Friday, November 13, 2009

Pop Tautologies

So I've come to the conclusion that a significant amount of popular music orients its hooks around tautologies, which is to say phrases or expressions in which the same thing is said twice in different words. To speak formally tautologies represent circular logic. When we say things like "I am what I am" we are engaging in a tautological thinking, and a bad cliché.

Pop music often depends on tautologies to produce it's hooks, or perhaps to fill in lyrical lapses that are nonetheless demanded by the music. So for example the Journey track, "Anyway You Want It," the chorus proceeds as:

"Anyway you want it that's the way you need it. Anyway you want it"

(this isn't strictly a tautology because "need" and "want" are easily differentiated synonyms, that might have somewhat dissonant meanings, but the speakers seems to be equating them to some degree.)

Similarly Smashing Pumpkins have a lyric in their song "Disarm" where the chorus involves the lyric:

"What I choose is my choice."

(ostensibly, this statement is meant to indicate that the speaker's choice is one that is resolute or belongs only to him or is made in a context free of limitation or constraint).

So what's my point? I'm not really sure. I wonder to what degree pop music beyond depending on tautologies and clichés to make its products more consumable is somehow pointing to certain understandings of time, the eternal present of capitalist society as observed by Fredric James? Or , perhaps its just that pop depends on simple truths, never endeavors to do more than that? Or that the form of pop music demands certain kinds of concision that limits the degree of explication?

On a related note are certain ambiguous quasi-tautological statements present in pop music that tend to index something outside the circular logic, often because they depend on colloquialisms and clichés. So my favorite example is the chorus for the track "Mama Said" by the Shirelles.

"Mama said, 'There'll be days like this. There'll be days like this,' My Mama said."

Now instead of being a strict tautology this statement seems to be a repetition of the same statement with the "mama said" portion reversed. Nevertheless, it seems like the "days like this" portion seems to be simultaneously gesturing to two different forms of time: "days like this" are either today, recognizable as frustrating, disheartening, difficult, etc., and yet also an earlier instance when the mother gave the advice in the first place, perhaps instantiating the first "days like this" for the singer. But it is precisely the "days like this"'s ambiguity that makes it eternal somehow, that "days like this" are always extant, always repeated. In singing the statement twice the singer not only repeats its significance but repeats the two senses of time. In a way she seems to be not only talking about time, but also some sort of overall cultural recognition of forms of time and experience. "Days like this" are homogenous and instantly recognizable, named by their redundancy.

I have no idea what to make out of all of this, but I think about it too often so I thought it might be blog worthy. Thoughts?


Himself said...

God, Journey have some awesome songs. Too bad about the albums.

five said...

i'm so glad you finally wrote this