all this pain” is nothing but posturing. If he really wants to make a statement about pain, he’d offer to run a half marathon in stilettos. He’d give himself paper cuts between his toes, then soak them in moonshine.
There are so many ways he could prove his love without giving up his life; however, the Miss Lady Bulldog in me would caution him against this doomed relationship anyway. It sounds ever-so-slightly unhealthy.
Maybe Bruno and Carrie could get together and find some balance—do crazy things like stay alive and stay together. They could do a beautiful duet together called, “What Can I Say—I Wouldn’t Catch A Grenade For You.” Maybe Streisand and I could even sing back-up.
These are two of hundreds of offenders.
What songs and lyrics cross the crazy line for you?
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