HAIM: Want you Back

We go over every single sound, every single beat

Este Haim

A single word: myself (at 1:33) shivers with realisation of mistakes made and responsibility taken. A story sung into two syllables:

Want you Back is about far more than one word, but myself is a prize piece of singing. Danielle Haim pours regret, acknowledgement and sincerity into its two quick syllables. She swells the syllables to contain her emotion. It’s a masterful piece of storytelling.

In a conversation with a lover, you’d use extra words to apologise. In a song, based around the strong, repeated, hypnotic message of ‘so just know that I want you back, some words have to call extra attention to themselves. Listen to Danielle singing heart. She emphasises its final t, almost singing heart-ah. Why?

Heart is important, but it could easily get lost among the slow, vague soft sounds of road, wandering, away, your etc. Heart is placed at the end of the line, but there’s been no rhyme set up for us to expect it:

Some things are long forgotten
Some things were never said
We were on one endless road
But I had a wandering heart

Heart appears out of nowhere. Danielle calls our attention to the word with that strong final t. She tells us that it’s important to her by picking it out of the line. She calls our attention, then lets heart disappear into the swirl of promises and apologies that make up the backbone of the song:

Just know that I want you, I’ll take the fall and the fault in us
I’ll give you all the love I never gave before I left you

Every repeated line keeps enough the same to strengthen the message and each line inserts enough of a tiny difference to keep us interested. It’s masterful.

In the official video, HAIM colour Want You Back slightly differently:

By the way, if you want to hear the English word myself sung quite differently, to serve a different purpose:

All words live in infinite variety, once they escape the dictionary.

Danielle Haim talks about Want You Back in an interview with NPR:

“This started off as a way slower song, kind of just noodling around on the guitar with a very simple chord progression. It was more of a ballad. We started to work on it and something wasn’t clicking — we knew something was good about the song but we couldn’t crack it. So we shelved it. [But] I started playing it on guitar again and we had a drum machine set up through an amp, and we programmed this kick and clap pattern for the chorus, maybe 15 beats-per-minute faster, and all of a sudden it felt right.

“While [it] plays like a song about wanting someone back, it’s more about me becoming more in touch with my own feelings. The whole record reflects the fact that we spent years on the road, our band that once was only in our living room was now a global, very busy thing. Learning to deal with everything [has been] both empowering and humbling. With ‘Want You Back,’ both themes are prevalent. It’s definitely about self-reflection and growing up and realizing that there’s always two sides to the coin.” – Danielle Haim

When you sing Want You Back: decide how you’ll punctuate the song. What does the song mean to you? Will you sing heart and myself with a difference, or will you choose different words to call to your audience’s attention? You could emphasise never. You could emphasise ran you down. Either would subtly change the character of the singer and the song.

  • If English isn’t your first language: a smooth English th in that is essential in this song. Dat or Dhat won’t work. Read about making the soft English th correctly here
  • Also notice that the stress pattern is sometimes unusual for English. Just know that I want you back works perfectly for Want you Back, but it’s not a stress pattern that you’ll hear in ordinary spoken English.
  • **In ordinary spoken English you might hear: Just know that I want you back or Just know that I want you back or Just know that I want you back. It all depends on what the speaker thinks is important. Certainty, ‘me and you’ or desire. All three are possible, depending on where you put the stress. The stress is differently placed in HAIM’s song. For the sake of the music as well as the meaning.

Every single sound you sing affects the emotion, the meaning and the soundscape of a song. Every single sound in every single word. Joy and responsibility.


5 thoughts on “HAIM: Want you Back”

  1. The live version of this tune benefits from the strong emphasis on the last syllable and lost word of each line. Each last word is important, and the emphasis drives that home, the rhythmic extension of the last words of the line doubly so. I found myself listening for that beat. I’m amused by the body actions emphasizing the beat in the official video. I preferred the live performance, though the tune is eminently danceable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Eminently danceable’ – you’ve hit the nail on the head. The official HAIM video reminded me of the Supremes road video, minus bemused Parisian drivers:

      There’s something of the Motown ‘strong repetition with subtle variety’ style to Want You Back, isn’t there? The HAIM lyrics are a wonderful web of complicated emotion – I like I’ll take the fall and the fault in us/ I’ll give you all the love I never gave before I left you as a beautiful example of words serving music and meaning. There’s something immensely satisfying about a tapestry of (mainly) single-syllable words, chosen and sung intelligently.

      I don’t know if you like house music, but Kah-Lo’s Rinse and Repeat does something similar with single syllables. She uses an unusual intonation to attract attention and to serve her meaning:

      I wrote about her here: https://singbetterenglish.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/rinse-and-repeat/


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