Last year Jay-Z released his latest album “The Blueprint 3”. Whilst most of the album was a particularly pop-sounding affair, he kicked off proceedings with one of his most hard-hitting singles ever, “D.O.A (Death of Autotune)” The title gave the impression that the track was going to be a violent denouncing of the ubiquitous Autotune software that has infected popular music lately. But its not. The song is about how good the song is. The song you are listening to. In its lyrics, Jigga catalogues how great the song you are currently listening to is.
This is anti autotune, death of the ringtone,
This ain’t for iTunes, this ain’t for sing alongs
This sets off the tone for the song. He then opines:
My raps don’t have melodies
Which would explain Rhianna’s appearance on the album. I digress.
He also humbly predicts less than stellar success. For the song you are listening to.
This ain’t a number one record
And so the song continues, continuously self-referencing itself. Which led me to consider the genre of the meta-song, songs that in their own lyrics refer to them selves, a kind of sonic Mobius Strip.
So, what other songs can we include as musical snakes eating their own tails? Take Public Image Limited’s “This is not a Love Song”, whose chorus simply repeats this edict over and over. This. Is. Not. A. Love. Song. This is a particularly curious example. The song is about not being about something else. Its a surprise you can hear anything at all.
Then we have Elton John’s “Your Song”. This tear-jerking ballad is about that very same tear-jerking ballad. Elton very nearly tears a hole in the time space continuum with this one.
My gift is my song and this one’s for you
In fact, the recipient of this song would not be out of place feeling a little bit short changed. You have the special honor of being gifted a song by two of the worlds greatest love song writers, and they spend half of it telling you they have written a song for you. Cheers lads. They even suggest:
And you can tell everybody this is your song
“Hey everyone, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote me a song!” “Sweet, what’s it about” “well, erm, its about how they wrote me a song” “Oh”
The final exhibit of meta-music I want to talk about is Carly Simon’s 1972 classic “You’re So Vain”. The song has enjoyed legendary status due to the debate over who the song is directed to. I think the most interesting thing about this song is that in referring to itself in such a manner it outs itself as the biggest lie in musical history. Carly sings herself into a paradox. By scornfully berating the mystery ex-lover for thinking the song is about him, Simon makes the song about him. Thus, the phantom target’s vanity should not be in question, Carly’s Ouroborous has swallowed itself. The result is a song that is about someone but that person shouldn’t think the song is about them.
I would like to see more appreciation for the post-modern marvel that is the meta-song. Any more examples?