Pop songs: the pinnacle of grammar. Perhaps not. We can forgive singers taking some liberties with grammar in order to achieve the proper rhyme, rhythm and meter but we shouldn’t have to put up with utter nonsense. For your musical pleasure, I have compiled my own mix-tape of grammar gaffes of current and classic songs.
Everyone should know double negatives are wrong because they just sound so wrong. Apparently these bands didn’t get that memo.
The Rolling Stones sang about how they ‘can’t get no satisfaction’. They can’t get no Nobel prize for literature, either.
In Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall they tell us they ‘don’t need no education’. Sorry Floyd but I think you do.
Similarly, TLC’s No Scrubs outlined the many reasons they ‘don’t want no scrubs’. Apparently, no education isn’t one of them. It sounds like the members of Pink Floyd would be a perfect match.
Misuse of Pronouns
A lot of people have difficulty knowing when to use ‘I’ and ‘me’. When you’re the subject of the sentence it’s ‘I’, as in ‘John and I chased a cat.’ When you’re the object of the sentence, it’s ‘me’, as in ‘The cat chased John and me’. If you’re always getting confused, don’t worry too much because a lot of singers have the same problem.
In No One, Alicia Keys just wanted ‘you and me together’. Oops, she actually meant ‘I’.
On the opposite end, Lady Gaga dedicated a whole song to the incorrect pronoun in You and I. ‘There’s something about, baby, you and I’ and it’s the incorrect use of the pronoun ‘I’. Miss Gaga goes on to hammer home her disdain for the word ‘me’ by shouting ‘you and I’ seven times in a single refrain.
Katy Perry’s song The One That Got Away would have been more appropriately titled The One Who Got Away, as long as the subject of the song does in fact refer to a person and not a thing. Maybe she really misses her dog that ran away.
Special mention goes to Lana Del Rey’s Video Games, which is a confusing mess due to her confusing use of pronouns. To understand, I’ve had to post the first three stanzas:
Swinging in the backyard
Pull up in your fast car
Whistling my name
Open up a beer
And you say get over here
And play a video game
I’m in his favorite sun dress
Watching me get undressed
Take that body downtown
The first two lines get this confusing mess of pronouns rolling. The absence of a pronoun in the first line makes it difficult to know just who is swinging in the backyard. Is it you or Lara? Similarly, who’s opening the beer? The third stanza brings in ‘his’, so is she in the favourite dress of some man who is separate to the ‘you’? Also, is it his favourite sun dress of hers or his own? Who’s watching her get undressed? You? Him? The sun dress? Then she tells us to take ‘that’ body downtown. It’s not her body or your body. Maybe it’s the body of whoever’s swinging in the backyard. Lana, please sort out your pronouns and then get back to me. I’m horribly confused.
Like double negatives, most people can instantly tell when a subject is in agreement with its verb. This obviously doesn’t include pop stars.
In ringmaster Britney Spears’s Circus ‘there’s only two types of people in the world’. Poor Britney, it sounds fine until you expand the contraction ‘there’s’ and realise she said ‘there is’ instead of ‘there are’.
In Rich Girl, Gwen Stefani tells us what would happen if she ‘was a rich girl’. Hopefully, she’d enrol in some English courses.
Timbaland asked us if we could handle him ‘the way I are’. The answer is a resounding no, at least until he sorts out the am/are distinction.
I don’t mean to pick on Lana Del Rey but when she’s not mixing up her pronouns she’s just plain making up words. Again in Video Games, Lana says that you’re ‘the bestest’, which is a lovely sentiment but terribly idiotic. She even had the right word and then kept adding to it, presumably trying to make it betterer.
Elvis Presley meanwhile tells us we Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog. While I refute your claim, Elvis, you aren’t anything but a poor grammarian. Even if dear Elvis had correctly used ‘aren’t’, the fact is he is still guilty of a double negative.
The Black Eyed Peas sing I Gotta Feeling. Presumably they were aiming for ‘I’ve got a feeling’ but took a wrong turn in the land of bad grammar.
When Justin Timberlake informed us that What Goes Around comes around he also told us ‘When you cheated girl, my heart bleeded girl’. Fair enough, with all that internal bleeding you’re apt to make a few poor word choices.
Misunderstanding of Irony
I reserve an honorary spot just for Alanis Morissette and her horribly wrong Ironic.
According to Alanis, irony is ‘rain on your wedding day’, ‘a free ride when you’ve already paid’ and ‘good advice that you just didn’t take’. Unfortunately for Alanis, none of these are ironic; they’re just unfortunate or annoying situations. The type of irony Alanis was attempting to explain is situational irony: an outcome or event that is the opposite of what would have been expected. It raining on your wedding day is unfortunate but in no way ironic. Perhaps if you had actively ‘ensured’ against it raining on your wedding day by holding your wedding in a desert where it hadn’t rained for three years and it raining anyway would be ironic. A free ride when you’ve already paid isn’t ironic. You don’t expect to be offered a free ride after paying but you also don’t expect to not be offered a free ride after paying. You just really don’t consider either option. It would perhaps be ironic if after paying you were offered a free ride which you accepted but the free ticket had expired and you were fined for fare evasion.
Sadly, it seems the only ironic thing about Ironic is that none of the situations she sings about are ironic. ‘Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?’