A happy word sung sadly is sadder than a sad word sung sadly. Song titles like The Weeping Songor Broken Dreamgive us fair warning. We’re ready for a story of hope crushed by time or tragedy. The singer can deepen what we already expect, but they can’t turn our expectation upside-down. A Broken Dream can’t be fixed in a song Weeping can’t disguise itself as laughter. Sad words are sad words.
But what do you expect from a song called Cartwheels? Joy and spontaneous exuberance? The innocent, happy whirl of love’s first days or weeks? Watch Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas sing the word cartwheels into sorrow. How? Listen for the catch in the voice on the ar of cartwheels. Itthrows a shadow on shared memory of carefree love:
If you’re thinking of writing a song in English, choose words for their shape as well as their meaning. Meaning can float in the air (“I am the Walrus?”)but the shape of English words in song must align with the feeling of your music.
Think of Lana Del Rey’s Summertime Sadness. From the title to the chorus it’s a masterful mix of sound shapes. Summertime: soft, warm and measureless. Sadness: deep and hazy. Together, each intensifies the other. I’ve chosen Miley Cyrus’ cover version, from BBC Live Lounge. You can see how Miley shapes her mouth and where she breathes, to allow each word its languorous character: