5/20/2015 9:03:22 AM
A dissertation on… my lyrics?!
Somebody at a songwriting forum did a really extensive and thoughtful analysis of the lyrics to "Break My Heart". Some really cool observations and...the guy just GOT it.
It's a bit of a long read but, still—check it out.
And the complete lyrics are over on the song page. I've posted the link, as you can see.
Here's the analysis:
One of the cool things about "Break My Heart" is how it welds a complex sentiment on to a familiar pop structure.
"Break my heart
I want to feel what you’re feeling
Break my heart
And steady me as I go reeling
Break my heart
I want to know what you’re going through
So break my heart
It’s the only way I’ll understand you"
So on the one hand we've got the call-and-response format, the repetition, the ABAB rhyme, and the simple syntax and vocab. Even without music, it's recognisably catchy. Indeed, I've ad libbed several different tunes to this as I've been reading it, and it's hard to come up with something that'snot catchy. But on the other hand, we have the peculiar darkness of the sentiment it expresses.
It's a striking, masochistic sentiment, disguised by the poppy format but also enriched by it. "Break my heart" is not simply spite or self-negation here - it's not the thin, clean substitute for emotion we find in so many pop lyrics. Rather, as we can see from "I want to feel what you’re feeling", "steady me as I go reeling" and "I want to know what you’re going through", it's layered and complex. Yes, the heartbreak will be violent and painful, but it will also (somehow?) bring the breaker and the broken closer together. It's a messy request that doesn't immediately resolve itself, but it's also recognisably human. This grand gesture may not have been entirely thought through, but it has been felt through all the way.
And then the form of the lyric digs a little deeper to match its content:
"The only way to make you see
Is to show you what you can do to me
So rip my chest open wide
And tear out what you find inside"
The violence becomes explicit, now - graphic even. Is this some kind of grudge match? An ill-judged spectacle of sacrifice? There's certainly something cannibalistic about it... I commented on the original thread that I'd like to be a little clearer about what was going on at this point, but I now recognise I was wrong. When I think of the strongest emotions I've felt in my life, they haven't made an awful lot of sense.
Or rather, they haven't made literal sense; they made perfect emotional sense. And so it is with:
"Break my heart
And use the pieces to put yours back together"
If I hurt myself, I can make you feel better. We've all felt this. We've all immediately recognised it as nonsense. We've all continued to feel it nonetheless.
In Waiting for Godot Beckett wrote, "The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops." In the play, this is intoned by a pompous, quasi-fascist ass, yet it rings (emotionally) true all the same. And just as Beckett slams together a beautiful sentiment with a dislikeable character, so Todd hangs his injunction to "break my heart" on a poppy format that can't quite bear its weight. The dissonance between thought and form echoes the dissonance between emotion and logic, and they shudder together.
Another thing to note here is the prosaic rhythm of "Break my heart / And use the pieces to put yours back together". It doesn't match the prosody of the longer lines on the verse, so it can't easily use a modulation of their melody to resolve itself. "Pieces to put" is especially prosey, being a stressed syllable followed by three unstressed ones. I don't know what Todd has in mind for the music here, but every time I ad lib a tune, the music in my head holds the chord and I end up semi-speaking these lines, and it feels as if I've broken through to something deeper, to what the song really wanted to say all along.
The last verse brings us:
"I know he hurt you really bad
But I can give you more than you’ve ever had
You’ve never really had a clue
Of all that I could give to you"
And this answers enough questions about the song to give us some closure. Now we know what happened to who. But there's still something deliciously incoherent about the song's emotional throughline. So the singer can give the girl "more" that her ex... More what? And how would breaking his heart help that? Again, these are not questions we can answer with words, only with feelings.