How Do You Annotate Pop Music?

At the end of December 2016, I posted this OP as a way to ask the community the question, “How do you annotate pop music?” At the beginning of January 2017, the OP was edited to incorporate the answers into one resource for current and future users who are wondering the same thing. Further discussion is always, always encouraged!

What are some priorities that are unique to pop music?

  • Pop music is often more about setting a mood or conveying a feeling over the course of the entire track then it is about the specific lyrics used in each line.
  • Fans often prioritize different things than the lyrics themselves—for instance, a ton of attention may be given to who sings a line on a 1D or 5H song rather than what that line means.
  • Fans want to know who a song is about, particularly if the song is romantic. Even if the song was not written by the artist, they want to associate its themes with the artist’s personal story and brand.

Approaching biographical analysis and “gossip” annotations:

@s_connoisseur said:

As far as I can tell, song pages for huge pop stars like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift are likely to be more ‘TMZ-esque’ than rap pages.

A lot of the pop songs that perform best on the site have serious subtext attached to them—Little Mix’s “Shoutout to [Perrie’s] Ex,” every song by Taylor Swift, Calvin Harris’ tracks about Taylor Swift, Lemonade…. In the end, people want to read juicy stories and want to decode songs along these lines.

On the other hand, a lot of times pop stars are singing from the perspective of their persona. We’ve found out that Lemonade is by no means a direct retelling of Bey and Jay’s marriage troubles. But it’s still possible to annotate from that angle—“this line is poignant bc of so-and-so in Bey’s personal life”—as long as we give consideration to the idea that other factors—other writers, the desire to create relatable lyrics—were also involved.

@sereinik said:

analysis needs to be shifted sometimes to also incorporate why the artist chose this song, especially if they didn’t write it. how is it applicable to them? why would they choose this particular song to promote their brand?

If we annotate from this angle, we’ll cover a lot more bases and that will help make song pages more accurate and thorough overall.

What are some challenges that are unique to pop music?

  • Song structure is repetitive (no room to tate)
  • Lyrics are often very straightforward (restatements abound)
  • Lyrics tap into common themes and imagery (repetitive tates)

Be careful when referencing similar themes and lyrics:

@Lyric-dope said:

you can refer to 100 other love songs with the same theme(s) for example, but this doesn’t support the actual meaning of the song/album.

When annotating different artists based on theme, we must ask how much of a trope that theme is in the general language. Imagery in common is sometimes just common imagery.

We also have to be wary when annotating one artist based on their popular themes. (For instance, every Weeknd song tends to be a variation on his internal struggle between hedonism vs existential angst.) That presents a different challenge, which is how to keep analysis fresh when so much of an artist’s music could merit the same annotation. No one wants to read the annotations on an album/song when they’re all variants on the same piece of analysis.

Not every line needs to be annotated:

@lemoncave said:

I think something important to remember is the old “not every line needs an annotation.” I know we all know this, but I don’t see this as often as I should, particularly for the more popular songs. Having activity in a page is best, of course, but sometimes a line really is too bare to connect anything to it, and having an annotation with a tenuous link to the lyrics just for the sake of having something is not good.

If the lines aren’t really worth being annotated, we can rely on Q&A to distill relevant info without necessarily needing to connect it to specific lyrics.

What do you think makes for fun/interesting/relevant info on a pop song?

  • Do any of the artist’s performances of the song offer new readings?
  • Does the music video add further context?
  • Where was the song featured/where did it first break into pop culture? In a commercials? Did it have a big TV show moment?

Go deeper than the meaning of the lyrics themselves:

@Madkol: “Also—and this pertains to the song bio—if the song is a collaboration, it would be good to mention if these people have collaborated before, and if so, on what tracks. And how did they meet up? Don’t leave too much detail about how they met up in the song bio. Just a quick point. For the Q&A section, it would be better to actually go into a lot of detail about this.”

@lemoncave: “Something I really like seeing in any annotation is talk about the music itself. Sometimes the lyrics are too straightforward, but the music might have something interesting going on and it’d be cool to mention it. Also could be cool to have the chords of a song somewhere.”

@scopeyclaire: “Sometimes meaning is created by evolving a chorus through the course of a song, which I find to be very interesting. I also like looking at how parts of duets interact with each other. Meter and rhyme are often interesting, too.”

Let’s always try to think deeply about how a pop song is doing its pop thing—what they’re accessing in the listener’s ears and brain to make their heartstrings or their dance muscles jump up and down—while making sure we stay grounded in composition and status in pop culture.

Now you!

These questions and opinions are all open-ended. What other issues and strengths have you noticed coming through on pop song pages? What other ways can we better and more creatively analyze pop music? Let’s continue to give real critical feedback and offer totally new ideas about what we can do to make Genius work for pop music, and not the other way around. ;)

@music @genius-editorial-board

December 19th, 2016 | edited January 5th, 2017

Tagging some people who I believe have thoughts about this, if they’d like to get us started? @babuc @sereinik @s_connoisseur @seaeffess @angelated

December 19th, 2016

i’m not very knowledgeable about annotating pop, but regarding these two questions:

Does the music video add further context? How do we incorporate that? Does it need to be a separate page, or can that information/analysis be included on-page?

imo, if the music video sheds light/adds context to a particular lyric, that information should be included in an annotation on that lyric. if it sheds light on the song’s overall meaning, it can be included in the song bio or Q&A.

Where was the song featured? Commercials? Big TV show moments? Did Glee cover it?

i think the Q&A is a great place for this type of information.

December 19th, 2016

This is a super cool idea, and a really good question!

I think a really good example of the limitations of pop annotating is “Dark Horse” by Katy Perry – it’s got vocal manipulation instead of a hook, it’s lyrically pretty simple and it’s really a product of the time at which it was released. These factors probably explain why most of the annotations aren’t great.

That having been said, there’s a lot of stuff about Katy Perry as a person in those tates. When the artist is just a big a part of the song as the music itself, I guess that’s what the annotations are necessarily going to lean toward. You’re going to end up with annotations for vague lines such as–

Cause once you’re mine
Once you’re mine
There’s no going back

–that discuss John Mayer or Russell Brand. It’s likely unintended – Perry might not have even written those lines – but that’s a part of her brand (heh). As far as I can tell, song pages for huge pop stars like Katy Perry or Taylor Swift are likely to be more ‘TMZ-esque’ than rap pages.

I guess the follow up questions would be:

  1. Is that something we’re okay with?
  2. Is that what people who search for Katy Perry are going to want to see?

Also, cosign @butterscotch-pie on both points!

December 19th, 2016
December 19th, 2016

love this thread and i’m studying for finals rn so i’m going to leave a short reply right now responding to just a couple questions and i’ll come back after thursday (hopefully, tag me if i don’t? lol? or get tirant to message me haha) with a longer response.

Do any of the artist’s performances of the song offer new readings?

  • i love it when pop annotations reference live performances. sometimes adding a quick reference to something an artist did live is actually so interesting. e.g. “freedom” – which is, ig, a deeper level song – by beyoncé. none of the tates have it right now, but bey performs this song always with a dance routine in water. repeatedly. in every arena of her tour. on award shows. clearly the water means something, and that sort of connection and reference is really awesome to read about and hear analyzed, tbh. maybe this belongs in a q&a? not sure.

And being real with y’all, what are the challenges of annotating pop music?

  • agree with the three points that you brought up. analysis needs to be shifted sometimes to also incorporate why the artist chose this song, especially if they didn’t write it. how is it applicable to them? why would they choose this particular song to promote their brand?

First thing’s first, what are some things that make analyzing pop music unique from analyzing other music?

  • something interesting is also social media incorporation. idk if this is true but pop artists – being more, idk, mainstream (?) celebrities – use social media on the regular and sometimes even small promo campaigns can be interesting. noting this kind of info on a song page is pretty cool. e.g. with “a-yo” and lady gaga – the chainsmokers feud is interesting to read about and should be on that page.

ok i’ll be back with more ideas later thanks xx.

kisses!

-sereinik

December 20th, 2016

LOVE this thread.

i do think pop lyrics are pretty obvious a lot of the time. a lot of annotations will restate the line. and in this case, it’s ok, as long as it’s succinct. people reading the annotations will want to know more about the song, so maybe they don’t understand it and do need an explanation. who knows?

at the same time, that’s not enough. personally, i’d include something extra to make the tate pop. examples: social media stuff (s/o @sereinik), music video references/context (s/o @epaulettes), what they’ve said about the topic in their past songs (whether it matches or doesn’t), and maybe how it relates to their relationships if the song is about such things. as @s_connoisseur said, if the song isn’t written by them, it can be kinda hard, but it’s still interesting to note. even if they didn’t write the song, i’d throw it in if there’s nothing else but note that they didn’t write it.

December 20th, 2016

I agree with all the points that have been made so far, and I’m glad this discussion has started. I also haven’t been around the mainstream pop pages in a while so my opinions might be a little outdated, sorry if there’s anything weird.

I think something important to remember is the old not every line needs an annotation. I know we all know this but I don’t see this as often as I should, particularly for the more popular songs. Having activity in a page is best, of course, but sometimes a line really is too bare to connect anything to it and having an annotation with a tenuous link to the lyrics just for the sake of having something is not good. Again, this might have changed, but I think it’s still worth remembering.

As for how we explain pop culture status, that is quite tricky and I’m not truly sure there is an effective way of measuring it, at least not when a song just came out.

Where was the song featured? Commercials? Big TV show moments? Did Glee cover it?

It’s probably just me but I hate when annotations/the song bio mention this sort of thing, because I don’t find it relevant, unless it’s super important because it made the song pop back into the charts after a long time or something, but while a song is still popular, it will be featured in many places, so I don’t think it adds anything. Like @butterscotch-pie suggested, the Q&A is probably the best place if it’s going to be in the page. And for covers, we now have a special section for them so it’d be redundant to add “this song was covered by [band]” to the song bio.

Something I really like seeing in any annotation is talk about the music itself. Sometimes the lyrics are too straight-forward but the music might have something interesting going on and it’d be cool to mention it. Also could be cool to have the chords of a song somewhere. I’ve seen a few questions asking for them, and I think it’d be a good piece of information.

December 20th, 2016 | edited December 20th, 2016

@lemoncave

Something I really like seeing in any annotation is talk about the music itself. Sometimes the lyrics are too straight-forward but the music might have something interesting going on and it’d be cool to mention it.

total co-sign! i also like when an annotation points out a sample used and explains its context or why the artist might’ve chosen the sample.

December 20th, 2016

I agree with a specific point @babuc mentioned.

what they’ve said about the topic in their past songs (whether it matches or doesn’t), and maybe how it relates to their relationships if the song is about such things.

Personally, when I annotate a pop song, if I’m on a lyric that sounds like the exact same point that is conveyed from another song by the artist, I add a link to that lyric and put the line from the song down.

Also—and this pertains to the song bio—if the song is a collaboration, it would be good to mention if these people have collaborated before, and if so, on what tracks. And how did they meet up? Don’t leave too much detail about how they met up in the song bio. Just a quick point.
For the Q&A section, it would be better to actually go into a lot of detail about this.

December 20th, 2016

@Madkol I am more indie than pop but I do the same. If an artist uses similar imagery in different songs (eg a telephone call being cut off or a broken mirror) I will point out other uses of that imagery in other songs and try to talk about how the image is used in different ways in different songs and perhaps how its significance changes between tracks as well as connections (such as showing songs are about the same time period).

December 20th, 2016

@Shelley39 Yeah, it’s definitely a good thing to do for pop songs.
For example, I annotate a lot by Taylor Swift, and I find that she has some common themes in her songs, such as mentioning the time 2am, and talking about guys waiting in the rain for her.
Whenever I come across a common thread in one of her songs, I put a link to the other songs that mention it too.

December 20th, 2016

@Madkol Those are great examples of what make a powerful annotation. Oftentimes what makes an annotator great is the fact they can put a lyric in its context. Sure, many people can tell me what a lyric says on the surface, and by extension what it references (if applicable), but how does it relate to the rest of the song (or often in non-pop cases; the album)? I envy those with enough love for and knowledge of an artist to be able to connect lyrics that are 10 years apart. It’s one of the many things why I can never get enough of @streetlights writing about Kanye, @Theonlydjorkaeff annotating Jay Z, @VinylZombie_MCR yapping about My Chemical Romance, and the list goes on…

When not taking on the writer/performer personally, to me, one of the most vital elements of pop (and rock) ‘tates are visuals. While rap focuses more on a discussion or speech of sorts, pop and rock musicians intuitively paint pictures—either of a vivid, clear series of events or an abstract, elusive clouds of ideas. So what you’re looking for are the questions 'how do I colour to this story?’ and ‘how do I make a story out of these ideas?’ (or ‘colours’ instead of ‘ideas’, if you will).

These questions can be hard to answer because they require a personal-but-consensual take on the lyrics. On one hand, you, the individual, has to be able to find out what the author tried to convey in their lyrics. Then again, you’ll also have to do it in such a way that other will recognize and understand what you’re saying. In practice, this is often easier than what I’m making it out to be here. Please bear with me though; what I’m trying to get to is actual visuals. When you’re somewhat trained in the art of close reading you’ll find that you and your peers will perceive a lyric in nearly the same way. Why this is relevant to images and a lyric’s context I’ll get to in a minute.

When annotating rap there’s a clear ‘don’t add an image if it’s providing context’ rule. New users often struggle with this because images add another layer of media to an annotation that brightens up their dull, black text. In pop and rock, however this rule is your friend. As I explained before, adding context is hugely important―and images will do exactly that.

Luckily for most, you won’t have to bring out the ole white canvas and palette you can’t get the paint off anymore. We have the whole worldwide web at our hands. Now, you won’t have to look for pictures of landscapes either, a photo of the artist having a wonderful time can be enough to brighten up an otherwise boring-looking annotation about having glitter in your underwear like it was Studio 54.

They say a picture speaks thousand words. As a result, I often find myself wondering how many a gif speaks. I’d love to talk about gifs and where to find them, but I’m happy to admit I’ve used like 5 gifs in all of my Genius career. I’d love for someone with more knowledge on the subject to talk about that.

Anyway, do you know what’s great about songs you’ll find people annotating most?—Let’s call them ‘popular songs'—They’ve often got music videos or cover art. That means you won’t have to think of a way to tie the lyrical strings together. Instead, it’s already been done for you!

Apart from the lyrics and visuals, your most important guide to painting pictures is the music itself. I’m not interested in music therapy and the like whatsoever, but beer brand Stella Artois and Jimmy Fallon’s backing band The Roots did a really cool project a few months ago. They recorded a song called ‘Bittersweet’. However, they did two takes of it (‘A’ and ‘B’). The two records feature different instruments, other rhythms, and are recorded in completely different keys. The result of this test is to show how music can influence your taste. One song is supposed to bolden the sweet tones of Stella Artois, while the other emphasize its bitterness. I’ve still to try this exact test myself, but according to multiple researches it’s supposed to work. Now, of course you won’t be able to taste lyrics, but I feel like you’ve all already released that it works the exact same way with music and lyrics, or music and visuals, and that’s the point I’m making in this paragraph. Find the context of the lyrics, through the music and visuals, and put it in your annotations.

I’d love to talk more but I’m rambling, and I’m not even talking about text in annotations—obviously the most important part. I’m just going to end here and read what other tips you all have haha.


tl;dr: Find the context of the lyrics, through the music and visuals, and put it in your annotations. Also, I tend to ramble.

December 20th, 2016

amazing thread! I will definitely refer to this thread when I annotate pop!

December 20th, 2016

@Dyazz Wow, those are some really great points! Thank you for taking the time to write all that, and help out everyone who annotates pop music!

December 20th, 2016

wanted to jump in to point out a few things.

@babuc said:

i do think pop lyrics are pretty obvious a lot of the time. a lot of annotations will restate the line. and in this case, it’s ok, as long as it’s succinct. people reading the annotations will want to know more about the song, so maybe they don’t understand it and do need an explanation. who knows?

@Madkol said:

Personally, when I annotate a pop song, if I’m on a lyric that sounds like the exact same point that is conveyed from another song by the artist, I add a link to that lyric and put the line from the song down.

these are two of the biggest issues we have with pop right now—restatements of the line and making a tenuous connection to other song lyrics.

unless you can add info to an annotation that teaches the reader something about the song/lyric/artist that is genuinely interesting musical knowledge, that annotation does not need to exist. there are way too many annotations on pop songs that restate the line. to echo @lemoncave’s point that not every line needs to be annotated. i’d even go so far to say i encourage everyone to not fully annotate a pop song, simply because it doesn’t need it. 9 times out of 10 a pop song does not need to be fully annotated.

secondly, we need to make sure we’re making REAL connections if we’re quoting lyrics. if you’re going to make a connection between two songs, you need to provide facts to back your quote up.

December 21st, 2016
Paul Blackthorne | Creative Biodata Maker Premium APK Cracked | Great Canal Journeys