Music & Lyrics: a deeper meaning

Disclaimer: For the sake of anonymity, names have been altered, and five samples were randomly selected.

Music is a universal language, but lyrics are not. It’s almost as if they are dialects of the same language that evoke unique, distinct and entirely different memories in each person. Yet in the overarching meaning of each song, one’s individual thoughts and emotions find a commonality among them. So, what happens when someone hears lyrics about pain? Or love? Or the finality of life? Is it at all possible to profile a person based on their reaction to a song? To answer this question, I sat ten individuals down in a room full of distractions, asked them to write exactly what came to their minds without any filters, and then proceeded to play them the song ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay in its entirety. Based solely and objectively on what they wrote, this is who they are:

Laura is a simple person; when it comes to her, what you see is what you get. She avoids drama, steers clear of negativity, and sticks to a careful routine. Her thinking is methodical, logical and makes complete and total sense. Everything she does makes perfect sense. There’s a part of her that wants to take a gamble, or a big risk, and she says that someday, when there’s less to worry about, she’ll try it. 

Katherine overthinks everything. She is constantly afraid that someone is going to disapprove of the way she lives her life, and tear her down for it, but she is far stronger than most of us. She is completely, and unapologetically herself. Regardless of how she is treated by others, her outlook remains positive. She’s one of those people who make the world a better place by loving the people who exist within it.

Daryl is a secret romantic. He will pack a wine and cheese dinner into a picnic basket and take you to the perfect stargazing spot on your first date, and he’ll even have thought to bring an extra blanket. He’s the kind of guy you want to bring home to your mom and tell all your secrets to, but be careful because he’s a wanderer. I doubt he’d let himself get too attached, and he might break your heart. In fact, I’m quite certain he will.

Stephen is far too innocent for his age; he was shielded from the world enough to believe that people are all good. He remembers his childhood fondly, but something was always lacking. Now that he has filled that void with great friends, he feels like as if he’s betrayed his former self. Little does he know, he doesn’t need to apologise to himself or anyone else for having a better life now than he did back then.

Gemma is an intellectual through and through. Her mind is littered with prose written by authors her ancestors’ age, but her life is filled with modernity and she’s as technologically capable as it gets. She always feels like an anachronism, as if she was born both too early and too late for her time. She doesn’t fit in, but is adored by everyone. Hundreds of people envy the life she doesn’t appreciate enough.

These profiles seem far too deep or in depth to have come from half a page of scribbled notes in reaction to Chris Martin’s angelic voice, but there is so much to be said about a person’s thought process. From the extra pressure put on a pen to create an ink splotch at the end of the word ‘commitment’ to the crossed out phrase ‘leap of faith’, there is an entire novel between the lines of each of the responses gathered. For example, three concise and logical sentences written in bullet point form completely contrast the slew of unrelated words that filled an entire page to differentiate the methodical, analytical thinker from the itinerant. 

We severely underestimate the impact that art has on each of us. A recent study, conducted by researchers at ‘The Music Lab’ at Harvard, has explored how music is interpreted across cultures, and whether perceptions of sound clips differ based on environment. So far, they have found that certain themes, such as healing, are thought to be more similar universally than others. This attests to the way in which we as the human race construe things that are presented to us with the purpose of invoking an emotional response; namely, that there are things which people will obviously understand to be the same, and things that will be worlds apart for each person. 

Take, for example, the word ‘yellow’. Not one response gathered included a deeper analysis of the word ‘yellow’, which was used numerous times throughout the course of the song, rather, the subjects related the word to physical things such as a sweatshirt they had worn or rain boots they owned, and even the color of a building they frequent. On the contrary, the lyrics ‘so then I took my turn, oh what a thing to have done’, which were sung only once, elicited varying responses that ranged from thoughts of karma and loss, to those of love and success. 

The moral here, is that in a time of rising conflict, when everything appears to be controversial, we still have a language through which we can communicate. Even if it’s unspoken; there is a lot to be derived from facial expressions, writing, painting, clothing, and of course music. We must strive to be both sympathetic and empathetic, and implore ourselves to dig deeper in order to understand what is beneath the surface, because there is always more than meets the eye, and more to any one story. So pay more attention to those song lyrics your friend has been dying to show you, and that instagram caption stolen from the chorus of a Drake song. Sometimes people are trying to say something and they just don’t know how to. But then again, maybe someone out there has said it better.

– Saniya Ramchandani