Song Analysis #54: Britney Spears – Lucky

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Title: ‘Lucky’
Where to find it: ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’ (2000, Jive)
Performed by: Britney Spears
Words by: Max Martin, Remi Yacoub, and Alexander Kronlund

Since I last wrote here on Music in Notes, my 2016 didn’t exactly go to plan. Neither did America’s, but you already know that story. For a multitude of reasons, I’m not the on-the-ground, loud protest marching type, so the way I’m going to approach the next 3 and three-quarter years is to spread as much love and understanding as possible. I felt I was already doing that through TGTF, though using music as a tool to spread feelings and emotions to help others during these trying times is now more important than ever.

Last year, one great thing that happened to me (or rather I made happen, I suppose), I finally got a car that had SiriusXM. I had thought I’d use it primarily to tap into the ‘underground’ world of music not being played on mainstream radio. However, because I’ve been scanning various channels of music past, I’ve been revisiting the songs of my schooldays and realising that they now mean something entirely different to me than they once did when I discovered and fell in love with them. One of these is Jason Mraz’s ‘The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)’, a song that I’ve always enjoyed for the happy way it sounds, but had no idea until recently that it could have come from a much darker place. But that analysis, and others, are for another time.

Back to this one. Britney Spears has been much maligned in the media because of her various shenanigans, including shaving her hair off in a temporary bout of insanity and marrying and then divorcing one of her backup dancers, Kevin Federline. Given the bad publicity she’s gotten and her less savoury musical entries such as ‘I’m a Slave 4 U’ and ‘Toxic’, it’s easy to forget she was once a squeaky clean Mouseketeer and once had Justin Timberlake on her arm. There’s a part of me that blames society for him somehow coming out on top and smelling like roses, and every time… Britney Spears might have been an easy target, and the song that Max Martin, Remi Yacoub, and Alexander Kronlund wrote for her is remarkably prescient for what would come to be in the pop princess’ future. It’s impossible to know whether Britney herself wanted this life for herself she had been pushed in a certain direction by her record label. I did wonder how much of her music actually reflected Britney herself. Of all her songs, ‘Lucky’ has struck me as the most honest, whether it was done on purpose and with this intention with her songwriters or not.

It may seem strange that I’ve picked a really old song of hers right before SXSW. But I’ve looked at it with fresh eyes recently, and it seems to be a good cautionary tale ahead for some artists I will see in Austin before they go stratospheric. I find, too, that it’s a reasonably good reflection of how things don’t always appear what they seem. I am often approached here in DC by music fans who think running a music Web site like TGTF, being able to cover music festivals around the world, interviewing bands, etc. is a fun job that they’d like to have. And I’m not saying it isn’t. I wouldn’t trade the experiences offered to me for anything in the world. But what most people don’t see or know is how much I am doing behind the scenes, how much of my own free time and social life I choose to sacrifice for what I believe is an important enterprise in keeping music alive and well. They also don’t see the other parts of my life I’ve struggled with that I’ve chosen to keep private, some of which has loomed larger in recent weeks thanks to a commander-in-chief who has purposely stoked the fires of racial injustice. Anyway, enough about me, and on to the analysis!

First, the words:

Spoken intro by Spears
This is a story about a girl named Lucky…

Verse 1
Early morning, she wakes up
Knock, knock, knock on the door
It’s time for makeup, perfect smile
It’s you they’re all waiting for
They go…
“Isn’t she lovely, this Hollywood girl?”
And they say…

Chorus
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Verse 2
Lost in an image, in a dream
But there’s no one there to wake her up
And the world is spinning, and she keeps on winning
But tell me what happens when it stops?
They go…
“Isn’t she lovely, this Hollywood girl?”
And they say…

Chorus
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Spoken bridge
“Best actress, and the winner is…Lucky!”
“I’m Roger Johnson for Pop News standing outside the arena waiting for Lucky”
“Oh my god…here she comes!”

Bridge
Isn’t she lucky, this Hollywood girl?
She is so lucky, but why does she cry?
If there’s nothing missing in her life
Why do tears come at night?

Chorus 2x
“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

“She’s so lucky, she’s a star”
But she cry, cry, cries in her lonely heart, thinking,
“If there’s nothing missing in my life,
Then why do these tears come at night?”

Now, the analysis:

This song is the epitome of the phrase, “it’s lonely at the top.” And it is. Something else I’ve become all too accustomed to as a music editor is watching the trajectory of a pop band go up…and then come crashing down. You can’t stay on top forever, and that was true in Britney’s case. When this song came out in 2000, I was in school and did wonder what it must have been like living in her ivory tower, waving down at her adoring fans. I think it’s only natural for the rest of us to envy such power, fame, and fortune. It seems like you would have the world in the palm of your hand and have everything you want.

But what I have also seen from the side of an artist’s success is the dark side of fame. The inability to connect with the fans like they used to because there are just too many fans and the possibility of someone getting injured is too great. I miss being able to talk to some of my megastar friends in this business because they don’t come out of their tour bus after shows for that very reason. Coming home to a life that feels alien and a partner who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be out on the road for weeks at a time, in a situation that isn’t ‘normal life’ at all. Depression, alcoholism, and escapism aren’t uncommon for these people we put on a pedestal who are, of course, really as normal as you and me. It has been repeated to me many times that being a touring musician messes with your head and your relationships. And nearly 99% of the time, you can’t assure you’ll always be on top and the checks will keep coming in. Doesn’t sound so great, anymore, does it?

Verse 1 of ‘Lucky’ is a veiled crack in the façade. In order for our pop princess Lucky to be presentable to her fans, she’s being woken up to get hair and makeup done. I must have been a little girl when my mother pointed out that tv presenters spend hours in a chair doing hair and makeup, and she warned me just how bad makeup was for your skin. Yet we live in a society where if you’re a woman, you have to wear it. Where I’m going with this: Lucky is being made up to be a consumable product. The celebrity you see there on the red carpet or out on stage probably looks entirely different and practically unrecognisable without all that makeup. Katy Perry proved this in her documentary Part of Me, where she actually looks like the rest of us without all that junk on her face.

Verse 2 does a good job putting into words the crazy a beloved entertainer feels in her ivory tower. Nothing seems real and “the world is spinning.” “She keeps on winning / But tell me what happens when it stops?” Indeed, what is she going to do when the fans stop showing up outside her hotel and she can’t sell records? Britney was lucky, as she began her pop career when record labels still believed in artists and doled out reasonable record deals. These days, if your debut *single* flops, you’re cut from the label. For any musical artist, you put your all your eggs in one basket that you and your talent(s) will lead to success and keep you up in rock royalty in the heavens, looking down on all the other acts that didn’t make it that far or high. It can be and is often a sobering reality check when you don’t make it or if even you do, you get knocked off your throne and fall from grace.

The most heartbreaking part of ‘Lucky’ has been engineered in the bridge. While the lyrics are taken from the repeated chorus to emphasise the point of the whole song, the note progression in Britney’s vocals is raised. Notice how the words “Isn’t she lucky?” are sung, as if we’re being mocked for questioning – or indeed, if Lucky is – on what a great life she must have. By changing the key slightly, an unexpected anthemic moment is achieved, set apart from the melody and chorus. It’s a warning klaxon. This is now a big deal. This isn’t just Grammy parties and music videos on tv. This is someone’s life. Britney was singing about her life that had become her prison, that her reality was far from what all of us ever saw. And people listening to this song completely missed it. Britney Spears will always be an American pop music icon. That will never change. But I sincerely hope she’s happy. Because we all deserve that.

Lastly, the song, in its official music video. Notice how another version of Britney is high above the red carpet Britney, sweeping her arms around and throwing glitter. Hmm…

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“You can fire a rocket at a rocket, it’s the future.”

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I’ve had a lot of things on my mind. I haven’t been a very good Webmistress here, and I’m sorry about that. It hasn’t had anything to do with lack of ideas; I’m constantly in the car, listening to a song, thinking, “gosh, that’d be a great song to analyse for Music in Notes…”

At TGTF, it’s a completely different story. We’ve been busy with SXSW 2016 post-event reviews and features but we’re about to put the final post (the 127th!) to bed.

Some stuff went down in Austin on Thursday and Saturday that shook my faith in humankind (broadly) and the music festival format (specifically). As those of you who have followed me on TGTF, PopWreckoning, and DIY over the last 7 years I’ve been a music journalist, I have been to a lot of events all over the world, including 5 SXSWs now. I consider it a great opportunity to be given the chance to go to Austin to cover SXSW.

I suspect what happened (both incidents) happened because of my size (I’m barely 5’3″), my race, and my gender, all of which likely contributed to the idea I was an easy target. I don’t want to make this a feminist issue, because I’m not a fan of that term. I’m probably going to be strung up for this, but I’m into equality and all people treated fairly. There needs to be more peace and love in this world, people listening to one another and having open minds instead of shoving their values down someone else’s throat.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case if you’re keeping up with any of the U.S. presidential election coverage. Living in DC with wall-to-wall coverage of the march to November, it’s felt like a pressure cooker, and SXSW offered a nice respite from all of that. Some people say to me, “it must be really amazing to live in Washington, where all the movers and shakers are!” Yes, if you’re inclined in a certain way, it is. As I get older, I’ve noticed how less and less I engage in what’s considered “proper” DC conversation (read: I haven’t dated in forever). I mean, come on, this was on display on the windows when I went out to eat not too long ago…

Last week, I was given a unique challenge that will see my artistic talents going in a different direction. I’m both excited and terrified by this new project / thing, what will come out of it, and what other doors it will open for me. Some friends have more faith in my capabilities than I do in myself, and the support they’ve put behind me in this new endeavour is and will be invaluable. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

I love the fact that no matter how I look to people on the outside – the automatic stereotypes people have had about me as I walk into a room or walk down the street, or when they meet me in a club – they won’t matter. These people and their incorrect, dangerous stereotypes won’t dictate where this is going to go.

Being treated as an equal. Respected as someone who has something new and different to the table. These are the things that are priceless.

This isn’t the end of Music in Notes, but I foresee this taking a lot of my time in at least the next 3 to 6 months.

Until next time, stay sweet. x

Song Analysis #53: Bon Jovi – Livin’ on a Prayer

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Title: ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’
Where to find it: ‘Slippery When Wet’ (1986, Mercury)
Performed by: Bon Jovi
Words by: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Desmond Child

First, the words:
Spoken intro
Once upon a time, not so long ago…

Verse 1
Tommy used to work on the docks
Union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck
It’s tough, so tough

Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man
She brings home her pay
For love, for love

Pre-chorus
She says, “We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.
For love,
We’ll give it a shot.”

Chorus
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Verse 2
Tommy’s got his six-string in hock
Now he’s holding in
What he used to make it talk
So tough, it’s tough

Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers,
“Baby, it’s okay, someday…

Pre-chorus
…We’ve gotta hold on to what we’ve got.
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot.
For love,
we’ll give it a shot.”

Chorus
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Livin’ on a prayer…

Guitar solo, then bridge
We’ve gotta hold on, ready or not
You live for the fight when it’s all that you’ve got

Chorus 2x
Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Whoa, we’re halfway there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

Now, the analysis:

Bon Jovi are a band that divide opinion among the denizens of Duranie nation. Some Duranies absolutely hate them. Can’t stand them. There are those like me who don’t mind them but probably wouldn’t walk across the street to shake Jon Bon Jovi’s hand. (I will admit, however, that I have ‘Slippery When Wet’ on cassette. Ha!) They were of course an important part of the ‘80s, though back then, I used to think they were one of the weirdest-looking bands at the time. Seriously. That big hair and tights? What were they thinking?

Over the last week, Bon Jovi has been played *a lot* on local radio stations while I’ve been in the car, and even though they’ve got several megahits from that decade, I don’t think it was a coincidence. I began thinking about how ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ has become a karaoke night mainstay. Why is that? It isn’t hard to understand. Like many anthems of the blue collar working class, it drives home the point that if you keep on at keeping on, you will survive whatever situation you’re currently suffering through. You can overcome hardship. You can overcome adversity.

This is an important message for everyone to hear right now, and this is where I segue into discussing what has been keeping me away from Music in Notes. This past Saturday, I don’t what I was thinking, but I decided to watch the latest GOP Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, the next battleground on the way to securing political party nominations in the United States. Here in America, we seem to be in a terrible state of flux and have been for a long time. The possibility of Donald Trump becoming our president in less than a year’s time has grown, and it truly makes my stomach turn. The GOP debate further reiterated in my mind that the GOP has truly lost the plot. They’re fighting with each other while a good chunk of our country are either homeless, can’t afford to feed their kids and put a roof over their heads, or pay their bills. Out of touch, out of mind, I guess.

It feels, too, like my own life has been in similar flux, as if I’m on the edge of a precipice of major changes. As humans, I think it’s only human nature that when things around us are changing, either for the better or worse, when we feel like we are soaring or crumbling, it’s like when you’ve got a magnifying glass over an ant on a sunny day. It’s like everything feels so much better in the euphoria. Or that much worse within depressed wallowing. Bon Jovi chose the former feeling for this song, and millions of music lovers should be thankful.

Unless you are a multi-millionaire and you think you won’t be affected by who is voted in as president, you should be concerned about the future of this country. Tommy and Gina were suffering during the economic downturn in the ‘80s, and now Tommy and Gina’s children are battling to survive today. The details may be different but the struggles are the same. In verse 1 of this song, we learn Tommy has lost his job, but the couple’s heads are barely over water with Gina’s paltry paycheck from her work at the diner.

In verse 2, we also learn that Tommy’s pawned his guitar (“Tommy’s got his six-string in hock”) and his usual mode of relieving stress is gone (“now he’s holding in / what he used to make it talk”). Gina’s also stressed and wants to run away, as if running away was a real solution. The pre-chorus of this song is a one of two linchpins, because it’s a reminder of how important love and staying together is for the purposes of survival. As the saying goes, “united we stand, divided we fall.”

The other linchpin is, of course, the chorus. If it hasn’t been done already, someone should be paid to study what exactly the effect is of a positive, ascending chord sequence is to endorphins in the body. Why does everyone like singing along to the chorus of ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’? Sure, part of it has to do with its survivor mentality, but I think subliminally, the chord changes elevate our mood from wherever we currently are. Even better in this song, notice how in the second to the last chorus, the starting key goes up even further. As Bono once sang, “elevation!”

The song is also notable for Richie Sambora’s use of a talk box. People seem to forget this. You know, what Kanye’s doing isn’t really *that* pioneering…

Lastly, the song, in its official music video.