Writing lyrics: how to weave ambiguity into your songs to create well-crafted lyrics

Are you constantly trying to find new ways to keep your songs interesting and your ideas fresh? That’s what I thought. A great tool that you can use to do this is ambiguity in your writing.

Let’s go over some ideas on how to do this with a great example, in the song, “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon.

The ambiguity of “using someone”

Here are the lyrics of the first three verses:

I’ve been wandering forever looking down at everything I see

Painted faces fill the places I can’t reach

You know i can use someone

You know i can use someone

Someone like you, and everything you know and how you speak

Countless lovers under the cover of the street

You know i can use someone

You know i can use someone

Someone like You

Out of the night while you live it I’m going to sleep

Making wars to shake the poet and the beat

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

If you read those lines, there is an implication of prostitution, or at least senseless sexual encounters. Lines like “countless lovers under the cover of the street” and “outside at night while you live it, I’m going to sleep” seem to bring that point home. These are ideas that would definitely lend themselves to the concept of “using someone”. Use someone physically and then move on.

On the other hand, even with all that information in the verses that point to this meaning, our minds tend to gravitate towards the idea of ​​”I can use someone significant in my life.” Which, oddly enough, is practically the exact opposite of the implied “use and release” meaning. So our brains are already grappling with this adorable contrast that makes such good use of this line. It really can be understood both ways in these verses. And this also lends itself to the idea provided in the lyrics.

If we weren’t convinced that our meaning of “I can really use someone worthwhile” was not at stake here, we can see that it comes out strongly in verse three, when lines like “I hope you get noticed / Someone like I. There is now a clear contrast to the concept of “physically use them” in lyrical content.

So they have done a great job of using a double or ambiguous meaning here. It is probably the reason why they named the song “Use Somebody”, although the phrase “Someone like you” is the one that appears the most in the chorus. Interesting stuff. But what’s even better is that they haven’t finished …

The ambiguity of “Someone like me”

Let’s review the third verse:

Out of the night while you live it I’m going to sleep

Making wars to shake the poet and the beat

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

I hope it’s gonna make you notice

Someone like me

Someone like me

Someone like me, someone

Even the phrase “Someone like me” has ambiguous tones. What is implicit in the preceding lines is “someone who is like me … someone like me.” Or less subtly, “I”.

That seems to be the main meaning implied here, BUT it can also mean: “SOMEONE please like me or love me. Do you see that? It’s a different meaning than I introduced in the previous paragraph. But it also applies in lyrics of this song.

So the letter progression could be saying this:

(I have capitalized the words demanding emphasis)

1. I hope it makes you notice

2. Someone like ME

3. Someone like me …

However, in other words:

1. I hope it makes you notice

2. I

3. Will nobody like me?

So again, ambiguity makes its way into some nifty lyrics. And twice in one song! Score!

What is the CORRECT meaning? Or is it both? Interesting stuff.

Ambiguity vs. Vagueness

As you saw, letter writing ambiguity can be a very cool trick, if you do it right. But I don’t want you to confuse ambiguity with vagueness. They may look similar, but they are not. Ambiguity has a clearly defined purpose, while vagueness does not.

Ambiguity implies being open to interpretation between a few perceived options, while vague is simply open. Ambiguity puts multiple meanings side by side. You saw how ambiguity works, with the Kings of Leon examples above. The best way to explain being lazy is to refer to Facebook, rather than a second song … “Huh?” Questions. Stay with me, I’m going somewhere with this …

You know how you have that friend on Facebook who posts completely vague stuff, because he hopes to get a response from his friends? … They will say things like “wow, that made me sad”. Without any context. That is vague. It is a world of difference with ambiguity. Ambiguity has a plan. If you write vague songs, you won’t be able to connect with your listeners. The proof is in the Facebook posts. So the next time you write a letter that you think may be vague, ask yourself if that’s something your annoying friend would have posted on Facebook in hopes of getting some answers. Observe your own response (or lack thereof). If you’re feeling lazy, you may want to rethink your lines. Writing lyrics is about conveying emotions and evoking images that the listener can identify with. Vagueness CANNOT do that, by its very definition.

Ambiguity requires thought, planning, and a well-crafted idea. Vagueness takes away the lack of all that.

test it

Writing ambiguous lines can be difficult to tackle. It’s definitely not something that comes to mind in every song. And if so, you are quickly on your way to becoming a world-famous lyricist.

So what I would recommend would be to keep track of possible phrases that can be understood in more than one way. When you hear a phrase like this in everyday conversation, such as “use someone,” write it down in a draft letter file that you can reference for later use. Then, when it’s time to write lyrics, you can flip through your lines to see if something fits your current idea of ​​the song.

Or, if the last phrase you found inspires you so much, just try making a song out of it right away. You will always do your best to act immediately on your inspirations, while they are fresh in your mind.

Whatever your strategy, incorporating this idea into your songs will give your songs a good chance to be very interesting to your listeners. And that is what they are looking for.

Next time, I will comment on how Kings of Leon chose to accentuate their words in the ambiguous phrase “someone like me” and how that affected the message of the song.