Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Secret Life of Avril Lavigne's "Push"


     Tuesday was a very special day for me. It was the official release of Avril Lavigne's fourth studio album, Goodbye Lullaby.  My idol of 10 years had finally returned to her roots after a long hiatus.
     Now, I must admit, I was highly skeptical about this record. Sure, there was talk on the street that Avril would be going back to her old style with the new album, but the lead single, "What the Hell", was a bomb of a disappointment that left me dreading the rest. It's an obvious sell-out piece, trying to capture the semi 80's pop, square-sounding arrangements and chanted linear melodies a la Katy Perry and Ke$ha. That, and it's not the healing, epiphany-arousing beauty that Avril is capable of (to put it plainly, it's a song about being a slut). The fact that her label made her put this processed, preservative-filled piece of fast food on an otherwise organic and nourishing album is appalling to me. Alas, the pitfalls of the music industry.
     One of my favorite songs off Goodbye Lullaby is "Push" (others are "Wish You Were Here" and "Everybody Hurts"). "Push" is an extremely emotional and well-crafted song about what a waste it is when couples who truly love each other fight.
     When I discuss the secret life of "Push", I obviously can't know it like I know my own songs. For example, I don't know what sparked the idea, what section was written first, etc. But I can analyze it and tell you all why I think it is working and how we might be intuitively processing the very obvious craft here.
     One thing that makes this a grabbing song is how wonderfully quickly the chorus comes in. Many of Avril's old songs had a pre-chorus, which is absent here. This is part of the current aesthetic in pop music. When "Complicated" came out, which had a very long intro, double first verse, and pre-chorus, the aesthetic in pop was that the song would take you on a gradual journey and prepare you for the hook. This recipe has changed. The idea now is that the hook is everything, and the verses are only there because they have to be. And it's all about immediate changes now; nothing wants to happen gradually anymore. What better way to serve this aesthetic than to slam-dunk the listener right into the chorus without warning?
     Along with the absence of a pre-chorus, the verse has the illusion of whizzing by for another reason - there's no space in the melody. It's basically an ongoing list of thoughts; stream of consciousness. The anticipation is heightened even further by the lines in the verse all stopping (very briefly) mid-sentence, like so:

"Been seein' too much of you lately and you're
starting to get on my nerves this is
exactly what happened last time and it's
not what we deserve, it's a
waste of my time lately and I'm
running out of words..."

     If the lyrics had been laid out differently, the verses would not possess the impatience and uncontained energy that is the livelihood of this song.
     It's clear that a quick verse was a wise move when one hears the chorus. It's positively bursting with emotion. The first line, "Maybe you should just shut up" is delightfully bold and unrestrained, and what's more, these somewhat taboo words are chosen incredibly wisely and have never been better used in a song. She's not telling her boyfriend to shut up because he's annoying to listen to; it's much deeper. She's telling him to put a cork in it because he's risking ruining their relationship. And when she comes in with the line, she's drastically higher in her register and has a brattier tone to her voice. Your brain's subconscious translation: "Enter young woman arguing with her boyfriend." Fittingly, there is silence after the peacemaking line, "...cause this is love", a mid-point in the chorus which also marks the first time we hear real space. And then there's the literal sound of the words. Most pop choruses will rhyme more than one sound, but not this one. "Push" rhymes the "uh" sound for its entire duration - "Just shut up, tough, love, comes, shove, us, love." The consistency is refreshing, and the impact of the "uh" with all the rests gives the melody a percussive power.
     I haven't listened to the rest of the album enough yet to determine whether it has the staying power of her first two. I, for one, am still adjusting to this trend of purposeful clutter in pop music. For the most part, I'm not feeling the new lack of space. "Push", however, utilizes this technique so well and with such relevance to the lyrical content that I just may learn to like it.

- Jill <3



  1. The lyrics don't make sense. In the verses, all she's doing is complaining. "You spend too much time with me." "You better not fuck up or I'm leaving" "I'm gonna see what else is out there" etc. etc. then the chorus goes "when push comes to shove it's gonna take both of us" Where did COMPROMISE come into this? The guy seems happy enough putting up with this girl's bratty entitled bullcrap. What is SHE doing wrong? Why is it going to take "both of them?" Sounds to me from the verses HE's the one who needs to change.

    Also the bridge... WHY would she sing "we can start over" and " we need to get CLOSER" You just spent 2 verses telling me he was TOO close... oh wait... "over" and "closer" are popular assonant rhymes!!! I stand corrected... I mean.. you GOTTA have a RHYME!

    This is an arbitrary vomitous stream of pop cliches thrown in a blender. I don't feel anything "emotional" going on here. For all your adverbs, Jill, nothing is done "incredibly wisely" or "fittingly" You can't just write a lyric and SAY it's fitting. HOW is it fitting? As I've just demonstrated, it doesn't make any kind of common sense!! You keep saying it's "emotional." How is that word useful? Besides saying "she sings really high," how does this song make you feel "emotional?" WHAT emotions?

  2. Often in game development I hear people say "We should do X because it's fun!" The word "Fun" in games is similar to the word "emotional" in music - both are something that happens that mean that the game/song SUCCEEDED... it's not something you can just choose to put into the song or game. So to say that you like a song because it's emotional is to say "I like it because I like it".

  3. Blake,

    With all due respect, I think you are ruining your ability to possibly enjoy this song by placing it under a microscope from the very beginning. I don't see why she can't spend the whole verse complaining, and then in the chorus admit that it will "take the both of [them]". And I don't think that most listeners would find this confusing unless they used the magnifying glass that you use. I never use a magnifying glass in the beginning. I listen to the whole thing overall first, as a music lover, not as a musician, before I judge. Even the greatest paintings are just blurry brushstrokes if you look at them too closely.

    As far as the bridge goes, I thought it was a pretty popular and respected move to show a different side of the character. Obviously, by introducing a male singer, they're trying to show his point of view and then she's agreeing with him (the other side of her character) when she chimes in in the next octave. I don't see why there can't be conflicting emotions in both the the speaker and her boyfriend. I mean, most people have conflicting emotions, especially in relationships. It's usually not black and white. The song is still about the same topic - couples' arguments.

    I wouldn't say this is arbitrary, and I think I made my point in my post about why the lyrics are fitting. These lyrics, as with many pop songs, are less about the actual words and more about the way they are laid out (as I said, stopping mid-sentence to show it's her stream-of-consciousness laundry list of problems with him). There could have been more in these lyrics. For example, "been seeing too much of you lately" and "a waste of my time lately" are basically the same thing repeated twice, so there's a missed opportunity there. But that's definitely not enough to ruin the song for me overall.

    I think you answered for yourself what the emotional content is here. She's conflicted. She's fed up of him, yet she wants to resolve their problems because it's gonna take the both of them to get through life, and for gods sakes, "baby, this is love." The fact that line is in the chorus and is the line that ends the song implies that this is the side of her inner conflict that she is gravitating more towards.

    I'm not sure if I'm getting the point you're trying to make here, but I never claimed this to be a completely unbiased critique. I think it would benefit you both to be able to relax every now and then and actually say, "I like it because I like it." It's not a crime, and certainly doesn't make you any less of a musician.

  4. "With all due respect, I think you are ruining your ability to possibly enjoy this song by placing it under a microscope from the very beginning."

    Wasn't that the *point* of your blog post?

    "I think it would benefit you both to be able to relax every now and then and actually say, I like it because I like it"

    I can do that. It's just that this is a blog about songwriting, and you posted an analysis of a work. We posted our thoughts as well. And now it's fair for you to say that we need to learn to stop being critical?

    Couldn't we have just left that comment for you as well?

  5. The lyrics don't make sense. The verses are only complaints. That tells the listener it's the guy's fault and not hers. The second verse is the same thing. The chorus says "maybe you should shut up, because it's going to take both of us, this is love." THAT suggests SHE's trying to make it work and he's stepping out of line despite her best efforts. THIS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!! You can ramble on about how I'm supposed to just listen without paying attention, but you haven't demonstrated how they DO make sense. The bridge can show another dimension, yes. But it should still be clear and make logical sense. The bridge introduces the third contradiction which is "let's start over, and get closer. (again, OPPOSITE to her stated desires in the same song) even if that's from the "guy's" perspective, she seems to agree when she chimes in. Makes...NO...SENSE. It doesn't take a microscope to see it, just a set of ears with no BIAS. Jill, it's patently clear that the lyrical choices here are arbitrary and are there for the sake of rhymes, and for the sake of "pop song-sounding lyrics" strewn together aimlessly. She's not "conflicted," she's schitzophrenic. This song makes no sense and it's pretty clear.

  6. I think you misunderstood me.

    I am all for analyzing songs, but I decide if I like something before I analyze it. I think you guys listen to stuff and ask yourself, "*Should* I like this?" before you allow yourself to like it, since you tend to want justification for *everything*. Maybe I'm wrong. Please correct me if I have made an unfair assumption.

  7. No, it doesn't tell the listener it's the guy's fault. It tells the listener what *her perspective* is, which is that it's his fault. Since when does a speaker's perspective have to be accurate in a song?

    I don't see how "let's start over and get closer" in the bridge can't coexist with the "just shut up" in the chorus. Plenty of relationships are like that. One minute you're telling your partner to shut up, the next you want to start over. I think that demonstrates (as you requested) how these lyrics can contradict each other, yet still be describing the same situation.

    You also don't seem to acknowledge what I said that often, pop lyrics, as they are here, are more about the layout than they are about the content. She too consistently pauses mid-sentence for it to be arbitrary, even if she did do this intuitively. You're probably going to tell me that writers who write based on intuition are arbitrary, like, um, John Lennon.

    As far as bias goes, you keep mentioning complaints in the song. I sense *you* have a bias against songs where girls whine.