tremble clef

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sugababes, "About You Now" (2007)

Youtube is of course littered with bad video of bad singers singing their bad favorites badly, so it's a minor miracle to see something that isn't shit. Here, a woman nicknamed Giftofmelody performs an abbreviated version of the new Sugababes single, "About You Now," and the result is quite mesmerizing. It's entirely possible that I played the video on a loop a few evenings ago.

The charms of her rendition aren't mysterious. She sings the song as a ballad, backed only by a piano; consequently, its melancholy nature emerges more clearly. Her voice has the kind of tremulous fragility that lends itself perfectly to the rueful song, and even the way the top of her head remains a bit out of frame makes the whole thing extra endearing. But what I love most is the way Giftofmelody changes the structure of the song, for the better. Perhaps she only meant to reduce the song to a more bite-size morsel for impatient netizens, but whatever the reason, she gives us only a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, a second verse, pre-chorus, and then the middle eight -- and, in the process, the song goes from good to great.

There's already an emerging opinion on the interwebs that the middle eight is the best part of the song (whose lyric is here) -- the most melodically beautiful, perhaps. Indeed, because the Sugababes' version is (1) produced by Dr Luke, and (2) is very Dr Lukesque, the song's distractors have faulted it for reminding them too much of Kelly Clarkson, Pink, or The Veronicas. The similarities don't bother me that much, but even I can't help but wish that Xenomania had taken over the production. Given their proclivities, I can see them shuffling the parts and maybe ending "About You Now," as Giftofmelody did, with the middle eight.

But back in the non-fantasy world, we have this Youtube version to thank for underlining more emphatically the stroke of genius that is the middle eight. And its genius lies not just in its gorgeous melody, but because it contains two...I suppose we could loosely call them "mistakes," though they are hauntological mistakes that deepen the song for me.

The first "mistake" has to do with tenses. The opening lines of the middle eight go, "not a day passed me by, not a day passed me by/When I don't think about you," but the tenses in that couplet are all wrong. If the point of the song is that the narrator now knows that she loves him, and she thinks about him everyday (as the second line confirms), then it's strange that the days when she thinks about him have stopped passing her by. Of course, the "logical" reason for the slip is that the correct tense -- "not a day passes me by" -- won't scan, but the 'Babes could have gotten around the problem by simply singing "not a day passes by." If we therefore take the lines seriously, they instead suggest that she has now stopped thinking about him -- not because she no longer loves him, but because her pining can no longer have any effect.

Indeed, what the middle eight does is disrupt the time scheme of the song, which had hitherto seemed straightforward. They essentially raise the possibility that the song takes place at a moment in the "future." Prior to the middle eight, we understand the track to allude to two time periods. (1) In the first, our narrator is "dumb" and "wrong," because she didn't love him. (2) But she "now" knows how she feels about him, and this second time frame is supposedly the one of the song.

But the middle eight suddenly reveals that the "now" may not really be now, because the days of obsessively thinking about him are in the past. For a moment, whether intended or not, we are in a future moment when it's all over. He's gone. There's no happy ending. Not only can she not bring Time #1 back around, but even Time #2 -- which was at least a time of hope -- devastatingly turns out to be in the past.

Not that our narrator admits this hopelessness; indeed, what makes the song moving is the way she can't admit this. We fathom this in the second oddity of the middle eight, which has to do with a ghostly rhyme. The third line of the middle eight goes like this: "And there's no moving on/Cause I know you're the one." The rhyme, you'll notice, is not perfect; at best, "on" and "one" are half-rhymes. That would be unremarkable, if weren't for the fact that there is a much more obvious word that could have been used to rhyme with "on": "gone." "And there's no moving on/Though I know that you're gone," for example, would make more sense and scan perfectly. In fact, the first few times I heard the song, I think my mind supplied that much more natural rhyme, and in that sense it may not be too fanciful to say that the middle eight is haunted by the specter of a rhyme it can't admit.

Once she didn't love him. Then she knew how she felt about him. She tried to bring time back around, but he's gone. She spent days and days thinking about him. She still says that she does, except for the moments when a slipped tense, and an absent rhyme, reveal the fruitlessness of that gesture. And in everything that isn't said lies her heartbreak, and mine.


  • Haha. I bet whoever wrote the song just didn't think of using "gone" instead of "one". It's funny how those imperfect rhymes can often make a song a lot more interesting. Your post reminded me of how I eventually got to love that monday/funky rhyme in Girls Aloud's "A Whole Lotta History".

    By Blogger daavid, at 1:25 PM  

  • Yes, "Funky Monday" really should be an ice-cream flavor.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 10:13 AM  

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