The first and almost definite song I would like to study this semester is Sign of the Times by Harry Styles. Unless I am told otherwise, this is my number one choice because I am obviously a big fan of this artist and his music and his music tells stories beautifully. My “first listen” to this song involved me just focusing on the instrumental music. I put the words “first listen” into air quotes because I have actually listened to this song many times before. However, just focusing on the music gave me a perspective on the song that I haven’t had before. The piano solo at the beginning drew me in all over again and set the tone for this rock ballad. In fact, the drums or any other instruments do not come in until the first chorus, reeling in the listener and making them feel powerful emotions with music that sounds like grief.

The lyrics add another layer over the music that complements the song in the perfect way. It is told from the perspective of someone who has died, and although the song is not inherently a protest song, it has been used in a context of condemning gun violence and violence of all sorts. Styles himself revealed to Rolling Stone that the song, although inspired by a mother dying in childbirth, is also inspired in part by the hard times facing society today. He said that these hard times are not the first and surely won’t be the last and it hurts him that the problems of society aren’t even political anymore, but they are putting basic human rights in jeopardy such as equality. He says that change needs to come in his song with the words “You told me that the end is near / We gotta get away from here”.

The vocal delivery also adds to the song, with his voice belting and straining at some points, but going into falsetto when he says “We never learn, we’ve been here before / Why are we always stuck and running from the bullets?” which, to my understanding, almost sounds like a soft plea to change. However, this is a contrast to last minuteĀ  of the song, which is where the vocals and music come to a climax and Harry’s plea turns into a loud battle cry, repeating over and over that “We got to get away”.

On an almost completely opposite note, the second song I am considering analyzing is DNA by Kendrick Lamar, another very talented artist that I enjoy listening to. The music to this high-energy rap song is driven heavily by bass and hip hop beats. It makes you want to get up and dance. This is the kind of beat and music that would play at a party to get the crowd riled up. Which is ironic, because the upbeat music is a bit of a contrast to the actual lyrics alone.

The lyrics state all of the conflicting aspects of his DNA as a black man in America, both positive and negative. He says that he has strengths such as royalty, passion, and hustle, but he also comes equipped with weaknesses such as war, pain, poison, and evil inside his DNA. He celebrates his heritage, but he also mentions that because of his DNA, his skin color, there are a lot of pre conceived notions on who he is as a person. If I choose this song to further analyze, I will also focus on a specific line said before the bridge of the song that is a sample of a FOX news reporter critiquing Kendrick’s past work and the sample says “This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years”. This is obviously a ridiculous claim and it would be very interesting to unpack in my podcast.

As for the delivery, he stays very loud and angry throughout most of the song, which is appropriate given the nature of the lyrics and the energetic background music. I understand this song to be about the struggles of life as a black man in America, but also taking back his heritage and celebrating it.