It’s long been clear that many musical artists are, frankly, narcissists. I mean, why else would they want to be onstage, opening themselves up to what could be a worldwide audience one day? So it maybe comes as no real surprise to find that there are a lot of songs where they are talking (or singing) extensively about themselves. But I’m not going for just songs about “me”, as it were. I’m looking this week at songs about the self, to the selfish exclusion of others for a variety of reasons.
/Tuesday Ten/392/I, Me, Mine
Regular readers will know I have a keen interest in statistics (I worked for some time in a previous employ as a data analyst, digging deep into numbers to get the patterns and background required in telecoms), so I got thinking about how I measure how “selfish” these songs that I chose to write about were. I settled on counting the number of first-person pronouns featured in the songs (in this case, “I”, “I’m”, “Me” and “My” were used – interestingly none of ten songs used “Mine” once!), and then looking also what the overall word count was in each of the songs, as well as how many seconds per first-person pronoun. The results were interesting, as I picked the songs first – and all but one had 10% (rounded to the nearest percentage point) or more of the lyrics using first-person pronouns.
But how does that compare to a wider selection? It turns out that some research on this has been done. An analysis of one such report is here, the report itself looking at the top 10 Billboard songs from 28 years between 1980 and 2007, and the mean there never goes much beyond 13. In the ten songs I’m talking about today, the mean is 37.7. Which suggests I’ve potentially picked some very self-obsessed songs.
Needless to say, you can view the data for yourself (if the embed doesn’t show well, try here).
Thanks as ever to the veritable army of contributors that suggest songs these days (and I’m nearly at the 10,000th song suggestion, too – as of today there have been 9,852 individual suggestions). A smaller number of suggestions this week, but no lower on quality. 83 songs were suggested, twelve of which had previously been used, and there were 79 unique songs, suggested by forty-seven people.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/I Can’t Imagine The World Without Me
/Everyone’s Got One
First-person Pronoun count: I: 11 / I’m: 5 / Me: 20 / My: 0 / Word Count: 213
Britpop was not a movement that did well with anyone who wasn’t a white man, frankly. Echobelly had some impressive momentum early on, mind, led by British Indian Sonya Madan who was unapologetic about her drive and ambition, and as I recall was rather ripped apart by the music press for daring to talk up herself (compare that to the fawning coverage of, say, the Gallagher brothers…). The thing is, with fabulous, powerful songs like this, she had a point – she had a great habit of catchy lines and memorable songs, and I still think this is the band’s finest moment, as she pokes fun at her own ambition, particularly in the video. It’s just a shame so many took it seriously.
/One Minute Science
First-person Pronoun count: I: 36 / I’m: 1 / Me: 0 / My: 0 / Word Count: 274
One hell of an entrance as a debut single, this was – the buzzing of insects gives way to a thunderous, hulking drum pattern that is the core of a song that is very much about vocalist and composer Jon Harris. As an introduction to him and Sunna, it’s pretty much impeccable, a show of strength and self-confidence that is made absolutely clear in the lyrics, as everything is about him, and what he will do and be better at. I wasn’t enormously enamoured with most of the rest of that debut album – it had a surprising number of ballads on it – but later albums are actually much better, in my opinion.
/What’s In It For Me?
First-person Pronoun count: I: 3 / I’m: 1 / Me: 43 / My: 4 / Word Count: 256
Introduced by JS Clayden live, as if we needed it confirming, that it is very much a satirical song, taking to task those that are all about themselves before others – something in the UK that has arguably got much, much worse in recent times (and not just about Brexit, either). This, of course, came from their creative and commercial high-water mark www.pitchshifter.com, which saw them burst onto the UK, European and US metal scenes with the backing of Geffen, and saw a hugely entertaining set of reunion shows at the end of 2018. This album saw them dig deeper into drum’n’bass – and bass – amid their industrial-metal attack, and this song was one of the most drum’n’bass-centric, as it satirised a me-first culture. Pitchshifter return, by the way, at the end of the month with an appropriately-timed new version of Un-United Kingdom.
/Me Myself and I
/3 Feet High and Rising
First-person Pronoun count: I: 29 / I’m: 2 / Me: 19 / My: 6 / Word Count: 354
Wiki interestingly records no less than thirteen songs with this title – all of which are originals, from what I can tell – but I’ve plumped for the socially-conscious rap of De La Soul, who alongside some of their peers at the turn of the eighties into the nineties, seemed to be offering a different way for hip-hop to go (which, needless to say, the mainstream mostly rejected pretty quickly). This song is self-obsessed, sure, but it’s also self-examining, asking why they are seen as different and whether they are right in doing what they do. History has perhaps proved they were correct.
/Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
/The Man Who
First-person Pronoun count: I: 20 / I’m: 3 / Me: 8 / My: 3 / Word Count: 301
Why does it keep raining on you, Fran? Maybe because you keep moping about it, so self-absorbed that you’re just talking about yourself, and the woes that become you, rather than getting off your arse and doing something about it. We all know people like this, right? We see them on social media, and it sometimes takes all of my willpower to not suggest that they should simply look in the mirror, and that might help them identify the cause of their problems.
Not that this moping song did Travis any harm, mind – The Man Who made them a huge deal, and the album sold millions, ushering in an era of beige, dull bands and songs to match. Weirdly I worked the launch gig for this album, at my old Uni – packed with record company people, journalists and a handful of dedicated fans, I don’t think anyone realised quite what was about to happen to this small band from Scotland…
/It’s Hard to be Humble
/It’s Hard to be Humble
First-person Pronoun count: I: 34 / I’m: 3 / Me: 14 / My: 4 / Word Count: 493
Recommended by a friend, whose grandfather’s wish was for it to be played at his funeral (apparently taken in the right way!), this song is an utter hoot. Clearly poking fun at the conceited country – and rock – stars of the late-seventies, whose entire oeuvre appeared to be songs about themselves in one way or another and took themselves far too seriously, this glorious song inflates everything to ridiculous degrees, and has a nagging ability to become a hell of an earworm after just one listen. It’s remarkable to think that Mac Davis was originally a songwriter for Elvis, but you don’t need to know that to realise he has a way with a tune (and a wicked sense of humour). That said, in the video, the guesting Kenny Rogers had, um, quite a suit on…
/Mirror In The Bathroom
/I Just Can’t Stop It
First-person Pronoun count: I: 3 / I’m: 0 / Me: 3 / My: 5 / Word Count: 172
The one exception in this list, with by far the least first-person pronouns of the ten songs, is this song, but it’s still clear this song fits. This multi-racial Birmingham band were massively influential, but they are perhaps best known for this remarkably spare song that deals in personal vanity, as the protagonist is obsessed with their own appearance, talking to the mirror as if it were actually another copy of them. A curious way of looking at it, but it gets the point home, that maybe, just maybe, this person needs to look outward that little bit more!
/Baby I’m A Star
First-person Pronoun count: I: 15 / I’m: 11 / Me: 6 / My: 2 / Word Count: 333
Prince was never exactly short of self-confidence. Warner Records found that out when his contract, signed when he was seventeen or eighteen in the late seventies, allowed him to self-produce his own music. But he was often keen to blow his own trumpet, too. By 1984, there had already been quite a few songs about how great he was on his albums, but maybe nothing had quite prepared everyone for his vision to come. The film Purple Rain was a self-indulgent star vehicle (effectively a stylised, rags-to-riches tale that sees Prince become a star) that utterly cleaned up – taking ten times it’s budget at the cinema, and the album sold twenty-five million. So for it to contain a song that scopes out Prince’s ambition, telegraphing where he’s going, shouldn’t be a surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that it’s a fantastic, thrilling song.
/Pale Green Ghosts
First-person Pronoun count: I: 21 / I’m: 3 / Me: 6 / My: 9 / Word Count: 405
I’ve written before about the circumstances of this album, so I won’t repeat that here, but despite the trials that inpired the album there are moments of both humour and positivity. This song certainly has the former, and some of the latter. Sure, it’s a lush, sweeping song that addresses the flaws of an ex-partner, but it also is something of a self-help manual, as he reminds his ex, and most importantly himself, that he’s “the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet“, and even ends up in something of a sales pitch, as he perhaps promises satisfaction that he can’t guarantee. Still a marvellous song, though.
First-person Pronoun count: I: 2 / I’m: 9 / Me: 13 / My: 0 / Word Count: 250
Princess Superstar was a moderately interesting rapper in the mid-2000s (and indeed I believe is still recording, although I’ll confess I’ve not heard anything of her recent output), and the original track was an OK hip-hop boast, mainly notable at the time for being from a female perspective.
Dutch DJ Mason got hold of the track, though, and mashed it up to one of his tracks, and the result was a dancefloor smash, and it’s easy to see why – it’s an utter banger. The single-edit of the remix, such as it is, charges through in less than three minutes, doesn’t waste a second, and is a glorious brag of a song that Princess Superstar will thus ever be remembered for (and notable on her Spotify page for having nearly probably as many plays as all of her other tracks combined). And make no mistake, it’s all about her, saying how fucking great she is. No-one else gets a look in.