Songwriter U: Mixing Point of View

There seems to be a current strategy to mix points of view, apparently thinking that moving from, for example, Third Person Narrative to Direct Address makes a chorus more exciting. Like this:

She Will Be Loved

Levine/Valentine

Beauty queen of only eighteen

She had some trouble with herself

He was always there to help her

She always belonged to someone else

I drove for miles and miles and wound up at your door

I’ve had you so many times but somehow I want more

I don’t mind spending every day

Out on your corner in the pouring rain

Look for the girl with the broken smile

Ask her if she wants to stay awhile

And she will be loved

And she will be loved

What do you think? Does it make the chorus stronger? The answer is always the same: Rewrite it in a consistent Point of View and A/B test the results.

Beauty queen of only eighteen

You had some trouble with yourself

I was always there to help you

But you always belonged to someone else

I drove for miles and miles and wound up at your door

I’ve had you so many times but somehow I want more

I don’t mind spending every day

Out on your corner in the pouring rain

Looking for the girl with the broken smile

Ask you if you want to stay awhile

And you will be loved

And you will be loved

Which one makes you feel more? That’s the test. On a fundamental level, our job as songwriters is to make people feel something. For me, a consistent Point of View here feels like the better option. 

Here’s another one:

 You’re Beautiful

 Blunt/Skarbek/Ghost

 My life is brilliant.

 My love is pure.

 I saw an angel.

 Of that I’m sure.

 She smiled at me on the subway.

 She was with another man.

 But I won’t lose no sleep on that,

 ‘Cause I’ve got a plan.

 You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.

 You’re beautiful, it’s true.

 I saw your face in a crowded place,

 And I don’t know what to do,

 ‘Cause I’ll never be with you.

This move from First Person Narrative to Direct Address is confusing at best. It’s as though the narrator is telling the audience about his afternoon experience and suddenly turns away, voiding the First Person relationship he’s established to speak to the woman in Direct Address. Let’s A/B it:

 My life is brilliant.

 My love is pure.

 You were an angel.

 Of that I’m sure.

 You smiled at me on the subway.

 You were with another man.

 But I won’t lose no sleep on that,

 ‘Cause I’ve got a plan.

 You’re beautiful. You’re beautiful.

 You’re beautiful, it’s true.

 I saw your face in a crowded place,

 And I don’t know what to do,

 ‘Cause I’ll never be with you.

This feels so much more emotional without the confusing turn away from the audience. It becomes even more confusing when the song returns to First Person Narrative in the next verse.

Sometimes it’s just a momentary change in Point of View that takes some of the air out of the song’s tires:

When I Was Your Man

Mars/Lawrence/Wyatt/Sneezingtons/Levine/Faisal

… too young, too dumb to realize

That I should have bought you flowers

And held your hand

Should have gave you all my hours

When I had the chance

Take you to every party

‘Cause all you wanted to do was dance

Now my baby’s dancing

But she’s dancing with another man

Direct Address is clearly established from the beginning:

When our friends talk about you, all it does is just tear me down

‘Cause my heart breaks a little when I hear your name

The song moves along smoothly until the narrator turns away and address the audience:

Now my baby’s dancing

But she’s dancing with another man

Let’s A/B this one:

I should have bought you flowers

And held your hand

Should have gave you all my hours

When I had the chance

Take you to every party

‘Cause all you wanted to do was dance

But baby now you’re dancing

You’re dancing with another man

Again, maintaining a consistent focus keeps the listener in the moment with the speaker. Moving to the less-intimate First Person Narrative pulls us away from the emotional world of Direct Address.

So far we’ve looked at songs that seem to profit from a consistent Point of View. Are there examples of a change in Point of View that makes the song stronger? 

Here’s one that set a pretty high bar:

She Used to Be Mine

Sara Bareilles

… It’s not easy to know

I’m not anything like I used to be

Although it’s true

I was never attention’s sweet center

I still remember that girl

She’s imperfect but she tries

She is good but she lies

She is hard on herself

She is broken and won’t ask for help

She is messy but she’s kind

She is lonely most of the time

She is all of this mixed up

And baked in a beautiful pie

She is gone but she used to be mine…

Of course, it’s pretty clear that she’s talking about her younger self. Still, she didn’t have to change to Third Person pronouns to accomplish the same goal:

I still remember that girl

I was imperfect but I tried

I was good but I lied

I was hard on myself…

I was all of this mixed up

And baked in a beautiful pie

It’s all gone but it used to be mine

For me, seeing my former self in Third Person pronouns creates a lovely distance, almost impossible to traverse. It makes me feel more than a consistent First Person Narrative or the change to Direct Address.

Again, if we A/B the two versions, the mix makes the song stronger, makes you feel more. That’s the standard. That’s always the standard.

Change Point of View at your own peril. Always A/B your proposed changes with a consistent Point of View. Most of the time, consistency will win out. But keep your eyes open for those special occasions.

Here are a few additional songs that mix Point of View. A/B them and see what you think:

Lyin’ Eyes (Frye/Henley)

One More Dollar (Gillian Welch)

Caleb Meyer (Gillian Welch)

Travelling Soldier (Robinson)

Sweater Weather (Rutherford/Freedman/Abels)

I Knew You Were Trouble (Swift/Shelback/Martin)

Tim McGraw (Swift/Rose)

Goodbye Cruel World (Gloria Shayne Baker)

3AM – last verse (Mathers/Young) 

You Shook Me All Night Long (Johnson/Young/Young)

Up next, we’ll discuss Point of View’s relationship to developing your ideas. Stay tuned.

One Comment

Leave a Reply
  1. I agree to a point, but sometimes to tell the story you first talk about the object of the story and then tell how it effected you. I myself like to keep the story line consistent no matter which person you’re tellin’ the story in, but I can see reasons for doin’ it the other way. The question is which person would the artist you’re tryin’ to write for, n’ hopefully get them to choose the song to add to their upcoming effort, actually prefer. But no matter the case, you still tell the story in the best way to touch those that’ll hear it.

Leave a Reply

Measure for Measure: More than Money

Nathaniel Rateliff is Not Sweating A Solo Effort