Can you own a song?

Can you own a song?

Today, we're constantly re-enforced with the ideals of ownership - the need for a house, or for shiny new possessions. But for music fans, ownership takes on a different meaning. Callum Campbell explores.

While albums are music's long-form art, playlists cannot to be discounted as a format for exploring new tracks. A few weeks back I was listening to Flying Out's stellar playlist Great Sounds Great (Link here. I really think it's beyond pun-able now. Needless to say (but I will) you should listen to it) and up popped Jenny Hval's new track Spells, off her upcoming EP The Long Sleep, released May 25th. I loved it, and gave it multiple listens. But one part of it got me thinking.

In the chorus, according to Genius she sings:

You will not be awake for long
You won’t have to wait for long
You will not be awake for long
We’ll meet in the smallest great unknown

Now, this is what she sings. There is no question. But when I listen to music I listen to the music first, lyrics second, and instead of "awake", I heard "weak". An innocent error on my part. But when my understanding of the song went from a positive affirmation of 'I will be strong again soon', to 'life is short', I preferred the line sung "weak"! I guess that's just what I wanted to hear in that moment.

Of course, I'm just a dude who has listened to a song and preferred his interpretation of it to the artist's. In and of itself, it is by the by. But it begs a bigger question: when is it ok to re-interpret a song for your own meaning?

On one hand, songs become special to me because of the meaning I place on them. That could be for whatever reason: time and place, cultural significance, I mishear a lyric and like what I hear.. This act speaks to the overwhelming value of music to people - that can't be underestimated. The song becomes mine. At the same time though, Jenny Hval has written the song as a means to express herself. Her songwriting choices will have been deliberate and it would be remiss of me to ignore her perspective. Indeed, I want to understand her experience so eloquently told - that's the beauty of art in the first place.

Just when I was about to settle into a plush spot on the fence, I found Hval's bandcamp page, where she speaks directly to her listeners:

There should be something I could tell you, there should be something I could do to reach you directly, but there is nothing useful in the way we define “you”, or “me”. There should be something I could tell you, there should be something I could say directly without lyrics and melody.

Maybe that’s what I’m trying here. Something else than lyrics or melody. It’s not the words. It’s not in the rhythm. It’s not in the streaming. It’s not in the “message”. It’s not in the product. It’s not in the algorithms. It’s not something you decided. It’s not something they decided for you.

And that's just an excerpt. This could be read any number of ways but to me, I feel like the tone suggests that I can make my own mind up. There's no centralising factor; and she isn't imposing anything. She has made something that is meaningful to herself, and is sharing it with the world for others to take some of their own meaning out of. It's a beautiful sentiment.

I could be wrong there, but that's my read on it. Many artists propose similar dilemmas for the listener. Kendrick Lamar, who is gracing our shores in July this year, is well known for pronouncing words vaguely so as to conjure multiple meanings - does he mean Bully, or Poli(ce), or BOTH (!!??). The whole exercise puts the concept of ownership in a new light, and really, if you apply it elsewhere, how much do we really own?

Flying Out's playlist Great Sounds Great is updated regularly, with plenty of gems waiting for your discovery. Check out the latest one below

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