Today I began reading Daniel Levitin's The World in Six Songs. It's interesting so far, and it got me thinking on some of my own ideas about music and lyrics and emotions and our brains. I want to get them out here now, just in case Levitin mentions anything along the same lines. If I read that before posting my own thoughts, I'll feel like a copycat.
Here's what I think about happy song lyrics: they're often fun to sing along with. They can be great for parties. If you're happy and you hear a happy song, all is right with the world. But here's the thing - and maybe it's just me, so I'd love to hear other opinions. If I hear a happy song when I'm not happy, it doesn't make me happy. In fact, it's more likely to piss me off. If I hear a sad song, though, strangely, it can improve my mood. It's comforting. Sad songs don't necessarily make people sad. Sad songs can make people happy. They make people feel like they're not alone. Happy songs can be alienating.
Here's what I think about direct song lyrics: they can tell great, evocative stories. But in an odd way, songwriters who write direct lyrics - despite potentially making things less complicated or confusing for the listener - also take a greater ownership of the song for themselves. Making things ambiguous has the side effect of letting people pour more of themselves into a song. The meaning isn't immediately clear, so they can project more of their own feelings and interpretations.
However, is this beside the point? Maybe it's true, and maybe it's not, but maybe it isn't a songwriter's job to care. Maybe a song is whatever it is: happy or sad; direct or ambiguous. I wonder, though, if any of this gets considered.