Are you convinced that Taylor Swift sings ‘Gotta love these Starbucks lovers’ in Blank Space? Do you get corrected all the time when you sing along (phonetically) to that song you keep hearing on the radio? Do you have absolutely no idea why Childish Gambino’s This is America went viral? Then you’re probably having trouble understanding the lyrics! We listed 10 tips to improve your listening skills!
Listening to lyrics = hard
By the way, you’re not the only one having a hard time listening to lyrics! Scientific studies show that a whopping 2 out of 3 people can’t tell you what a song is about. I don’t think that’s really shocking, seeing as understanding the lyrics can sometimes be extremely hard!
Why listen to lyrics?
- I discovered that Imagine Dragons’ Whatever It Takes motivates me a lot because it describes my ambitions precisely. Gavin James cured me of my heartbreak song by song. In my case: music with fitting lyrics makes life’s highs even more powerful and carries me through the lows.Maybe it works that way for you too!
- I started to love artists whose lyrics I relate to even more. You start to get the feeling that you understand each other which creates a bond;
- My concert experiences have become much more intense. I went to see Bastille recently and all of a sudden I understood why some songs are sung much more emotionally than others and I understood why they chose certain décor and accompanying backdrop videos;
- I discovered that I could prevent awkward or embarrassing situations. It’s horrible to think about playing a song about cheating at a wedding ceremony, right? This happens a lot!
10 tips to make it easier
As I said before, I used to find it pretty hard to listen to lyrics and understand what they were about, but I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the art of listening to lyrics. Do you want to be better at listening to lyrics? These are my 10 tips:
1. Take your time and buckle down
If you want to understand what music is about, it’s important to not have too many distractions. Are you talking to someone, working, or doing a big clean-up? You’re making it hard for yourself.
Make listening to the music the only thing that you are doing; take your time and buckle down on a Sunday afternoon or make time for it while commuting.
2. Head(phones) first
Put headphones on. This doesn’t only help protect you from the distractions mentioned in point 1, but also means that you will hear the music and the lyrics even more clearly.
My biggest challenge when listening to lyrics is to get distracted by random thoughts. No matter how hard I try, my mind is all over the place after 2 or 3 lines.
What helps is giving myself an assignment: to find a line that touches me in the song I’m listening to. What lyrics do you find weird, funny, or special?
4. Read along with the lyrics
Of course it’s useful to read along with the lyrics! For example, if you install the Musixmatch app, you can turn on the ‘Floating lyrics’ setting. The lyrics will automatically be shown when you listen to music via Spotify.
Spotify takes it a step further by showing background information about a track using the Genius app. You can easily find out why a song was written or what the lyrics mean. Awesome!
5. Watch the music video
Maybe you watch music videos every day on YouTube, or maybe you haven’t seen one since that time you watched MTV 15 years ago. Whatever the case; look up a song’s music video, there are (still) gems being made! (What do you think of this one, for example?)
The story of the music video often gives an idea of the theme (even though this is not always the case) and for visually oriented people it often helps that you can lip read. Maybe you’ve never thought of that, but if you watch someone speak, it’s easier to understand what they’re saying. Yes, really!
6. On repeat
The power of repetition also applies to listening to lyrics. The more you listen to a song, the easier it gets to understand the lyrics and the story behind the song. So play it again!
7. Dare to ask
There are people out there who don’t have any problems listening to lyrics. I have a friend who can even explain the message of a song playing as background music while we sit in a coffee bar. Bizarre!
These ‘lyricophiles’ often enjoy talking about it, so ask the lyric lovers in your life for a tip about interesting songs or if they happen to know what your favourite song is about. If you already have an idea about the content, it will be easier to pick up on the meaning.
Adding a competition element makes everything easier (and more fun)! Become a real lyric pro by competing with a friend to explain the meaning of as many songs as you can within a certain time limit, to find 5 songs about heartbreak or to choose the song with the weirdest lyrics from your favourite playlist. (Need inspiration/answers? We’ve made a lot of playlists with different themes!)
Whether you have vocal talent or not, a night of karaoke can improve your lyrical knowledge a lot! You are pretty much forced to read the lyrics and that can greatly clear things up. For example, I recently discovered that the Spice Girls’ Wannabe is an ode to friendship (how could I have missed that?!) and that Bruno Mars has hidden one liners like ‘Gotta kiss myself, I’m so pretty’ in his lyrics. So….
10. You better think!
Actually think about the meaning of the lyrics. Do you think that the subject of the song fits with the sound? Why did the artist write it?
If you can answer these kinds of questions, then you can give yourself a pat on the back; you’ve mastered this (tough) skill! Congratulations!
I hope that the tips I’ve given have made it a bit easier to understand and discover the meanings of lyrics. No? No worries! We have dissected a lot of lyrics already and will gladly help you to discover the stories behind them.
At the top of the page you will find a search bar, and you can check if we have already looked into your favourite song. Enter the name of the artist or the song title and let us take you through it (line by line)!
Have we not written about it, and are you still having a hard time? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will see if I can help you out!
Want to read more?
I think it’s more than worthwhile to listen to the lyrics of the following songs or artists:
- This is America by Childish Gambino, because the song did go viral for a reason;
- Pretty much all of Imagine Dragons’ repertoire, because they’re actually true activists;
- These songs by Lady Gaga! Her impressive appearance may mean that you’ve missed her biggest contribution to the world; her message;
- The album Trench by Twenty One Pilots. Because they make it okay to talk about such heavy subjects and inspire others to handle things well;
- Gavin James’ music, because I recognize parts of myself in almost every one of his songs.
* Desmond, R.J. (1987). Adolescents and music lyrics: Implications of a cognitive perspective. Communication Quarterly, 3, 276-284.