The Art of Storytelling: The 2010s

Music has a wonderfully peculiar ability to change our dispositions. You could be listening to A Letter to Elise – by The Cure – one minute and yearn for an ex that wasn’t suitable for you. But as soon as the iPod shuffles, and Celebration – by Kool & The Gang – emerges, we have no choice but to be uplifted. We shouldn’t be this easily influenced by music, should we? But we are. And you know what? That’s a good thing! It’s even better when there is a clear structure to a song, which evokes unadulterated passion. Records which tell a story, enthral our imagination and help us connect to the art and the artist. In this article we explore some of the best songs from the current generation which divulge a narrative, whether it be a thematic one or one based on emotions.

Artist: Big Thief

Song: Mythological Beauty

Album: Capacity (2017)

Key Lyric: “There is a child inside you, who’s trying to raise a child in me.”

This stellar hit comes from Big Thief’s sophomore album, Capacity, and methodically examines the sacrifice and beauty within parenthood. The thematic history that Adrianne Lenker depicts is emotional, graceful and agonising. The story belongs to her mother and the trifle and responsibility that was bestowed upon her at a young age, “seventeen you took his cum”, but what it also shows is the grim reality of teen pregnancy that goes on throughout every generation. As the soft drums beat, and the guitar strums in the background, Lenker exclaims vigorously, “you gave Andrew a family, who you thought would love & take better care.” This is a common synopsis within our society; broken families and deadbeat fathers.

The structure of the song indicated different moments of life with each verse. The first verse shows the beauty of youth and exploration, the second establishes the reality of mistakes and the last verse illustrates how delicate love is. “I was just five & you were twenty-seven, praying “don’t let my baby die.”

The song is beautiful and deep, and the audience can either connect from the point of view of the mother, or the child who understands (or should) the sacrifice and heartache their parents have gone through. We are all susceptible to misery; sometimes we forget that our parents endure the same heartache as us.

Artist: J Cole

Song: Lost Ones

Album: Sideline Story (2011)

Key Lyric: “Girl, you gotta think about how the options weigh out – what’s the way out?”

This song epitomises the beauty of hip-hop, and J Cole exemplifies the shortage in great lyricists in the 21st century. Cole confesses throughout the song the ethical and moral dilemma of having sex with someone for superficial reasons, and the ultimate consequences & reverberations of that action. We can see see this as Cole states, “but he loved her cause the pussy good, she ain a wife tho.”

The beauty of the storytelling is within the verse structure. The first verse deals with the apprehension and trepidation of potential fatherhood with a woman that he has no emotional connection to. Cole illustrates his fear by making rational points about them being kids still and not having enough money to support a child. This rationality implies getting an abortion, to preserve both of their futures. However the subliminal message is that of selfishness.

The second verse is the response of the woman he impregnated, which Cole raps at a different octave to differentiate between the two. In this verse we see the betrayal the woman is enduring, and the lack of empathy that Cole (or the character) has. The verse is filled with anger and truth and highlights selfishness of Cole (or – again- his character).

The last verse is from an objective narrative, and presents more tribulations and a difficult moral question, “what about your seed, nigga?” that has the audience pondering their own mistakes and how they dealt them.

It’s almost a homage to Cat Stevens in its structure. It’s a brilliant track, by a brilliant artist.

Artist: Wye Oak

Song: I Hope You Die

Album: My Neighbour/ My Creator (2010)

Key Lyric: “Against your will, you are alive.”

Death is an evitable fact of life. We can’t escape it. However with our death, comes more agony and anguish – that of our family, friends & loved ones. And yet when we see someone we love suffering through Alzheimer, terminal cancer or another slow, pain inflicting disease, we can do little but watch them suffer. This song written my Jennifer Wasner, leader singer of Wye Oak, examines this heart wrenching topic with elegance and relentless empathy.

The song itself does not have a liner structure to it, unlike the previous songs; however the lyrics produce an enticing and emotional narrative. Throughout the song we can sense emotional exhaustion from the point of view of Jennifer. She understands the difficulty that her mother is enduring but the pain for her is inexorable as well. She states, “I can’t sleep, until I see you sleeping” showing her watchfulness over her mother.

The song also alludes to the erosion of the world they had built together, implying her mother’s failing memory is becoming extremely predominant. Wasner sings, “I don’t recognise the world, that you have made – that we have made” which highlights not just the destruction of her reality but also having to deal with the ruins after her mother finally passes away.

This song brings a tear to my eye, and anyone can imagine the pain Wasner is feeling. “I hope you die” is not out of anger, but mercy and kindness. It’s funny how phrases can have different connotational meanings, with different inflictions.

Artist: The National

Song: Sorrow

Album: High Violet (2010)

Key Lyric: “I live in a city sorrow built.”

I feel as though Sorrow is about depression and the pressure we put on ourselves as society. The track comes from of the greatest modern bands of all time, The National, and one of their classic albums High Violet. The song, again, doesn’t have a clear liner structure but does encompass a real social dilemma within modern day society – heartache & depression.

The song deals with heartbreak (so I think, The National are a very ambiguous band at the best of times) and the resulting destruction it can lead to. There seems to be zero joy the protagonist can obtain from life, “it’s in my honey, it’s in my milk” helps explains this depression.

The song elaborates with immense imagery as Matt Berninger (leader singer of The National) states, “I live in a city that sorrow built” which helps the audience see that the protagonist has become infatuated with his depression to the point that everything that surrounds him is filled with misery and despair.

But the most telling line throughout the song, is one we have all felt at some point in our life. Berninger singers, “I don’t wanna get over you”, because the depression has become a central part of the love he feels. If that goes away, any semblance or notion of reconciliation fades with it. He is stuck is his city of sorrow, until the pain becomes unbearable. A tremendously depressing notion, however one that can be empathised with by anyone with a broken heart.



Hopefully there will be a part two to this list, because there are some amazing songs out there! If you have any suggestions please send them to our Facebook & our Twitter. Please like and follow us as well!

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