Music is the universal language. So when identical phrases are used in significantly different songs do the messages still ring true? Can the theme keep rhythm? Are voice and tone enharmonic? Or are the identical phrases discordant across titles?
Of course, it depends on the phrase. And context matters. A lot. Justin Bieber’s admonition in his pop song, “Love Yourself,” does NOT mean the same as the chill affirmations in Diana King’s song of the same title.
But sometimes key, identical phrases achieve harmony across songs, no matter the genre. Consider Better Man (see below) written by Taylor Swift and performed by country group, Little Big Town. Compare it to A Better Man (also below) written by Paul Simon Brown, Niara Arain Scarlett, Paul Regan Gallard, Matt Ward and performed by alt rockers, Pearl Jam.
Listen for a harmonious theme in both uses of the lyrics, ‘better man.’ Then come back here for an encore of critical thinking and activities of note (below the videos).
Activities of Note
- What examples or inferences from Little Big Town’s version support that the man in question needs improving? What should he do to be better?
- What is a ‘better man?’ Define the phrase according to Little Big Town’s song.
- Repeat items 1 and 2 for Pearl Jam’s use of the phrase ‘better man.’
- Which song uses more examples and which relies more on inferences to define ‘better man’ to help the listener grasp the main message these not-better men?
- Consider common musical terms (such as these or these). Select at least five and compare the Pearl Jam and Little Big Town songs via each term.
Do the five elements of each song’s genre support or undermine the use of the ‘better man’ theme? How?
Bonus: Use five more terms and compare the ‘Love Yourself’ songs as well.
- What does enharmonic mean? How is its use in the blog post’s first paragraph a pun in the context of comparing ‘better man’ or other identical song phrases? What other musical puns are used in the post? Use a musical term and create a pun (in a sentence) to describe/compare any 2 songs with identical phrases or titles.
- Find other versions of either song (same lyrics, produced in new ways). Does the ‘better man’ theme hold true across each version? Why or why not?
- Being a ‘better man’ or being able to ‘love yourself’ (sincerely, not like Bieber insinuates) are fairly universal themes and therefore, familiar phrases. What other universal themes crop up often in songs you like? Pick the theme you find most inspiring and list at least 3 songs that use similar/identical phrases to communicate that theme. Bonus: try finding songs from 3 different genre.
- Women aren’t perfect, either. Find at least 3 song (diverse genre, please) that each present the theme of a woman needing to be ‘better.’ Bonus points for songs that use the same lyrics (word phrase) to describe the situation.
More ‘Well-Versed,’ classroom-ready activities with genre-mashing song & poem lyrics:
- The Future is Write Ahead – Black Eyed Peas, Walt Whitman, CSN&Y…and more
- Heartache While Others Are Watching – Miranda Lambert, Hamlet, Eminem & more