Writing Songs With Ambiguous Lyrics – If Done As Shown Here, It’s A Great Tool for Songwriters

When we write songs, it’s important to realize that how we sing our lines affects the message we’re delivering. The words we accent in a phrase when we sing a lyric can actually CHANGE the meaning of the lyric from what we intended to something totally different. This can especially come into play when we’re trying to deliver an ambiguous message that carries more than one meaning. The way we deliver the message can make or break our ambiguity.

As an example, let’s look at the third verse of the song, „Use Somebody,“ by Kings of Leon.

Verse Three:

Off the night while you live it up, I’m off to sleep

Waging wars to shake the poet and the beat

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

Someone like me

Someone like me

The phrase „Someone like me“ has ambiguous tones. What’s implied from the lines proceeding it is „someone who is like I am… someone just LIKE me.“ Or less subtly, „me.“

That’s the main meaning implied here, BUT it can also mean: „SOMEONE please like me, or love me. Please someone, anyone, just like me for who I am.“ Do you see that? It’s a different meaning than the first one I mentioned.

So the progression of the lyrics could be saying this:

(I’ve capitalize the words demanding emphasis)

1. I hope it’s gonna make you notice

2. Someone like ME

3. Someone LIKE me…

Or, in other words, it could be saying is:

1. I hope it’s gonna make you notice

2. Me

3. Won’t anyone like me?

Accentuation

So you see that this lyric has two potential meanings. But one thing to add to this, is the words you accent in the lyrical phrases will affect what you’re saying. To use the example above, saying „Someone like ME“ means something different that „Someone LIKE me.“

The idea here is that if you change the accented words in a phrase, it can affect the meaning of the phrase. In the song „Use Somebody,“ when they sing the line „someone like ME“ they’ve accented the word „me.“ Go listen for it. It’s at around 2:20 into the track. You can check it out on YouTube.

Do you hear that? The way he sings it is forcing our brains to think of the meaning in line #2, above.

In other words, even though the line is most likely intended to be ambiguous, when Kings of Leon highlight the word „me,“ it forces us to think of the meaning „someone who is like I am,“ or simply, „me.“ Had they accentuated the word „like,“ then it would have taken on the second meaning of „won’t anyone like me?“

So, it can be difficult to consider this line ambiguous, because of how we’re hearing it. While the written line has two meanings, the sung (or spoken) version takes on only one of those meanings, depending on how you sing (or say) it. In this instance we’re forced to HEAR only one meaning („Someone like ME“), when on a piece of paper, it can be READ as two things („Someone like ME“ or „Someone LIKE me“).

We didn’t have this issue with the ambiguity of the phrase „You know that I can use somebody,“ because in both possible meanings of THAT phrase (1. either using someone physically, or 2. being dependent on, and needing somebody), the accents are the SAME. That’s a biggie. Because in that case, it works. No problems there, as long as your lyrics are written well to support and reinforce the idea.

So as songwriters, not only do we have the hurdle of trying to create some bad-ass ambiguous phrases in our lyrics, but now we have to make sure that BOTH meanings of these phrases have the same, proper accentuation, so that the meaning can stay ambiguous! Oh, man – this is getting tricky!

Try it Out

What I’m talking about here is somewhat advanced, as it’s really a combination of two topics. The first topic being writing crafty, ambiguous lines, and the second topic being that the words you accent in your song affect what you’re saying.

In previous articles, I’ve talked about how accenting certain words can make a phrase sound unnatural, but here you’re seeing that by accenting different words you can actually CHANGE the meaning of the phrase you’re singing from one meaning to a second one. Powerful stuff. As always, I advise you to experiment with this, and use it accordingly. I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with.

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Source by Anthony Ceseri

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