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Writing Mean Songs

I recently went through a breakup. So of course I’m writing a song about it. (Not of course — getting back into songwriting is a new thing for me! I’m not taking it for granted.) I’m grateful to have this outlet again. I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s like singing self-preservation back into myself.

The song is good. It’s biting and surprisingly peppy. But boy, is it mean. And for that reason, I’m having a hard time finishing it. I can’t keep my brain from thinking ten steps ahead to when (if) I have to perform it.

We all love a good, mean breakup song when we hear it on the radio — “You Oughta Know,” “Irreplaceable,” “F*ck/Forget You.” But what does it seem like when it’s coming from someone you know? Will my friends cheer along with me? Will they take this angry one-sided tirade as the definitive account of a genuinely meaningful relationship? The song is meant to be funny, but will it come across that way or just petty and pathetic?

And then there’s the question of my ex hearing it. I suppose it’s easy to say whatever you want if you expect to never see your ex again, but I want to be friends with this person eventually. I can’t imagine being friends with someone who repeatedly sang these things about me in public, even if it was done with mucho creative license.

At what point do we have to curtail our creativity to preserve our relationships? I usually describe songwriting as an intense, exaggerated distillation of an emotion that I can put into a box of a song and then be done with in my day-to-day life. The things I write are both real and not real. But songs don’t always come across that way to other people. I’ve had to do a lot of explaining of songs after I’ve realized how offensive they are to people I care about.

I’m wondering if having this form of expression is even worth it if it’s going to complicate my real life. But I started writing this song for a reason. Being angry with someone you’re pining for puts a ceiling on your level of despair. Playing the parts of it I have completed has majorly cheered me up. And I have plenty of songs that I’ve scrapped and never perform live.

My solution to this paralysis? Just think about this song as being for me. Once it’s finished, I can decide how to incorporate it into my real life relationships beyond my head. And if people start asking for a little “You Oughta Know” schadenfreude — well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Published in Projects


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  2. […] have song ideas that are things other than sad: happy, biting, goofy. But it seems to be that before I can finish one of these songs, my Inner Critic shows up to […]

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