Analyse This

Types and Tactics of Self-Referential Songs

Authored by: Bethany Lowe , Freya Jarman

The Routledge Companion to Popular Music Analysis

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138683112
eBook ISBN: 9781315544700
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



When listening to songs, we can focus more on the lyrics or more on the music, but in most cases “it is how they interact that produces significance.” 2 When the singer remarks “But how strange the change / From major to minor” in Cole Porter’s song “Ev’ry time we say goodbye,” most listeners understand this as a technical description of what happens in the harmonic underpinning, even while the lyrics evoke, on another level, the emotional experience of parting from a loved one. Likewise, when Maria von Trapp melodically instructs “When we sing, we begin with do-re-mi,” or when Gloria Estefan tells us “the rhythm is gonna get you,” we recognise that the connection between lyrics and musical content has been pulled a little tighter than usual (and perhaps a little weirder). The presence of music-specific terminology in song lyrics raises the possibility of self-reference, a process whereby the words explicitly recognise, describe, or analyse aspects of the music’s function. The strange quality of self-referential songs, in explicitly pointing our attention towards their own musical contents, emerges more vividly from close inspection. What is it that self-referential songs are doing, and what does it have to say about the general operation of the text-music connection that is often taken for granted?

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.