Writing lyrics: how to weave ambiguity into your songs to create well-crafted lyrics

Are you constantly trying to find new ways to keep your songs interesting and your ideas fresh? That’s what I thought. A great tool you can use to do this is ambiguity in your writing.

Let’s review some ideas on how to do this with a great example, in the song, “Use Somebody”, by Kings of Leon.

The ambiguity of “Use someone”

Here are the lyrics, from the first three verses:

I’ve been wandering forever looking down at everything I see

Painted faces fill the places I can’t reach

You know that I can use someone

You know that I can use someone

Someone like you, and everything you know and how you talk

Countless lovers under cover of the street

You know that I can use someone

You know that I can use someone

Someone like You

Out of the night while you live it up, I’m going to sleep

Making wars to shake the poet and the rhythm

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

If you read those lines, there is an implication of prostitution, or at least pointless sexual encounters. Lines like “countless lovers under cover of the street” and “out of the night while you live, I go to sleep” seem to drive that point home. These are ideas that would definitely lend themselves to the concept of “using someone.” Using someone physically and then moving on.

On the other hand, even with all that information in the verses pointing to this meaning, our minds tend to gravitate towards the idea of ​​”I can use someone significant in my life”. Which, interestingly enough, is pretty much the opposite of “use ’em and lose ’em”, meaning it’s implied. So our brain is already dealing with this lovely contrast that makes such good use of this line. It can really be understood both ways in these verses. And this also lends itself to the idea provided in the lyrics.

If we weren’t convinced that our meaning of going “I can really use someone worthwhile” wasn’t in play here, we can see that it comes out strongly in verse three, when lines like “I hope I get you noticed / Appears someone like me”. Now there is a clear contrast to the concept of “use them physically” in the content of the letters.

So you’ve done a great job of using double or ambiguous meaning here. It’s probably why they called the song “Use Somebody”, although the phrase “Someone like you” is the one that appears the most in the chorus. interesting stuff. But what’s even better, is that they’re not done…

The ambiguity of “Someone like me”

Let’s review the third verse:

Out of the night while you live it up, I’m going to sleep

Making wars to shake the poet and the rhythm

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

Someone like me

Someone like me

someone like me, someone

Even the phrase “Someone like me” has ambiguous undertones. What is implied in the lines that precede it is “someone who is like me… someone like me”. Or less subtly, “I”.

That seems to be the main meaning here, BUT it can also mean: “SOMEONE please thank me or love me. Please someone, anyone, like me for who I am.” You see it? It is a different meaning than the one I presented in the previous paragraph. But it also applies in the lyrics of this song.

So the letter progression could be saying this:

(I have capitalized the words requiring emphasis)

1. I hope it gets you noticed

2. Someone like ME

3. Someone LIKE me…

However, in other words:

1. I hope it gets you noticed

2. I

3. Will no one like me?

So again the ambiguity finds its way into some clever lyrics. And twice in one song! Score!

What is the CORRECT meaning? Or are they both? interesting stuff.

ambiguity vs. Undulation

As you saw, the ambiguity in the writing of the lyrics can be a great trick, if you do it right. But I don’t want you to confuse ambiguity with vagueness. They may sound similar, but they are not. Ambiguity has a clearly defined purpose, while vagueness does not.

Ambiguity implies open to interpretation among a few perceived options, while vague is simply open. Ambiguity puts various meanings side by side. You saw how ambiguity works, with the earlier examples from Kings of Leon. The best way to explain the vagueness is to reference Facebook, rather than a second song… “Huh?” you ask. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this…

You know how you have that friend on Facebook who posts completely vague stuff, because they’re hoping to get a response from their friends? They’re like, “wow, that made me sad.” Without any context. THAT is wave. It’s a world of difference from ambiguity. Ambiguity has a plan. If you write songs that are vague, you won’t be able to connect with your listeners. The proof is in the Facebook posts. So the next time you write a letter that you think might be vague, ask yourself if that’s something your annoying friend would have posted on Facebook in hopes of getting some responses. Notice his own response (or lack thereof). If he feels lazy, he may want to rethink his lines. Writing lyrics is about conveying emotions and conjuring up images that the listener can relate to. Waveness CANNOT do that, by its very definition.

Ambiguity requires thought, planning, and a well-crafted idea. Waveness takes the lack of all of that.

test it

Writing ambiguous lines can be difficult to tackle. It’s definitely not something that will come to you on every song. And if it is, you are quickly on your way to becoming a world famous lyricist.

So what I would recommend would be to keep track of possible phrases that can be understood in more than one way. When you hear a phrase like this in everyday conversation, like “use someone,” write it down in a scratch lyric file that you can refer to for later use. Then, when it’s time to write the lyrics, you can skim through your phrases to see if anything lends itself to your current song idea.

Or, if the last phrase you found inspires you so much, try making a song out of it right away. You will always do your best to act immediately on your inspirations, while they are fresh in your mind.

Whatever your strategy, weaving this idea into your songs will give your songs a good chance of being very interesting to your listeners. And that is what they are looking for.

Next time, I’ll be discussing how Kings of Leon chose to accent their words on the ambiguous phrase “someone like me” and how that affected the song’s message.

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