A Brief Meditation on the Importance of Music vs Lyrics in Songs

Film Still Courtesy of Fandango

I never put much thought into the lyrics of a song until I recently watched the 2007 movie “Music And Lyrics”.

The story is about how an ex-popstar, Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant’s character), is trying to make a comeback by writing a song for a current popstar, Cora with the help of his plant tender, Sophie(Drew Barrymore’s) character, who happens to have a talent with words. At one point in the movie Alex admits he is no good with writing lyrics and prefers writing the music, so he asks Sophie for help. An argument breaks out after Alex gets frustrated with Sophie’s pickiness in word choice for the song.

“Lyrics are important…they’re just not as important as melody.” Sophie says.

Alex disagrees and she goes on to figuratively describe the melody as, ‘seeing someone for the first time’ and the lyrics as, ‘getting to know a person’ and their story. She concludes her point by stating that the combination of melody and lyrics are what make the ‘magic.’

While Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore aren’t technically professionals in music, their characters spoke some truth about music and the elements of a song, mainly the music and the lyrics. I began to ask around what people felt was more important.

“The music matters more because rhythm, beat and meter are almost universal and can roughly be understood regardless of what language it is in,” said Louis Chen, 20, UC Davis Student, a self-proclaimed music junkie.

In 2017, “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee became the one of the biggest songs of the year. In 2018, Korean pop music played as athletes marched at the Olympics opening Parade of Nations, introducing this music/culture to the globe. These two examples highlight how you don’t necessarily have to understand lyrics to enjoy the music. You can enjoy the sound, the rhythm, the vibrations, and the culture. People go to raves to listen to the music that makes them feel good. People go to concerts just to feel.

“In a lot of the music today, it really is the lyrics that are more important, as the music behind it is just something to keep it from being poetry,” said Jonathan Antonio, 24 , musician.

The lyrics bring another context to the music that can make it more personal for the listeners. The lyrics of a song can tell stories, experiences, moments that everyone can recall a memory from or even imagine. These lyrics connect people and reveal a lot about the listener. When words fail, lyrics, in a sense, aid in expressing how a person feels.

So overall, music and lyrics both carry their own weight and play important roles as components of a song. Together, music and lyrics can provide that comfort people need when they don’t feel understood; music expressing the emotion and lyrics expressing the emotion in verbal words. This can explain why we have so many playlists by category on our music applications. These songs with music and lyrics can trigger things in our brain that make us feel good and spark, as Sophie calls, it the ‘magic.’

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