Writing From Factor X

November 27, 2010

On the Importance of Lyrics

So I’m going to talk about music now. Which is funny, because usually I would rather pull teeth than talk music. I often suspect that I’m one of the very few people out there who really does not do the music-as-tribal-identity thing. More, when people around me start talking music, I quickly tune out of the conversation. Ordinarily, there are few things I like less than talking about the bands I like.

And it’s not because I don’t like music, or that I don’t think it’s important, or anything like that. Admittedly, I’m crap at doing it myself, but I enjoy listening to music just fine. I have firm opinions on what I do and don’t like and specific genre tastes, so it’s also not like I’m not interested in what I’m listening to.

This actually rather unusual for me, because my standard approach to anything I enjoy even peripherally is to run out and find out as much as I can about it. For better or for worse, I am a notoriously enthusiastic person; there are very few things that I find irredeemably boring, and most of the time I simply ignore those altogether.

I wonder sometimes if that’s simply because I’ve never engaged with music on a deeper level. There is a lot of music about sex and romance out there. And lyrics are important to me when I listen to music; I want to know what the song is about, and because I’m often not good at actually parsing lyrics on a first go-round, I tend to listen very closely to what my music is saying. And you notice when 90% of what you’re hearing is either about romantic love in some form or about the actual act of fucking.

It wears on you. And it’s not exactly welcoming to the wide world of lyrical music, either, not when it’s being made so clear that the stories these songs tell aren’t meant for you, aren’t meant as something you can nod along with.

In fact, the first really angry “really, world?” rage I had, growing up, was about music. Because there was so much about sex and romance, and there was so very little about friendship or anything that I could see myself in, and music is ever-present in my culture. It felt very much as if there was no escaping.

I thought, then, about the songs I actually do seek out to listen to. So I brought up my iTunes “most played” list and I sorted through the songs therein. I eventually came up with only about 25 % of the songs I listen to being about either sex or romance at all, and of those the romances tended to end badly. There’s a lot of tragedies there.

Apparently this influences my taste in music much more than I thought it did.

So. I have a question, meant particularly for other aromantics but also for people in general: is this a me thing, or do others experience it, too?


  1. Ooh, music, music! 😀 (I always jump at the chance to talk about it, but maybe that’s a “me” thing as well.) I find that when I listen to “romantic” music, on some level I’m interpreting the lyrics to make them about something I can understand. Like I can’t understand wanting to have sex with someone, but I can understand jealousy, loneliness, belonging, rejection, etc. The only time I really couldn’t do this was when I was listening to a CD of “girl group” songs. It was all like, “Will you be my steady boyfriend?”, you know, very literal. I felt unusually alienated listening to that, although some songs I did enjoy.

    The first kind of music I was ever really into was hip-hop, which tends to be a very “aromantic” genre. I’m aware that this is an unusual genre interest for an asexual, but I can count the number of romantic hip-hop songs I know of on one hand. (The most well-known is probably “You Got Me” by the Roots). Some rap songs are really sexual, but not that many. I find the vast majority tend to mostly be wordplay about how excellent the rapper in question is, but those songs can be amazing (to me) when done by people with great rapping skills.

    One of my best friends in college, who I’m pretty sure is aromantic, loved heavy metal music, probably for a similar reason. Personally, I find good lyrics a joy to behold, and if a song has awesome lyrics I don’t care what the music is like. But if I love the music, the lyrics can hang back and I might appreciate them as part of the whole. Like, I can enjoy music where the lyrics are in a language I don’t understand.

    You can dispense with lyrics altogether by listening to classical, electronica, jazz, etc., but if you like music for the lyrics, then that’s not helpful. Do you like folk music at all? That genre has a lot of meaningful lyrics about politics, society and such. (You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.) However, I recognize that songs about, I dunno, unions, might not be particularly relevant to your life, either.

    Comment by Ily — November 27, 2010 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

    • I mean, it’s not like I don’t do the reinterpreting thing too, or that I can’t enjoy anything with romantic/sexual lyrics. I’m not that picky. Or that I even necessarily have to connect to the lyrics I am listening to in order to really enjoy a piece of music. For one thing, I have a huge soft spot for choral music, which is almost entirely done up to celebrate the glory of God, and I’m an atheist. I listen to a fair amount of drinking songs and yet I’m next thing to a teetotaller. And so forth.

      (It’s also not like my criteria for Whether I Like A Song comes down entirely to lyrical content, either. It’s just something I tend to listen for and be paying attention to, and that means I notice when there’s a general theme. If this is actually one of the reasons I have issues with music, it’s mostly not a conscious thing.)

      It’s just that the romantic/sexual ones add to this feeling of being shut out. It’s like music is a symbol of a more cumulative frustration with cultural obsessions with romance for me, and because this particular theme is so prevalent I can’t focus on it the way I focus on other things I enjoy. If the cultural obsession wasn’t there, I suspect I might have fewer issues here–even if we were cultural-obsession-free and music was still 90% love songs. As it is, the lyrical content thing is like a piece of clothing rubbing on a sore spot: if the spot wasn’t sore in the first place, it wouldn’t be an issue, but as it is it chafes. And the easiest way to lessen the chafing is to not invest in the medium very much in the first place.

      I do actually like folk music for precisely that aspect of the music (as well as punk and assorted fusions). It’s not like what I want to listen to doesn’t exist–I think my playlist does demonstrate that–it’s that it’s not as easy to find, and songs about nonromantic/nonsexual things are heavily outnumbered by the ones which are all about the romance or the sex. And the songs which are about different things, friendship or politics or society, those don’t form the background music of the world the way the romantic/sexual ones do.

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 28, 2010 @ 4:15 pm | Reply

      • Your third paragraph– I can definitely relate to that. I don’t get the feeling so much from music, though. I usually get it when sex is randomly inserted into a book or movie, when it doesn’t really seem to belong there.

        Comment by Ily — November 29, 2010 @ 7:19 pm | Reply

  2. (Romantic asexual)

    My favorite bands tend to be those who spend less time singing about love though. Or if they do sing about love, it’s lyrics that can alternatively be interpreted as being just about a close relationship with anyone, not necessarily a romantic partner.

    But then once I made a playlist of all the songs that I listened to that were just about the simple act of fucking and it was shockingly long. I guess for the most part they were just too damn catchy and fun to sing, haha. I listen to the lyrics and often sing along but it doesn’t really bother me if I don’t “agree” with the lyrics or if I’ve never felt what the singer is feeling…I just like to sing along when I hear music I know and like! And when I sing along with songs that are just purely about fucking I relish the irony, haha.

    Comment by annwyl_cariad — November 27, 2010 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

    • I actually thought about this in the first place because I discovered this guy Frank Turner, which means I found a whole lot of songs with sounds I really like about activism and non-romancy things, and I was all happy and enthusiastic and wondering why. (This is my process. I feel strong emotions and then I question them and then I start analyzing.)

      And I mean, I figure that not everyone focuses on lyrics the way I do! Romantic/sexual lyrics don’t actually prevent me from enjoying a piece, either. The main way lyrics will prevent me from liking a song is if they say something that pisses me off, and at that point I can’t actually listen to the song without getting ragey, so obviously I’m not enjoying it then. It just seems that the songs I get really enthusiastic about, the ones I will actually seek out, are about nonsexual and nonromantic things.

      I’m glad you’re not bothered by it, though! Relishing the irony is always a fun feeling. And hey, what would the world be if we were all alike?

      Comment by Sciatrix — November 28, 2010 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

  3. I hate it when I’m listening to a song that I really like until I notice that it’s completely sexual in a really gross way. And I seem to have weird ways about it- like I don’t care about the Bloodhound Gang but then girls talking about how they’re wearing next to nothing and all the guys will like them for it. I’d be happy if all my songs were in simlish…

    Comment by Dreki — December 2, 2010 @ 10:35 pm | Reply

  4. I’m glad to find a blog post like this, as I agree and find myself in a small minority. I almost completely judge music by its lyrics (or lack thereof–I’m glad to listen to pure instrumentals, but I find it difficult to enjoy the sizable majority of romantic music).

    (I’m not sure if I identify as “asexual” per se. Like you, apparently, I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and in my particular case I think that masks my ability to detect any romantic or sexual feelings on my part; on the other hand, it’s also entirely possible I haven’t, and/or won’t, have any.)

    Comment by anonymous — December 31, 2010 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

    • Lyrics are important! I like instrumentals quite a bit–they let me focus on the nicer parts of my (very mild) synesthesia and they make really pretty pictures in my head.

      (And, er–I actually had a lot of similar worries regarding my ability to tell whether I was experiencing romantic/sexual attraction. I personally eventually came to the conclusion that it seems to be one of those things that you can’t not notice happening to you, and that if I can’t figure out what the feelings are then I’m probably not experiencing them. Not trying to sway your personal feelings one way or another, just saying–I’ve been there, and I do know where you’re coming from.)

      Comment by Sciatrix — January 1, 2011 @ 12:22 am | Reply

  5. All right, thanks. (Knowing myself, and my experiences in other aspects of life, there are an unusually high number of things that I actually can fail to notice happening to me, hence uncertainty.)

    I actually do like some folk/protesty songs–even though union activity isn’t a big deal to me, I can generalize some songs to feelings of frustration I have with government policies. (John Prine’s “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” is highly recommended!) Beyond that, I’ve had good luck seeking out CDs about topics of particular interest to me (and, yes, bad luck when a musical I thought would focus on something I cared about was actually heavily sidetracked by a romantic subplot). In general, though, musicals (due to having a plot) are usually pretty good in the “meaningful lyrics” category.

    Comment by anonymous — January 1, 2011 @ 11:06 am | Reply

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