It used to be in olden days that lyrics were an important part of a song. Lyrics contained clever rhymes, witty puns and wordplay, or told interesting, emotional stories. They contained metaphors and used a sophisticated vocabulary. They alluded to sex with imaginative euphemisms, not crudeness. They did all this while fitting the words to the rhythm and meter of the music. Examples includes Hoagy Carmichael’s Small Fry, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The First Lord’s Song (Ruler of the Queen’s navy), Ira Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, Irving Berlin’s Heat Wave (not the one by Linda Ronstadt or Martha and the Vandellas), and many others.
When rock ‘n’ roll became popular, the lyrics mostly became pretty sappy with a dumbed-down vocabulary, aimed at teens, but even then there were some that were clever or interesting even without the music. Some dealt with important social issues, like Harper Valley PTA. A Boy Named Sue, and almost all of Bob Dylan’s oeuvre. Mr. Tambourine Man is sheer poetry.
Now, all I hear in popular songs is boring lyrics, mostly rather crude and with a vocabulary for a ten-year-old. I just searched for the most popular song this week and the Internet tells me it’s Shape of You by Ed Sheeran. Although I’ve never heard of it or of him, I looked up the lyrics. Bingo – boring, somewhat crude, and not exactly aimed at the sophisticated set. It’s only one song and others may be better, but I think it’s representative of the trend. I think the bigger trend is that young people today are simply losing the command of language in all forms. Writing is much worse today and so is spoken grammar. Perhaps part of the problem is that performers are now writing their own stuff. I’ve found that good singers and good instrumentalists do not usually make good composers or lyricists. It’s a shame.