Saturday, April 28, 2007

Song Analysis: Aly & AJ - "Speak for Myself"

Intrepid readers: It's been a while, but my schedule has recently cleared up so hopefully that will give me more postin' time. I have a few ideas for posts in the works, that I didn't have a chance to do because of business. In the meantime, sure been a while since I've done a song analysis, so here's the newest entry in this occassional series:

Previous song analyses:
Hilary Duff - "So Yesterday"
Lee Ann Womack - "I'll Think of a Reason Later"
Natasha Bedingfield - "Stumble"
Charlotte Church - "Moodswings (to Come at Me Like That"

Youtube: "Speak for Myself" (ugh, accompanied to Zack and Cody content. I recommend you listen with your eyes closed.)

Do you see me, do you care?
You talk about me like I'm not there.
Don't get a word in when you're around.
I bet you don't know what I'm about.

'Cause I will, I will speak for myself
What you see isn't all I am
I need a place to stand
I will, I will speak for myself
There's so much you're missing
If you cared you'd listen

You suffocate me, you drown me out.
I'm tired of waiting without a doubt.
I feel I'm fading, I flicker out.
My heart is screaming without a sound

I'm not sorry for who I am
Take it or leave it
It's my time to take a stand
Throw it or keep it
Know that I don't mean to understand
Won't say it again

Song Analysis/Comments: This song contains the pained, pleading lyrics and the anguished, piercing voices that characterize much of Aly & AJ's best work ("Not This Year", "No One", etc.). The song has no immediately straightforward interpretation, other than that it's obviously a triumphant anthem to standing up for yourself. But as to who is keeping her down and whose grasp she is freeing herself from, I suppose there's no definitive answer, at least not one that I'm aware of. But that won't stop me from analyzing away!

OK, so where are we getting at with this song? First verse plays through pretty standard ignoring lyrics. She is not noticed, they don't care about her, they leave her on the outside (shades of Jordan Pruitt here, though it's worth mentioning this song predates "Outside Looking In" by a good year). And it obviously bugs them. Heck, when you care about somebody and want them to like you and you can't even get them to acknowledge that you exist, that rubs wrong. And the girls (believe it's AJ, but I could be wrong) sing it with just a heartbreakingly anguished and pinched tone to their voice. The very tone to her voice and inflections on the phrasing imply an intense pleading, as if they are pleading to be noticed. Then we go into the chorus, which is just one big kiss off of a "If you don't wanna notice me that's your own fault". Hey, their self esteem doesn't rest on what the popular people thing of them. They are their own girls, and they are gonna do their thing and screw anybody else who doesn't like them. Very triumphant thing to hear from the high school girls. Or, on the other hand, is it a triumphant kiss off to an inattentive boyfriend? I can speak for myself, and you don't really know me, and if you REALLY loved me, you'd want to get to know me.

The second verse plunges way deeper into the despair than the prior ones. It's so melancholy in fact, that it makes me doubt the certainty with which the chorus is presented. Really, she's "suffocating", her heart is "screaming without a sound"? I find the last line in this verse to be extremely fascinating, though I'm still not sure if it actually means anything. This very verse in fact, makes me doubt that it's an anti-bully sentiment, as it seems to be sung to a boyfriend who is treating her badly. That's an interpretation that I tend to reject because they don't seem to sing about relationships and love very frequently, but this really seems like a level of emotional pain that is beyond what we would typically expect from the schoolyard bullies. But on the other hand, it is still fairly consistent with that interpretation.

One way or another, in any event, the song is about getting yourself noticed in the fact of inattentiveness. And not getting yourself noticed by pretending to be somebody else, but of putting yourself out there, in the face of all who have done you wrong, and daring them to get to know the real you. Daring them to stare you down. Only, the air of anguish and of defeat permeates the entire song. The girls' voice just adds an extra layer of despair atop the whole thing that's almost crushing, even when it's triumphant. Even when they are kissing off their opressors, you never forget what they are standing up against. That they are standing up, but that they are still hurt. And that it's OK to let these people hurt you, as long as you are willing to do something about it. But just the decision to stand up for yourself doesn't take the despair away. That's what I think is really going on underneath this seemingly straightforward triumph here. This song is a perfect example of how the vocals can affect the interpretation of the lyrics.

What's the moral of the story here, after all that rambling nonsense: You need to stand up for yourself and never stop being yourself. But, standing up for yourself is hard, and the mere decision to do so doesn't take away all the pain people have caused you. But that's what makes it even more important to do so! This song makes me feel really bad for the girls. It makes me want to go out and slap whoever this song was written about.

Or is it just about trying to be religious in the face of a sinful world? Is it about being crushed and suffocated and ignored in the face of a world that glorifies sins such as violence and lust and turns its nose at the fundamentalists? In a nation where more than half of people say they are Christian but that turn their noses up at public Christian displays. Is it about being yourself, and rubbing it in the nose of that world, and triumphing over sin and not letting the world get what it wants. And I am gonna speak your mind and be myself, and if you only listened to me you would understand.

Aly & AJ's lyrics are constantly toeing the line between the religious and the secular and that is one of the things I find most fascinating about them. I mean, listen, I don't agree with any of the above sentiments, but I love the way that they have managed to integrate their evangelical Christianity into their lyrics without beating our head over them. These aren't explicitly Christian lyrics here, and they can't possibly be offensive to anybody, as they can just as easily be interpreted in a secular way. But if you listen to the song with that interpretation specifically in mind, it falls out pretty naturally, and I can't believe that's just a coincidence. And listen, again, just to make things perfectly clear here, I find their brand of evangelical Christianity (or at least what I know of it from their interviews, etc.) to be rather distateful, but at least they are being real. I get the impression from listening to Into the Rush that this album, this really is a document of Aly & AJ. A kind of sense I don't get from, say, Fall Out Boy or Hannah Montana or Paris Hilton or most pop stars. And if evangelical Christianity is clearly a part of who they are, then by gum, that's what I wanna hear.

Continuing on the above point, I've been doing a lot of self-reflection lately, and thinking about what it is exactly that draws me so heavily towards teen pop. I love pop music in general, and I love lots of different types of music, but lately it's the teen pop that's been drawing me in. And it's just the intense personal nature of it. I just get this despaired sense of real personal nature from Ashlee and from Jordan Pruitt and from Aly & AJ, like they are too young to know that you shouldn't really put yourself out on the record like that. And when I can listen to the album and really feel like I've gotten to know and love the singer/songwriters of that album, that to me is the height of the music listening experience. And I get that experience from lots of different genres, but I think teenpop is where I've found the most raw emotions, the most ebullient love and the most despairing sadness, and the most crushing loneliness, etc., etc. And you hear it all on Into the Rush: the high highs and the low lows (but, yeah, the low lows are presented a lot more convincingly than the high highs. The girls know how to pull off drama.) And you've got the explicitly relgious songs ("Protecting Me") and the explicitly secular songs ("Chemicals React") and the maybe religious, maybe secular songs (this song, "Rush"), and it all adds up to Aly & AJ. Or if it doesn't actually add up to who Aly & AJ really are, it all adds up to somebody and something, and who I love and identify with isn't really Aly & AJ but is "Aly & AJ", as an image they calculatedly present of themselves. Heck, I don't care. It's something.

The point being, of all this fractured prose, that there are a lot of different interpretations to this song, and I don't even know myself which one I'd lean towards. Is it an anti-bullying sentiment, or a kiss off to an inattentive boyfriend, or a song about remaining Christian in a secular world? It's all 3! I picked this song partly as an excuse to run that real emotions rant, but also to highlight a song with multiple interesting interpretations and to highlight a song where the vocal performance really adds to the lyrics.

Final Rating: A powerhouse vocal effort, truly anguished lyrics, and one heck of a catchy melody make this my favorite album track off of their debut effort and one of my top 5 favorite Aly & AJ songs overall ("Not This Year" --> "Rush" --> "Greatest Time of Year" --> This song --> "Chemicals React"). 8.5/10.

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