Archive for the ‘singing’ category

Bored on a tram

March 31, 2016

Yesterday I was on a tram and heard a kid trying very hard to annoy his parents. (At least, I assume they were his parents.) He kept singing: “I’m… sooooooo…bored!” It worked. They got annoyed. They both started telling him off in quiet, grumbly voices that undercut the singing.

After a while, presumably as an experiment, he changed the words to the song to: “I’m sooooooo…happy!

His parents didn’t react to the change in words. They both just carried on talking non-stop in low voices about how he was going to be in trouble, how he could stop that nonsense right now, etc, etc.

Hypothesis 1: his parents spotted the lyric change, spotted that he was testing them for a reaction, realised that he was still trying very hard to be irritating despite the superficial change in lyrical subject matter and decided to respond to the intent rather than to the actual words.

Hypothesis 2: they didn’t actually notice the lyric change.

I’ve written about this before: when you think someone has seen through your attempt to deceive and you credit them with insight for ignoring it, but in fact they never even spotted your attempt to deceive in the first place. The example I originally gave was of a mother trying to trick a child, but I actually think it’s way more common the other way round. Because when you’re a kid, even after you’ve got out of the phase of thinking your parents are omniscient, you still think they’re way more observant and interested in the minor things you do/say than they really are.

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Cathy and Wyclef

March 29, 2013

And I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie
And I’m starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see baby, this is perfection

This isn’t about words! This is about Shakira’s body sending a message – and the body cannot lie. This is a time for breathless, passionate inarticulacy. Read the messages of her body and respond to them… Right?

Yep, Shakira’s hips are brilliant at sending out that primal message. She’s just backing it up with words to be on the safe side. Look at my hips. Are you getting the memo? Hell-o! Are you listening?

This is something I see over and over again in Shakira’s work. She enjoys playing with ideas of silence, inarticulacy, miscommunication. She enjoys playing the woman rendered submissive by the man’s superior verbal ability. But then she can’t quite bring herself to really shut up.

I think it’s quite a common fantasy among women who are attracted to men: meeting a man who is more articulate than you are, maybe even better at talking about sex and romance than you are.

Don’t believe me? Pick up a Louise Bagshawe book, or a Mills & Boon. (I did it so you don’t have to. OK, that’s a lie. I do it because I like it.) They never, ever feature a man in the hero role who’s inherently crap at communicating. Sure, the heroine’s beauty might leave him temporarily speechless. Sure, he might hide his lust under a steely facade because they have to do some kind of super-important business deal together. But he is never just a bit rubbish at talking. Never fails to parry her verbal jabs with some zingers of his own.  In a serious conversation about where the relationship is going, he won’t repeatedly fall back on “Um, I don’t know.”

It’s a fantasy because these super-articulate guys are rare. Not because men are inherently bad at talking, but because they’re trained by our culture to be bad at talking. The woman who plays the flustered, inarticulate social submissive usually ends up doing a lot of highly skilled behind-the-scenes work to keep it up. The sexual equivalent would be the sub barking orders at the dom and telling him off for tying the knots all wrong. (And I am certain that happens all the time too. “Oh, Mr Grey, you’re too strong for me! I’m just a simple virgin who – FOR GOD’S SAKE, HAVE YOU LOST THE LUBE AGAIN? WELL, WHERE DID YOU LEAVE IT LAST TIME? IT CAN’T HAVE JUST VANISHED!”)

Back to Shakira. She’s playing the silent dancer whose body does the talking. But this song is, of course, a duet with Wyclef Jean. He’s been cast in the role of the super-articulate man who overwhelms her with his verbal skills. Problem is, his actual reaction to her is hilariously inadequate.

And when you walk up on the dance floor
Nobody cannot ignore the way you move your body, girl
And everything so unexpected – the way you right and left it
So you can keep on shaking it

It’s hardly Lord Byron, is it? But the bit that makes me cringe all the way from my head to my toes is the Year 9 Spanish:

I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man wants to speak Spanish
Como se llama (si), bonita (si), mi casa (si, Shakira Shakira), su casa
Shakira, Shakira

Ouch. Even if you don’t know that these words are directed at a native Spanish speaker, it’s still cringe-o-rama. I can only hope he’s having a laugh too. But Shakira gamely responds as if he’s really come out with some amazing piece of verbal seduction:

Oh baby when you talk like that
You make a woman go mad
So be wise and keep on
Reading the signs of my body

Later on in the song, Wyclef Jean does a bit of rapping, but in true girlfriend-disappointing style, it’s nothing to do with her at all. It’s all about him and his origin myth of being a refugee from Haiti. I used to wonder if Shakira was disappointed that her pal Wyclef had failed so badly. But now I think maybe she was just laughing at him all along.

My favourite piece of perfectly-honed fake inarticulacy and submission comes with these lines:

Oh boy, I can see your body moving
Half animal, half man
I don’t, don’t really know what I’m doing
But you seem to have a plan
My will and self restraint
Have come to fail now, fail now
See, I am doing what I can, but I can’t so you know
That’s a bit too hard to explain

If you actually watch the part of the Hips Don’t Lie video where she’s singing these words, you’ll see she knows exactly what she’s doing. Whenever I watch it, I don’t know whether to laugh out loud or melt into a puddle of lust.

I just met you, and this is perfectly reasonable

February 6, 2013

I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me, maybe?

When you’ve just met someone, there are basically two outcomes: either you’ll see them again, or you won’t see them again. Is it crazy to desire one outcome rather than another, and take steps towards that desired outcome?

If not, are her methods crazy? She’s not following the guy home. She’s not even insisting on his phone number. She’s just giving him her phone number so that if he also wants future contact, he won’t find it difficult or impossible to get in touch. Her request – “call me” – is softened with a submissive “maybe?” so that it won’t look like a command.

Wanting further contact with someone is perfectly reasonable, and furnishing them with contact details as a step towards that outcome is therefore also perfectly reasonable. She just has to say it’s “crazy” so she doesn’t sound too much like she’s taken a rational decision to continue contact with a man in which she has a romantic interest. That kind of behaviour is for sluts and feminists. If you carry on that way, he’ll never put a ring on it.

If you love someone, rescue them

June 26, 2012

Sometimes it’s hard to live in Cambridge
Giving all your love to just one man
Being poly
Is just so jolly
Don’t want mundanes to understand

But if you’re normal, things get formal
You might just have to take a stand
One direct gaze
When the band plays
Says it’s time to make a plan

Escape the fens
Slide him right down the spectrum
Or just along an angstrom
So he can read expressions

Escape the fens
And show the world you love him
Monogamy, poetry that scans
Escape the fens

Escape the fens
Escape a night’s debating
Escape the righteousness and then
Escape the fens.

Silence is censure, except when it isn’t

February 4, 2012

I’ve written before about how withholding a “no” can be an expression of power, a refusal to hand someone a gift that you have the power to give.

But there are broader issues here, power issues surrounding the withholding of any speech. I don’t mean the failure of speech; I mean the deliberate withholding of speech. Sometimes, to be silent is to push the other person into a submissive role. (The acceptance of that role is usually signalled by nervous, approval-seeking blabbering.) Sometimes silence is censure, a message that you are not even worthy of a negative response.

It’s easy to think that others are ignoring us because we’re doing something they disapprove of. And then it’s tempting to amend our behaviour so that we’ll pass the test and get attention again. Because we’re humans, we’re social beings, and we want attention and approval. But sometimes… sometimes silence is just silence.

I recently forgot myself at a meeting. The topic was flyaway plastics and the best way of dealing with them through the waste management process. I started singing a song, made up on the spot, where “Flyaway plastics” went to the tune of “Waterloo Sunset”. I thought perhaps people would smile or join in. (This was a stupid assumption; the world of sustainable waste management doesn’t select people for their sense of humour or love of a sing-song.) But they all ignored me completely – frostily and disapprovingly, as I imagined, suddenly burning with shame.

Then I realised: they’re not ignoring me because they disapprove of my singing, or because the made-up lyrics aren’t funny, or because this is an inappropriate thing to do. They are probably ignoring me because they’re just not interested. I can read the lack of interest as disapproval and moderate my behaviour so it’s even less interesting, and be ignored further, and get into a loop which ends in me not wanting to leave the house… or I could not.

I choose not. My choice is that people who disapprove of what I do will at least have to make the effort to tell me so before they get to change my behaviour. I get enough actively-voiced daily disapproval without doing the work of second-guessing the people who say nothing. I am simply not going to hand any silent person that much power. Because, in case you hadn’t guessed already, I’m all about the speech.

tl;dr: person sings, is not sorry.