Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lyrical Creativity

       In her song “Propeller Seeds,” Imogen Heap combines several different variation strategies to get her message across. Like many other songs out there, her lyrics emphasize her feelings when she begins to love a new man. The entire song is a metaphor for the growth of love, comparing it to the growth of a seed into a tree. If we go deeper, however, we can begin to see the specific strategies she uses in order to give us the full impact of this new and confusing love of hers.
       It’s interesting to note that this song is the second of what Imogen calls “heapsongs.” These songs call on her fans to bring inspiration to her when she is in need. She takes on the task of writing and producing the song in a matter of weeks, and the fans help her to stay motivated and inspired. This direct use of the music community is a good example of how activity systems can merge together. While they don’t necessarily conflict, since both sides have the final goal of listening to the final product, the groups do work next to each other. While the artist herself has to deal with the confines of her abilities as well as the confines of her record company, the fans also can only give her so much inspiration before they must sit and wait in expectation. Imogen must meet the standards of both her fans and her record company. It’s a difficult task to make both sides happy, but Imogen does both with this song.
       I have already mentioned that this song is a large metaphor for love growing like a seed. “What’s happening here?/ I’m growing roots through my toes/ And leaves from my fingertips.” This line is the first time that she presents this comparison. While she introduces the idea in her first line as “propeller seeds,” she starts this image building comparison at this chorus. This is an example of hypophora, or asking a question and then answering it. This allows the listener to hear the woman working through her confusion of the love in her own thoughts. Along with hypophora, we see multiple cases of rhetorical question, asking questions not necessarily to be answered but to emphasize a certain point. Lines such as “What does this story know?” and “Are all the good ones taken?” are good examples of her use of rhetorical questions.
       The surrounding strategies not only help to develop the continuing metaphor, but also deepen our understanding of her situation. In the line “We float in tandem, past name tags and shaking hands” we can see a strategy called zeugma. This strategy is the sharing of the verb between multiple subjects. The word “past” is shared by both “name tags” and “shaking hands.” While this may not develop our understanding of the relationship, but it gives us an image to follow along with. The “float” refers to viewing each person in the relationship as a “propeller seed” and therefore enhances the metaphor.
The lines “You want me, well you’ve got me/ It doesn’t have to be today/ I can’t believe I said that out loud” not only act as procatalepsis, anticipating rejection, but also uses apostrophe to address the man directly. This also brings up a trace of the singer talking to herself as well. She refers back to the idea that she is a propeller seed by making the reference to “I’m falling.” While this is a highly popular term for loving someone for the first time, it can also be traced back to the seed falling from the tree. It makes this line a bit of a pun, or play on words, to bring out the metaphor yet again.
        Imogen continues her story by giving examples, exemplum, to satisfy the rhetorical questions that come towards the end. To the question “What does the story know?” She gives the examples of “wedding rings, children” as if to suggest possible ways of continuing their love story. She makes an allusion near the end by referring to other events that hold meaning to her within the relationship. “Rickshaw, disco/ Goodnight kiss/ Oh, cold shower” shows us not only a slice of what that relationship held, but since it follows the question of “Are all the good ones taken?” we get the sense that the “cold shower” may have been her trying to realize that the man is already taken. “Cold shower” is also a reference to a popular term referring to sobering up. It’s a harsh wake up method to try and snap herself out of her love stupor. She makes another allusion in the first stanza of the song as well by saying “Oh, you got me at ‘Paris.’” This line allows us to understand that something important happened in Paris, or she has a fondness of Paris, which can also be known as the city of love.
        While Imogen does a lot to build the metaphor within in the song, she also shows a distinct use of poetic elements. She plays with the words, sounds, and structure to create a song that not only enhances the story that runs through it, but makes it enjoyable to listen to. She uses quite a bit of parallelism to match the structure and form of the lyrics. Her first few lines are a good example of this. “Propeller seeds/ Corridor scene/ Talk on, walk out.” This gives us our first taste of the structure she will use. She uses a loose rhyme in “seeds” and “scene” in the first two lines to mimic how she feels they are propeller seeds during this “corridor scene.” She parallels her structure again with the next line by using not only the rhyme of “talk” and “walk” but she uses “on” and “out as well. She continues this use of parallels in the third stanza saying “Unfold/ Where does this story go?/ Queue, food/ Drink up/ Continue.” This use of one and two word phrases mimics the first stanza. It provides also with the sense of nurturing the love she has growing. “Unfolding” might refer to the leaves at her fingertips. The “Queue, food/ Drink up” may refer to a plant's need for food and water and it’s continuing need to be nurtured.
Imogen shows this structure again in her sixth stanza; “What does this story know?/ Wedding rings, children/ Are all the good ones taken?/ Rickshaw, disco/ Goodnight kiss/ Oh, cold shower.” The set of two words or of phrases continues with her examples. This emphasizes not only her lack of words for the situation, but also provides us with the swiftness that she thinks these things through.
The artistry is present in her use of many different kinds of strategies that she uses to play with the sounds of the lines. She uses alliteration in the first stanza using “me a minute, my mind.” She also uses consonance in the line of “Immune to the hubbub” stressing the repeated sounds within the words. More alliteration can be seen in “deep in discussion.” The alliteration and consonance brings our attention to those words, but it also improves the overall appeal of sound in the song. These different ways of playing with the words enhances the flow of the song.
Imogen used the inspiration that her fans provided as well as the strategies of creative style to prove that even a simple song can have intricate patterns of meaning. For a song that she wrote and produced in only a matter of weeks, this song shows a mastery of rhetorical strategies. It plays to the interests of her fans, herself, and her record company. She is able to satisfy multiple activity systems, while using the creative style to express the emotions she has. Imogen forms an intricate story through her song and succeeds in her use of strategies and catchy melody in both the music itself and the structure of the lyrics.

-- Rachel Gerlach

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