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“We” or “They”? Songwriter or Hater?

“We” or “They”? Songwriter or Hater?

Point Of View Can Kill A Song

 

Choose the wrong one and your song can come off as sounding judgmental, or worse, like you’re a hater. I’ve seen this happen in a live setting, with individuals becoming extremely upset (with reason), and confronting the songwriter later.The songwriter genuinely thought he was just being funny.

Sounding judgmental and insensitive is likely never your goal, so here’s a tip to avoid it.

 

Stay Away From Using “They” – Why?

 

  1. “They” usually indicates a group you’re speaking about. As a result it sounds like stereotyping. Unfortunately the lyric often devolves into mockery rather than insights.
  2. Some topics are sensitive, so not including the speaker in the situation can appear to be judging someone else’s circumstances.

Brandy Clark’s “Pray To Jesus” is a great use of the “we” pronoun. She knew not to go within a mile of “they.” In the the first verse and chorus below, the speaker is part of the community she’s talking about and has lived the life she’s describing.

There is a “them,” but she’s describing her parents – again, part of her life, so the speaker is still part of the story and speaking about themselves, in other words making themselves vulnerable.

VERSE
We live in trailers and apartments too from California to Kalamazoo,
Grow up, get married and when that one ends,
We hate sleeping alone, so we get married again.
Don’t wanna be buried in debt or in sin –
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto –

CHORUS
Cause there ain’t but two ways we can change tomorrow.
And there ain’t no genie, and there ain’t no bottle.
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto.

Let’s change “we” to “they” and see what happens to the tone of the song:
They live in trailers and apartments too, from California to Kalamazoo,

Seems we’re already of to a bad start

The speaker has immediately removed themselves from the situation, with no access to empathize with it by being part of the scenes. There is no vulnerability in the song anymore because the speaker isn’t invested in it.

He/she is now simply talking about other people: a dangerous thing to do if you expect to connect with anyone but a small group of highly insensitive individuals who enjoy stereotyping and mocking others.  If that’s not your intention be careful!

 

Not Convinced?

Let’s switch up the pronoun in a couple of verses to illustrate the point:

VERSE 1
They live in trailers and apartments too, from California to Kalamazoo,
Grow up, get married, and when that one ends,
They hate sleeping alone, so they get married again.
Don’t wanna be buried in debt or in sin –
So they pray to Jesus and they play the lotto –

VERSE 2
They love to complain about what they can’t fix
Mostly mothers in law, traffic and politics.

They tell their kids how hard it was back when,
Same way their parents did to them back then.
Thought they’d be different but they’re just like them –
Yeah they pray to Jesus and they play the lotto –

 

Lesson:

Stay away from the pronoun “THEY” whenever possible when you start writing. More often than not it causes problems. An omniscient, or third person point of view has it’s place, but always consider your topic and how you’re treating it.

“He/She” is no better if it sounds like you’re putting the individual into a stereotypical group – or implied “they.”

A good test: if you spoke a few lines to someone on the street who fit your song’s “they” group, would you get punched in the mouth?  If the mental scenario is leaning toward yes, then lean away from the pronoun!

 







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