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Megan Carter Final Paper

Page history last edited by Megan Carter 7 years, 6 months ago

Mapping Lyrical Sentiment

By Megan Carter, Team 3a


     The Mapping Lyrical Sentiment group initially faced a number of challenges in honing their focus, but the element that brought them together was a love for music and poetry. One way they felt these two mediums could be combined in a way that made sense was by closely analyzing song lyrics. There were certain reasons for this choice. In addition to other aspects of literature, such as characters, plot, and various literary devices, location is an all-important detail. Analyzing where a piece of literature was composed gives invaluable insight for better understanding the content of that literary work, such as when and why it was composed. Location sets the overall scene and thus has the ability to influence other critical aspects of a piece of literature. Consequently, it cannot be ignored and what’s more, it shouldn’t be.   


     With this in mind, this group developed the objective of their project, which was to analyze the sentiment in songs that met the conditions set for the project. There was an initial belief held by the group members that although song lyrics are a prominent form of expression in music of today’s society, often times there is no action taken to separate them from the strictly musical elements of a song, and perhaps more crucially, they are not analyzed for their individual power. Hence, the goal was to better understand how different geographical locations impact both the composition of lyrics and the sentiment produced in these lyrics, and to potentially see if any discrepancies arose from this comparison. This essay will focus primarily on this process, and moreover, how these cities were chosen, the way they were analyzed, what conclusions they yielded, and improvements that could have been made to the project.


     During the individual stages of the course, each group member took a liking to the StoryMap program and Sentiment Analysis tool, for their ability to represent certain concepts visually and to recognize sentiment throughout various mediums. Therefore, it was in the group’s best interest to use these tools, as they felt the tools would purposefully add to a primarily auditory medium. The lyrics chosen for the project were taken from songs of any genre, and were to be titled after one of the three largest cities in two designated states. Originally, the group members were ambitious and wanted to analyze lyrics from songs written about cities all over the world, but given the limited amount of time they had, that proved to be nearly impossible. After narrowing their focus to be songs written about cities within the United States, the members discussed a desire to potentially analyze the difference between east and west coast cities. Furthermore, each member expressed their belief that California and New York fairly represented the east and west coasts, so the members researched the three most populous cities in each state. This yielded the following results: Brooklyn, Manhattan and New York City in New York, and Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego in California. The intention behind this process of selection was the idea that if these cities are the most populous, chances are more songs are composed about them. And even so, the group members themselves, when thinking of each state, naturally thought of these cities as being the major cities of each respective state, which comforted them in their decision to analyze them.


     The group members then devised a process of song selection. As both had prior experience with Spotiy, they chose this device to find songs titled with the name of the each city. Spotify’s search engine capability is not random, as it produces a list of the song that is being searched, with the most popular song listed at the top, followed by the second most popular, third most popular, and so on. These songs are ranked by the number of plays they have received in Spotify, which is essentially how the program configures the list. For the purposes of this project, the first six songs produced from this search, were chosen for analysis, as the group felt that was a fair amount of songs to get a general idea of how the city is talked about. To the group’s surprise, a number of the songs in the top search results were by popular artists who both group members had known of previously, and who have a significantly strong presence in the musical world within their respective genres.


     In total, there were 18 songs analyzed from each coast, but for the purposes of this essay, the east coast and cities of Brooklyn, New York City and Manhattan will be examined. Overall, New York City and Manhattan produced a positive sentiment via the Sentiment Analysis tool, while Brooklyn produced a negative sentiment. New York City was characterized as a place where ultimately anything can happen, and where certain things can come to life. Additionally, this city is spoken about as being one of a kind. Such examples of this attitude include: “New York, you’re perfect, please don’t change a thing”, lyrics from a song by LCD Soundsystem, and “All my senses come to life”, by Urban Cone. Many artists make very clear their intense love for the city, a view they have because of their direct experience with it. However, despite the positive overall sentiment New York produced as a city, many dark lyrics were also found in the body of lyrics, not necessarily because of the city itself, but because of bad things that had happened to the artist in relation to the city, naturally influencing their word choice and as a result, their lyrics. This is exemplified in The Boxer Rebellion’s song with the lyrics “And distance leaves a bitter taste, when you’re gone, when you’re gone, in New York”. Clearly, this artist may not have a great deal of experience with the city, but it is a sad place in their heart because it took their significant other from them. Oddly, this also indirectly expresses the appeal of the city.


     Manhattan was perhaps the most intriguing city to analyze, for its ability to produce an overall positive sentiment, but to have such a wide variety of lyrics. As seen in New York City, the notion of personal relationships was also explored in the lyrics of songs composed about Manhattan. But, on a more fundamental and emotionally neutral level, there was much talk of certain landmarks in Manhattan, like in Blossom Dearie’s song, as she sings “And tell me what compares with Mott Street in July” and more generally, “The great big city’s a wondrous toy”. Clearly, this brings great joy to the jazz singer, as she is absolutely delighted in her delivery of the song. One song of great interest is Sara Bareilles’ “Manhattan”, as she sings “You can have Manhattan, the one we used to share, the one where we were laughing, and drunk on just being there”. Evidently, Manhattan was once a place she shared with someone she loved very much, but after their split from each other, it became too difficult to be physically present there because of the memories she formed with her significant other. Overall, the lyrics of songs about Manhattan were about very different things, but inherently linked to the emotions produced from someone’s experiences within the city.


     Altogether, Brooklyn saw the most extreme mashup of sentiment, but overall produced a negative sentiment. Brooklyn is intensely sung about as being someone’s home, a place they are happy to be from, and proud to live in. This is epitomized in Mos Def’s song with the following: “Sometimes I feel like my only friend is the city I live in, is beautiful Brooklyn, long as I live here, believe I’m on fire, B-R-O-O-K is the place where I stay, B-R-O-O-K best in the world and all the USA”. Rather than discussing specific attributes of the city, Mos Def holds the belief that his “beautiful Brooklyn” will always have his back, and that this is the direct result of his taking the initiative to make something out of the city. Catey Shaw, in her track “Brooklyn Girls” shares a similar perspective to Mos Def, as she uses the city to develop her identity. In her song, she sings: “Brooklyn Girls, when they walk in they rule the world, Brooklyn girls, tough and pretty, break the rules”. Obviously, the city has given Catey a sense of self-confidence, and has generously contributed to her identity, something that is always with her, even as she travels elsewhere. This points to one commonality amongst all songs that were chosen for analysis, and are not specific to just one place: generally, a physical place serves to enhance the experience of the person who is in that place, rather than certain places containing in them certain experiences. This held true for nearly all places, both in cities on the east and west coast.  


     The other half of this project, for reasons of comparison, was an analysis of 12 songs titled “home”. The motivation for this comparison was to see if there existed any significant distinction between songs that explicitly mention a city or specific location versus the more vague concept of “home”. Moreover, the desire to understand places in a more complex way was additional motivation. This hypothesis was upheld during the course of the project. The first 12 songs produced from a Spotify search of the word “home” were chosen for analysis and plotted using StoryMap, based on the town where each artist was from. Many of the same views of home were consistently upheld. It was less about geographical location, and more about how the place made a person feel. Their “home”, wherever that may be, molded their observation of, participation in, and involvement with the world they lived in. For instance, Three Days Grace sings, very angrily, “this house is not a home”, an interesting juxtaposition, underlining the idea that a house is not always a home. Contrastly, Dierks Bentley patriotically sings “It’s been a long hard ride, got a ways to go, but this is still the place, that we all call home” stressing the freedom of the United States, and his overwhelming to pride to be an American citizen and live in the free land of the United States.


     The points plotted for the “home” StoryMap, including the two mentioned above, were in various locations globally. This group felt that making a map for these points was useful particularly to encourage a certain reaction in the viewer as they looked at the map, hopefully to find that despite the geographical location, “home” can be anywhere, as it is more about the feelings they encounter when in this place, and less about where this place actually is. These results were thus much different than the other portion of the project that explored similar themes, but rather, how these themes are felt by an artist in a certain location. The general assumption made for this portion of the project is that “home” is a place that produces many of the same feelings in different individuals, such as feelings of comfort, love, belonging, identity; basically, that it is more than just a place where someone makes their living. In this way, the notion of “home” can and is very broad, and is contingent on the experiences of the individual person.


     Something that was thought about from start to finish is the question everyone traditionally avoids but which should not be feared: why is this important? Why does this matter? Above all, the chief accomplishment of this project was its ability to pose important questions, much like these, about the subject matter and literary works: song lyrics. Although the sentiment tool was remarkably useful for its ability to quickly analyze the changes in sentiment in each song, it often lacks the ability to closely analyze the content of a song and thus produce an accurate overall sentiment. So while this project certainly did not introduce anything radically new, it does offer a unique method for analyzing bodies of literature in the future, whether they be song lyrics, novels, articles, etc. This holistic approach is feasible for analyzing much more literature than was once thought possible, especially with the help of new digital humanistic tools, that offer visual and sentimental elements, among many others, that were not used for this project, but certainly could have been. Human examination is important, especially of things that are essential to human existence, such as geographical location. Having a deeper understanding of these things, at the hands of literature, and better understanding how they express these ideas, is the ultimate goal, and one this project sought to contribute to and improve.


     Music specifically is a very powerful tool for understanding place, because it is such a large cultural indicator, and because it generates spaces for people to build their own fantasy, in the same way a novel does. Thus, although music is a different experience for everyone, in the same way they experience location differently, it is still a relatable medium for all. In conclusion, this project worked to cultivate the auditory experience that is music and add both visual and tangible elements to it, so that a consumer of the project could potentially gain an understanding of why places are sung about and such an important part of culture. In short, it is important to talk about these things and themes, because in some form, everyone can relate to them, especially if they are being produced through the medium of music. The sentiment extracted from these songs is useful to everyone because it helps to support new ways of thinking about a place.





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