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Bad Horse


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Oct
19th
2015

Show vs. Tell in MLP songs · 1:39am Oct 19th, 2015

Back in 2013 and 2014, I wrote a lot of posts about showing and telling. Forget the subtleties for now. Here are the basics:

- "Showing" means depicting concrete actions, places, or things, or using poetic metaphors that are vivid and communicate more precisely than an equal number of words of literal description could.

- "Good telling" means explaining things in detail or at an appropriate level of specificity, describing things that are physically present, or referring to events that just happened.

- "Bad telling" means lazy summarizing, being overly vague, using clichéd or vague metaphors, re-describing something you've already described without adding anything, or just describing something incorrectly. Anything whose meaning, once resolved [1], applies to dozens of other situations as well as to the one at hand, or fails to add any new information, is bad telling.


[1] I say "once resolved" because what matters is not the literal text string written, but its meaning to the reader.

Jordi remembered he'd forgotten to take out the trash. He felt a little bad about that now.

is bad telling, because "he felt a little bad" is a vague and common descriptor.

Jordi remembered he'd eaten Loni's baby. He felt a little bad about that now.

is not bad telling, because the strangeness of feeling "a little bad" for eating someone's baby is uncommon, and says a lot about Jordi. It's like Hemingway's shortest story, "For sale: Baby shoes. Never used." The implications, not the words, are what counts.


This is telling:

After moving to Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle missed Princess Celestia a great deal.

This is mostly telling, with some showing:

Each morning, Twilight brewed herself a cup of tea, just like Princess Celestia used to brew for them both back in Canterlot. She didn't even drink it; she didn't like tea. But the scent of it helped her remember those happy days.

This is showing:

Twilight stares at the two cups, steam gently rising above them in two narrow wreaths which, buffeted by an errant gust of wind, twirl together. She closes her eyes and inhales. She holds that breath as long as she can, unwilling to let go. At length, she can bear it no longer and lets it all out in one long shudder. She then grasps the teacups in her telekinesis and gently tips them over into the sink.

--from "Twilight Sparkle Makes a Cup of Tea" by GhostOfHeraclitus

Now compare these bits of dialogue. Where do they fall between showing and telling? I've highlighted what I think is showing and good telling in blue, and blatant bad telling in red.

"Now, here's where the magic happens. Right here in this heaving, roiling, cider-press-boiling guts of the very machine, those apples plucked fresh are right now as we speak being turned into grade-A, top-notch, five-star, blow-your-horseshoes-off, one-of-a-kind cider!"
"Now wait, you fellers, hold it! You went and over-sold it! I guarantee that what you have there won't compare. For the very most important ingredient can't be added or done expedient. And it's quality, friends, Apple Acres' quality and care!"

"This day is going to be perfect, the kind of day of which I've dreamed since I was small. Everypony will gather 'round, say I look lovely in my gown. What they don't know is that I've fooled them all!"
"This day was going to be perfect--the kind of day of which I've dreamed since I was small. But instead of having cake with all my friends to celebrate, my wedding bells may not ring for me at all…"

A true friend helps a friend in need. A friend will be there to help you see the light that shines from a true friend. Would you try? Just give it a chance! You might find that you'll start to understand. Pinkie Pie is in trouble! We need to get there by her side. We can try to do what we can now. Together we can be her guide. The townspeople need her. They've been sad for a while. They march around, face a-frown, and never seem to smile.

I didn't fool you, did I? Those are lines from MLP songs. The first has some red in it, but that's because Flim and Flam are supposed to speak in glib generalities when praising their product. The song has glib language on it, but it viscerally brings you into the dialogue about the machine and its cider.

If you skipped over the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 song, you'd have a hard time understanding the episode. That's the most-distinguishing mark of a great musical, like those by Gilbert and Sullivan, Oscar and Hammerstein, or Stephen Sondheim: its songs advance the plot and change the characters. You wouldn't understand what had happened if you missed the songs [2].


[2] I'm not counting operas, like Andrew Lloyd Weber writes, which have very little or no speaking.


"This Day" is a more-typical Ingram mix of showing and bad telling. If you skipped over the "This Day" aria, or nearly any song in an MLP episode, you could still figure out what was happening. And "A True, True Friend" is the nearly 100%-pure bad-telling that he pumps out when he has to write a bunch of songs for a single episode, like "Magical Mystery Cure" and "Crusaders of the Lost Mark".

Poetically, the songs in those two episodes are cold porridge. They are a mash of clichés, vague or inappropriate metaphors, vague descriptions, and unimaginative restatements of things we already know.

I have a suspicion that it goes further than this--that original, vivid lyrics make it easier to write original, vivid music. Some people write the music first, of course, but good music and good lyrics seem to go together more often than chance.

More songs from "Magical Mystery Cure"

"Celestia's Ballad"

You've come such a long, long way
And I've watched you from that very first day
To see how you might grow
To see what you might do
To see what you've been through
And all the ways you've made me proud of you
It's time now for a new change to come
You've grown up and your new life has begun
To go where you will go
To see what you will see
To find what you will be
For it's time for you to fulfill your destiny

"Life in Equestria"

Life in Equestria shimmers
Life in Equestria shines
And I know for absolute certain
That everything (everything)
Yes, everything
Yes, everything is certainly fine
It’s fine
Yes! Everything’s going to be just fine!

Songs from "Crusaders of the Lost Mark"

"The Vote"

It's time to make a change
This is our chance
Don't be afraid to do what's right
(He's it! Vote for Pip!)
We got an opportunity
To have fun again
A vote for Pip, and you can join the fight
It's time for a new leader
It's time to make a change
We're here to fight for what we believe
(Vote for Pip!)
It's finally time we beat her
And play a better game
'Cause when we vote together
There's nothing that we can't achieve


"The Pony I Want to Be"

If I'm a diamond
Then why do I feel so rough?
I'm as strong as a stone
Even that's not enough
There's something jagged in me
And I've made such mistakes
I thought that diamonds were hard
Though I feel I could break
Would you believe
That I've always wished I could be somepony else?
Yet I can't see
What I need to do to be the pony I want to be
I've been told my whole life
What to do, what to say
Nopony showed me that
There might be some better way
And now I feel like I'm lost
I don't know what to do
The ground is sinking away
I'm about to fall through
Would you believe
That I've always wished I could be somepony else?
Yet I can't see
What I need to do to be the pony I want to be
To be the pony I want to be


"Light of Your Cutie Mark"

Stop! This is not the answer
Wait! And it's plainly seen
Listen! You can redeem yourself
But by helping others, not by being mean
We know you want friends who admire you
You want to be the star with all the power too
But there's a better way, there's a better wa-a-ay
There's so much more still left to
Learn about yourself
See the light that shines in you
We know you can be somepony else
You can stop right now
And try another start
You'll finally free yourself from the dark
And see the light
And see the light of your cutie mark


"We'll Make Our Marks"

We started out just three
Crusaders driven to see
What we find in our hearts
Discover our destiny
And here we are, best friends
About to start it again
An adventure that never will end
We'll make our mark
Helping fillies most in need
We'll make our mark
So each one of them succeeds
'Cause the ultimate reward is a cutie mark!

Here are excerpts from songs with good lyrics:

"Space Oddity" by David Bowie

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?

I highlighed "And there's nothing I can do" in blue instead of red. "There's nothing I can do" is vague. "Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do" means Major Tom has existential despair, an all-encompassing sense of futility. Like the baby-eater above, it means more in context. It's deliberate, not lazy.

The last train is nearly due
The underground is closing soon
And in the dark deserted station
Restless in anticipation
A man waits in the shadows

His restless eyes leap and scratch
At all that they can touch or catch
And hidden deep within his pocket
Safe within his silent socket
He holds a colored crayon

--from "A Poem on the Underground Wall" by Paul Simon

"Bell Boy" by The Who

The beach is a place where a man can feel
He's the only soul in the world that's real
Well I see a face coming through the haze
I remember him from those crazy days

I've got a good job, and I'm newly born
You should see me dressed up in my uniform
I work in a hotel, all gilt and flash
Remember the place where the doors we smashed?

Bell Boy! I got to keep running now
Bell Boy! Keep my lip buttoned down
Bell Boy! Carry the bloody baggage out
Bell Boy! Always running at someone's heel
You know how I feel, always running at someone's heel

Some nights I still sleep on the beach
Remember when stars were in reach
Then I wander in early to work
Spend the day licking boots for my perks

People often change
But when I look in your eyes
You could learn a lot from a job like mine
The secret to me isn't flown like a flag
I carry it behind this bleedin' little badge
What says...

Bell Boy!

Partyin', partyin' (Yeah)
Partyin', partyin' (Yeah)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin' forward to the weekend

7:45, we're drivin' on the highway
Cruisin' so fast, I want time to fly
Fun, fun, think about fun
You know what it is
I got this, you got this
My friend is by my right, ay
I got this, you got this
Now you know it

Kickin' in the front seat
Sittin' in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?

It's Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody's lookin' forward to the weekend, weekend

--"Friday" by Rebecca Black

I always knew you were the best
The coolest girl I know
So prettier than all the rest
The star of my show
So many times I wished
You'd be the one for me
But never knew you'd get like this
Girl what you do to me

[Pre-chorus:]
You're who I'm thinking of
Girl you ain't my runner up
And no matter what you're always number one

My prize possession
One and only
Adore ya girl I want ya
The one I can't live without
That's you that's you
You're my special little lady
The one that makes me crazy
Of all the girls I've ever known
It's you, it's you
My favorite, my favorite
My favorite, my favorite girl
My favorite girl

-- "Favorite Girl" by Justin Bieber

It's odd that "Friday" and "Favorite Girl" have so much telling instead of showing. But they were extremely popular, so they must be very good. :trixieshiftright:

Report Bad Horse · 943 views · #songs #show #tell
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Comments ( 59 )

Wait, are you implying that you judge song lyrics on exactly the same criteria that you judge prose literature?

3480816 No, but there's similarities. Show vs. Tell is basic enough that it applies to both. I think I could even apply it to less-narrative songwriters like Leonard Cohen, but it would be more confusing. (And, really, I'm talking here more about information density than about just show vs. tell.)

(I'm not a fan of Keats, in case you're wondering.)

Honestly, I tend to treat voices as just one more instrument when I listen to music. (Especially Bob Dylan's voice.) I usually think of the lyrics as an excuse for the tune.

3480853 Bob Dylan would be rolling over in his grave, if he were dead. :eeyup:

3480841
It can apply to both. It doesn't always. Especially when telling is the point of the song.

We literature ponies sniff at "telling" sometimes--with good reason! "Showing" involves a delightful complexity that sparks real cerebral involvement. The metaphors invite you in, challenging you to pick out and enjoy their subtleties. On a musical front, Paul Simon in an excellent example. David Bowie, likewise excellent. It would be a crime to not add Dylan to the list. You can enjoy any one of these musicians in much the same way you enjoy a heady, complex piece of literature. To frame in gustatory terms, they are the fine wines of music.

It is noteworthy that the songs you pick out as having the highest red content come largely from loaded musical one-parters; "Magical Mystery Cure" and "Crusaders of the Lost Mark." Nopony will question that these are very tell-y songs. But the black fact is, this is what the narrative requires. Again in gustatory terms: if we were dealing in fine wines before, we are now dealing in Mountain Blast Gatorade. (I do not know if there is such a thing as "Mountain Blast Gatorade"; I am merely presuming that you can construct the name of a marketable sports drink by pairing the name of any majestic feature of the natural world with any dynamic action verb.) "Ha," we say. "That proves they are worse songs, right! I mean, just look at the difference in quality!" But let us journey, in our mind's eye, to the sidelines of a soccer field...

* * *
Coach: You sure played hard out there, Chet! We'll win this game yet!

Chet (sweating profusely): Thanks, Coach!

Coach: Here, have a glass of Rioja Crianza! It's aged in French oak rather than the traditional American, for enhanced balance!

Chet: Coach, I'm not even 21 yet!
* * *

The problem here, other than that we have a soccer player named "Chet," is that the drink chosen is wildly inappropriate to the context. The episodes you pluck your tell-y songs from are the some of the most exposition-heavy and world-changing episodes in the canon, and also share the quality of being single-part episodes. This is no tome to stop and enjoy wine. In our hurry to cough all over tell-focused narrative, we neglect one of its primary virtues: it is darned efficient. Add that to a song format, where the character is spared the niceties of traditional conversation or social mores and can instead just plain belt her hidden feelings out at the top of her lungs, and you have just kicked the narrative into hyperspeed. We are talking Filli-Second levels of speed. We have characters summarizing their entire outlook on life in the time it takes for Dylan to inform us that there was a diplomat who carried on his shoulders a Siamese cat, and ain't it hard when you discover that he really wasn't where it's at.

Is this complex, inviting, beautiful, oaky narrative with a bright mineral finish? Absolutely not. Does it get you hydrated and back into the game? Arguably, yes. Certainly much better than the wine ever would, because trying to use the wine at the sidelines of your soccer game is, frankly, a waste of good wine.

I'm not white-knighting Daniel Ingram (and/or whichever lyricist he might be working with at the time); yes, the lyrics can become a bit dishwater, and they wouldn't have to be. You can drop some really wonderful turns of phrase without sacrificing any of the in-your-face pop sensibilities that some of the more tell-y songs play to (witness Aerosmith). But to speak out against the songs in "Magical Mystery Cure" or "Crusaders..." is to bemoan a symptom inherent to the narrative itself. Better to speak out against the higher-level decision to cram too much character work into too small a bag than the musical stick used to tamp down the bag's contents, for the latter is merely a tool by which you achieve the former end.

Wow. That's more than my two cents. That's four, at least. Possibly six.

Friday and Justin Beiber? really? :ajsmug:

why not compare with lyrics to the good musicals you mentioned? or good/bad songs from Disney movies, etc.

to be fair to Ingram, Amy Keating Rogers wrote most (all?) of the lyrics for that recent episode. I think she's the only writer who does this for her episodes

The song lyrics for many songs are actually written by the show writers first before Ingram makes changes to them. I don't really want to try and figure out which songs were written by who, though. For example, over here it says two of the seven songs for MMC were written with M.A. Larson, but the article in the citation link doesn't actually specify that. And Pinkie Pride says "Lyrics for the songs were originally penned by Amy Keating Rogers and reworked by Ingram", buuuuut those songs were based off of other songs, soooo.... *shrug*

3480949

It is noteworthy that the songs you pick out as having the highest red content come largely from loaded musical one-parters; "Magical Mystery Cure" and "Crusaders of the Lost Mark." Nopony will question that these are very tell-y songs. But the black fact is, this is what the narrative requires. ... This is no time to stop and enjoy wine. In our hurry to cough all over tell-focused narrative, we neglect one of its primary virtues: it is darned efficient. Add that to a song format, where the character is spared the niceties of traditional conversation or social mores and can instead just plain belt her hidden feelings out at the top of her lungs, and you have just kicked the narrative into hyperspeed.

Those songs aren't efficient at all. Look at the words in red. They tell you nothing that you don't know before the song begins. You already know everything, plotwise and character-wise, that is in those songs, before the song begins. You already know it in more detail than is given in the song.

That's why I harped on that point in the blog post: A good musical song advances plot or character, so that you'd be confused if you didn't hear the song. None of those songs do that. Those episodes feel rushed because of the songs. As far as advancing the story, they're mostly wasted time.

Observation: the songs with highest red-to-blue ratio are intended for younger audiences, pre-teen and below.

Hypothesis: young children prefer songs with high red-to-blue ratio.

Intuition: the higher the red-to-blue ratio, the more easily digestible and universally comprehensible the song. Children will not have had many particular experiences, so a song about a particular experience may not "speak" to them.

Proposed test: find popular children's songs with low red-to-blue ratio. (First check: MLPFIM songs)

3480982

For every one of those songs, you already know everything, plotwise and character-wise, that is in those songs, before the song begins. You already know it in more detail than is given in the song.

Speaking from my experience only, I sure felt like there were some details in "The Pony I Want to Be" that were coming out for the first time.

3480990
If I trust anypony here to science the ever-loving shit out of kid's show music, it's our esteemed OP here. Bad Horse, we need you!

3480816 Wait, songs have lyrics? I've missed so much out of Top 40 over the last few decades.
/snark

One of the things to realize in MLP songs is that the song doesn't have to show as long as the scene is doing the showing. Example: "You've come such a long, long way" happens during the Big TV Walk where the watcher's eyes are on the scenes taking place around them. It's more or less ear candy to occupy you while the scene plays out in front of your eyes.

There's also a subtle scene-shift that a song can do that is somewhat difficult on paper. In "The Vote" there's a line "Now it's a brand-new day" that shifts the scene from yesterday to today. Or in "This Day Aria" where the song is used to show the passage of time and events both above and below ground.

Bad Horse, thank you as always for writing another wonderful blog post. You teach me so much. :scootangel:

3480990

Proposed test: find popular children's songs with low red-to-blue ratio. (First check: MLPFIM songs)

There's a problem with using "popular" as a gauge. See Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, above. Also John Keats. And any best-selling book by Paul Coelho. Vague generalities are popular.

I'm not sure how familiar you are with the musical Into the Woods, but one of my favorite songs (which contains spoilers), "Your Fault," seems to me to be mostly bad telling. Most of the lyrics are recounting things we've already seen happen, but recontextualized in light of how the characters see them now. But it's that recontextualization that's new information, so it's more from the tone than the lyircs.

So, I'm not sure if I disagree, if I'm misunderstanding you, or if I just like bad songs.

3481046
Watching the hero team totally fall apart over the course of "Your Fault" is one of my favorite parts in that play. (The other is the father-son relationship in "No More" which they totally left out of the movie version argle bargle barf okay I'm better now.) Could we have, over considerable time and analysis and discussions over coffee, figured out exactly why these animosities are coming to a head at this specific moment, and why the daggers are flying in the directions they are? Yep. But I believe it really is occasionally a justified authorial tactic to bring out the brick and just hit the audience with it. It really does depend on the story you're trying to tell. "Into the Woods" is a grossly unsubtle narrative, but it is also exquisitely unsubtle.

Some people would find "exquisitely unsubtle" to be a contradiction in terms bordering on oxymoron. I am not one of those people.

I think you're spot on your analysis on everything but Tiara's song, which you might be a tad harsh on. Maybe its just me having only watched the episode once, bisected by a 4 hour block of friendly shenanigans with some pals, but I feel I learned a bit more about the narrative in that episode than you imply.

You have such a intriguing way of looking at the world.

3481080

Some people would find "exquisitely unsubtle" to be a contradiction in terms bordering on oxymoron. I am not one of those people.

I think "exquisitely unsubtle" is probably my entire aim in writing. Nothing gut-punches more than a good "frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" line, and I found a long time ago that my secret to happier romance fics is to have a part at the end where one or both characters get to say exactly what they're feeling, with as much explanation as they need to make the other understand. Blatant, straightforward honesty is one of the most powerful tools in writing about character's relationships with each other, when used correctly.

I'm not sure it's fair to compare actual songs to songs from musical episodes as they have very different purposes. For example, there are some songs from good musicals that are quite telly:

Look down, look down
Don't look 'em in the eye
Look down, look down,
You're here until you die

Now bring me prisoner 24601
Your time is up
And your parole's begun
You know what that means.

Yes, it means I'm free.

No!
Follow to the letter your itinerary
This badge of shame you'll show until you die
It warns you're a dangerous man

I stole a loaf of bread.
My sister's child was close to death
And we were starving.

You will starve again
Unless you learn the meaning of the law.
—"Look Down," Les Miserables

Then again, some of the better songs have more showing than telling:

On my own
Pretending he's beside me
All alone
I walk with him till morning
Without him
I feel his arms around me
And when I lose my way I close my eyes
And he has found me

In the rain the pavement shines like silver
All the lights are misty in the river
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight
And all I see is him and me forever and forever

And I know it's only in my mind
That I'm talking to myself and not to him
And although I know that he is blind
Still I say, there's a way for us

I love him
But when the night is over
He is gone
The river's just a river
Without him
The world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers
—"On My Own," Les Miserables

I'm really tired of the Friday hate. Rebecca Black just an amateur who put that thing together in her spare time. It blew up online without her control, and then people got offended that the quality of what they just watched didn't somehow correlate with all the attention it got. Then some people even though it was somehow Ms. Black's fault, and that it could be fixed somehow with death threats. I'm okay with the disdain thrown Bieber's way (disdain, not death threats), since he really did act with the veneer that he had some kind of immortal musical legacy. The reason I even know this is because my newsfeed shoved his dumbassery in my face all the time.

On the ACTUAL subject of this post, I believe some credit goes to the visuals of a music number, and the context of an ongoing story. For "A True True Friend," we see friends helping each other push themselves towards happiness, using intimate knowledge they've gleaned from all their time together. There's also the animation and choreography, ending in the entire town dancing in the streets. I can't help but think of that imagery and good feelings when I listen to the song, which I still admit isn't quite among the show's strongest. Of course, none of this helps someone who isn't familiar with MLP:FiM enjoy the song if they sit down to listen or watch it. But why would someone who wasn't a big fan of the show be seeking it out?

3481112 But look at what I wrote. I spent so much time trying to explain "good telling". Most of that is "good telling", because it tells you something new, and specific to that person and that situation. It would sound good as dialogue:

"Prisoner 24601, your time is up and your parole's begun. You know what that means."
"Yes, it means I'm free!"
"No! Follow your itinerary to the letter. You'll show this badge of shame until you die. It warns you're a dangerous man."
"I stole a loaf of bread. My sister's child was close to death. And we were starving."

Doesn't that sound much stronger than this?

"This is not the answer. Listen! You can redeem yourself, but by helping others, not by being mean. We know you want friends who admire you. You want to be the star with all the power too. But there's a better way. There's so much more still left to learn about yourself."

3481108

Blatant, straightforward honesty is one of the most powerful tools in writing about character's relationships with each other, when used correctly.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Write a romance starring Donald Trump.

3481205
But I already write Rainbow Dash shipping... isn't that close enough?

Edit: Come to think of it... the contest in May the Best Pet Win was basically The Apprentice, wasn't it?

3480999 3481091 I wondered about "The Pony I Want to be", which is probably my favorite song from that episode. Before posting I went back to check that there was exposition about it before the song, but I didn't listen all the way thru exposition and song to see how well they matched. So, you're both probably right.

Still, let's look at a similar song from a good musical: "Where I Want To Be" from Chess:

Who needs a dream?
Who needs ambition?
Who'd be the fool
In my position?
Once I had dreams
Now they're obsessions
Hopes become needs
Lovers possessions

Then they move in
Oh so discreetly
Slowly at first
Smiling too sweetly
I opened doors
They walked right through them
Called me their friend
I hardly knew them

Now I'm where I want to be and who I want to be and doing what I always said I would and yet I feel I haven't won at all
Running for my life and never looking back in case there's someone right behind to shoot me down and say he always knew I'd fall

Don't get me wrong
I'm not complaining
Times have been good
Fast, entertaining
But what's the point?
If I'm concealing
Most of my thoughts
All of my feelings

When the crazy wheel slows down
Where will I be?
Back where I started

You could say a lot of this is vague--what dreams, what hopes, what needs, who are "they"? But it's telling an interesting story, in parallels: dreams => obsessions, hopes => needs, lovers => possessions. These are generalities at one level, but they're also specific instances of the even higher-level, yet unusual, pattern being presented. There are descriptive or poetic images: smiling too sweetly, I opened doors and they walked thru them, called me their friends, someone right behind to shoot me down, the crazy wheel. My impression is that the whole thing is more vivid and engaging.

3481197
That's a fair point. As with some of the other commenters, my main issue was with your assessment of "The Pony I Want to Be," as I felt that the song really helped advance the plot. It gave Diamond Tiara the chance for introspection and the audience to witness that introspection in a way that doesn't feel too contrived. While some of the thoughts and feelings she expresses in the song would probably have had more impact if shown rather than sung, it would have been difficult to do so short of significantly expanding the episode beyond its time limit (especially given the fact that Diamond Tiara would be extremely unlikely to share those thoughts with others). Essentially what a good song should do in these episodes is provide the characters with an opportunity to soliloquize and share their thoughts with the audience, especially as they are coming to some sort of epiphany (in this case, Diamond Tiara realizing that she might want to change). Another song that achieves this goal is Pinkie's Lament from Pinkie Pride. The writing will not be as evocative or vivid as songs from other works, but that is at least in part a function of the intended audience of the songs.

I do agree with your assessment of some of the other songs in the episode, however, so we probably agree more than disagree overall.

3481080 3481046 I've often been made to feel that I have an insufficient appreciation for "Into the Woods", which I find more confusing and disturbing than entertaining. I'm more of a Night Music / West Side Story / On the Way to the Forum / Sunday in the Park with George fan. But isn't "Your Fault" a plot point? Like Skywriter says, the players recount these things to each other, trying to shift the blame. They're giving information, but also acting out new character dynamics.

If you like "Into the Woods", check out "Beyond the Garden Wall", which is... not the same, except for being an old fairy-tale kind of story, but both creepier and more whimsical.

3481248
It is, but I'd argue in the same way "A True, True Friend" is a plot point where they're giving each other this information while convincing each other to act.

And I'll check that one out.

3481041
Modified hypothesis: these works are directed at unsophisticated audiences.

The more accessible something is, the larger your potential audience is. It doesn't matter how many people hate your music from the point of view of selling albums or concert tickets; what matters is how many people like your music enough to give you money.

A lot of summer action movies are crap but make lots of money because the audience for them is large. The fact that Transformers alienates Ebert is irrelevant to its target audience.

More sophisticated audiences may have a greater appreciation of the medium and of more sophisticated works, but greater accessibility increases your audience size. While accessibility is not the opposite of sophistication, more sophisticated works are often more complex and thus less accessible.

Unsophisticated audiences care less about such things.


3480982
3480949
We're not actually dealing with songs; we're dealing with audiovisual works. The songs go along with the animation and the story, and thus are part of a greater whole. Consider What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me. A lot of the lyrics in the songs go along with the animation, or are reinforced by them, or reinforce them - we see Rainbow Dash struggling to control the animals, get a pun about cats throwing "hissy fits", and have her crash into a wall while chasing them around. We have Fluttershy fail to make ponies laugh by being the world's worst clown. We see Pinkie Pie failing at being a farmer, with lots of animation gags. We see Applejack failing at being a seamstress, and her commenting on the poverty of her dresses while she sets her sewing machine on fire. And we have Rarity talking about weather patterns while there are literal weather patterns in the sky, and comedic injuries to the townsfolk.

Without that stuff, the song wouldn't be what it is. But it is the combination of the whole piece made it good (and honestly I felt like it was the best bit in the episode - it advanced the plot at a decent clip as we got to see all of the ponies failing at their new jobs, we got tons of jokes via the combination of animation and lyrics, and we get the problem clearly established while having a nice beat to it). It was also reasonably pleasing to the ear.

The song lyrics being eh in most of the songs in MMC is probably less important than it would be elsewhere, because the animation and overall flow of the plot carried the episode, with the music often serving as a backdrop to things being shown on-screen, and frequently reinforcing those things. They aren't really the sort of thing I'd sit around and listen to on iTunes or whatever, so that probably means they aren't all that great, but I think they were serviceable.

And I think this is actually something that might be worth considering: might there be more than one kind of music? One kind that exists for the purpose of delivering plot, and another which acts as a sort of mood-setting background? Thinking about "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" from The Lion King, it flickers between moments when the characters are actually talking (the start of the song with Timon and Puumba, Simba and Nala's internal dialogue in the middle, then Timon and Puumba lamenting that the hot lion sex[1] means they're not going to be buddies anymore at the end) to the repetitive soothing music for the sequences in-between.

"I'll Have To Find A Way" or whatever it is called is pretty much entirely a mood piece; it exists for the sole purpose of giving background sound to a montage. The same applies to "Celestia's Ballad" as well; the first half is mostly a mood-setting background for a montage, and it goes into the actual important plot part (Twilight ascending) only after the montage is over. By making the audience focus less on the actual words and more on the mood that the song is trying to deliver, as long as you don't evoke the wrong emotion (boredom, annoyance), you can potentially have them focus less on the lyrics and more on the mood they're trying to deliver.

I'm not sure if that's right, or just bullshit and the songs are lazily written and could achieve the same effect while not repeating the same lines five times in a song, but it is an interesting thought.

[1] The directors note in the audio-commentary for the movie that it was "probably the most steamy love scene in a Disney film ever." And they wonder where furries come from.

I don't know if this is common, but for me personally, the cliche-ridden flabby songs often become my favorites, in part because they seem to be so masterfully contentless that I can project my own preferred "deeper" meanings on to them anytime. (I've noticed this works with top-40 radio songs too.)

3481377
Yah, different songs for different purposes, judged in the context we find them in rather than on a reduced set of criteria based on literary merit.

Regarding TLK, I'm struggling to think of any other Disney films that have the male protagonist and his love interest lying naked on top of one another while romantic music plays.

3481423

Regarding TLK, I'm struggling to think of any other Disney films that have the male protagonist and his love interest lying naked on top of one another while romantic music plays.

You know, for kids. :moustache:

Others have commented that the song lyrics listed in the OP aren't meant to be taken on their own, and that they were intended to complement--or be complemented by--the visuals. I think there's a more general subtext at work here: the emotional impact. As long as the song produces the right emotional impact, I can forgive transparent and redundant lyrics. It's like having an actor deliver a very telly speech, but giving them unusual body language or a tone of voice that contradicts the spoken words.

In Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield speaks at length about how much he hates movie actors and Hollywood movies in general, and that he thinks of them as fake and phony. What does he do later on? He goes and sees a movie. It's all he wants to do right then. The actual words being spoken aren't the real message: What matters is the tone of voice, and the contradiction with other events in the story.

I am not a fan of Babs Seed's song. If taken by the lyrics alone, it's very blunt and straightforward, and recaps everything that happened in the show before the song started. But words alone don't necessarily convey what it feels like to be pursued by a bully for no reason you can understand. Two of the prominent lyrics are:

1) Why is Babs Seed a bully? If we figure out why it happened, maybe we can help her.
2) She's a bully for absolutely no reason. There's no riddle to solve. She can't be helped.

These statements are mutually exclusive. What matters is the question itself, and the sense of confusion and helplessness felt by the victim, and the animation and visuals reinforces this well. The individual lyrics are quite telly and straightforward, but slightly more interesting in proximity to each other.

It's odd that "Friday" and "Favorite Girl" have so much telling instead of showing. But they were extremely popular, so they must be very good.

Do please note, the latter former song is famous because it's bad. In this case, the subtext is "the behind the scenes" story: we see a music video that is utterly transparent in meaning, and we wonder "Why does this exist? Who would make such a thing? Who would think this is a serious attempt at art?" And then we discover it was just some poor little rich girl's chance to play at being a celebrity. It was never supposed to be made public. The subtext is "this is what it's like to be a spoiled rich girl," and "I wonder how embarrassed she is because of this?"

Edit: Aaaaugh oh god now I'm picturing Justin Beiber singing "Friday"

3480853
I can only enjoy rap or pop music when it's in a language I don't understand. I'm sick of people being famous for singing about how famous they are because they sing about how famous they are. Hannah Montana was the worst: she was famous in the context of the show, and that was her only claim to fame in the real world. She fabricated a singing career out of whole cloth.

I'm fine with pop music that treats lyrics like an instrument, and rap and hip-hop that treats the voice like a percussion instrument. Alternately, my ability to enjoy Rammstein songs was seriously hindered after I learned how dumb and blunt the lyrics were.

3481377
3481520

Combining these two and chiming in for agreement on hitting it on the head : It's more about emotive impact than pure quality of Lyrics, there's a target audience element to it, and in animation especially it's meant to blend with what's onscreen.

Take A True, True Friend : Yea, the lyrics are simplistic and very tell-ey, but that's not bad, because it's condensing what could be 15 minutes of show-time into 3. And how it's being sung matters just as much; I wager most anyone who sees Pinkie Pie's segment is feeling their gut knot up when the townsfolk roar out "PINKIE!" in that joyful, welcome back, it hurt to see you gone manner. That moment is the emotional climax to that arc, where we see that yes, it is all going to be okay, that the night was dark but now it's dawn, and so forth - I can't even think of it without having those same feelings well up, years later, because of how hard it hit me then and now.

The show's also never been an its strongest when dealing in metaphor - look at At the Gala, which has some of the weakest lyrics in every song. I mean 'Perform for crowds of thousands, they'll shower us with diamonds, the Wonderbolts will see me right here at the Gala' is...yea. The 'Shower us with diamonds' line is being show-ey, yet its...bad showing. Metaphor for the sake of metaphor, as well as because it hits the right vocal cadence to keep the song punching along.

By comparison, if we take Let it Go from Frozen, that song is at least half tell-ey. The entire 'Don't let them in, don't let them see, be the good girl you're always meant to be, conceal, don't feel, don't let them know - well now they know' line is pure tell. Now, you could argue it's 'good telling' in that the subtext is Elsa recounting her history, what others have said to her, and her bitterness over it all, but if that's the case then I'd say it's contending 'The tell is fine because the tell is being used to convey a deeper emotional/historical meaning' - and I'd say True, True Friend does the same thing, because the song is about (Narratively) getting the remaining members of the Mane 6 to rediscover who they truly are; it's trying to pull out what's already there, but buried.

Unlike prose, songs have more than just the words going for them. In a play, movie, or animation, they have what's going on on screen to accompany them. Even absent those, they have the music and the vocals to compliment the lyrics, and those help offer that additional depth that prose cannot. To take TD's example, 'Can you feel the love tonight?' could be spoken like Christopher Walken and take on an entirely different meaning than how Elton John belts it out in TLK.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

Jordi remembered he'd eaten Loni's baby. He felt a little bad about that now.

This is the best textual example of a writing technique I have ever seen. Did you just come up with this? Do you need to talk about something?

Is it bad that I never comment on the substance of journals like these? :(

3481218
So the newest story from bookplayer will be Rainbow Dash Builds a Wall? :V

I will say, GhostOfHeraclitus and I have a similar debate over my love of Mountain Goats songs.

I love them almost exclusively for the lyrics. Ghost argues that it's a dude warbling into a mic while some people amuse themselves with instruments in the background.

Written down, we both agree the songs are fantastic poetry. But he detests them as songs.

Your debate with Skywriter above feels very similar to mine and Ghost's in a lot of ways; What we value from music is something perhaps more subjective than what we feel about literature alone. But it doesn't devalue the art of deconstructing what we like and why from these mediums one whit, it just makes simplifications about them a magnitude harder.

3481400
I'm surprised no one linked this yet. :moustache:

-----------

Like a few other posters, I find myself wanting to appeal to other factors. Context matters; how does the song fit into the episode, instead of merely how it plays on your car stereo? Pacing matters; if an episode needs to be compacted for the time slot, a telly song is more forgivable to the audience than a telly monologue, because the former sounds pretty. Emotions matter; when I take the visuals, melody, lyrics, plot and everything all together, how do I feel at the end?

Much as we malign them, the teen pop Top 40 songs attain their popularity because they serve their function. Teens want to party on the weekend; this song gets them jazzed up to party. It's not a masterpiece, but it doesn't try to be, and arguably it shouldn't be if it wants to accomplish its primary objective.

That's why I can look at "Morning/Life In Equestria" and thing that it's good, because the former was a blatant setup that all viewers would appreciate would be immediately subverted—a setup to a punchline—while the latter reprised and brought us full circle with sincerity.

That's why I can look at "Celestia's Ballad" and say that no, the lyrics weren't irrelevant. But it was important that Celestia was praising her, with swelling music, and in general making this a beautiful moment from her to her beloved student.

That's why I can look at "Light of Your Cutie Mark" and recognize its placement. Here is the clearly the climactic chase scene, with the climactic resolution literally on the horizon, and the CMC are singing in beautiful harmonies of reformation, of hope, of others before themselves. It's driving home the fact that this is significant, obviously to DT, but more importantly to the CMC themselves. Even if they might have textually said the same things to Troubleshoes, singing them in that episode would've felt strange and overblown. Here, the build-up of DT's arc is hammered home with a sincere and honest message from her supposed enemies, not overly artistic yet exactly what she needed to hear right then.

I don't mean for that to be an excuse though. Just because "Light of Your Cutie Mark" left a really good taste in my mouth doesn't mean lyrics like "Stop! This is not the answer!" are particularly forgivable. This kind of analysis could be used as a guide for what areas to potentially tighten up. But in prose, the text is all you have. In music, lyrics that are simply telly is not always the biggest issue. Would the most amazing flowery prose make an effective song if played over a black background and sung to the tune of Three Blind Mice with kazoo orchestration?

eating someone's baby is uncommon

...you lost me.

3481586

Did you just come up with this?

Yes.

Do you need to talk about something?

Yes. What do you take for indigestion?

3481586
Rainbow Dash's defense plan is she'll be awesome at defense. That's, like, even better than Trump's.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

3481664
Baking soda in water! Just a bit clears it right up! :D

3481746
So you're writing this. :V

3481377

Modified hypothesis: these works are directed at unsophisticated audiences.

I'll add that this explains my Into the Woods exception: the music there is written purposely to evoke an unsophisticated style. The play itself is the metaphor, the songs within the play can address the events of the play in simple terms about narrative points because they're drawing the metaphor into new places.

3481252 3481762 I don't see it as an exception. "A true, true friend" just repeats insipid platitudes. The characters do stuff while the music plays, but the song adds nothing. "Your Fault" constructs arguments. It takes pieces of information that we knew, and combines them. The combinations, the proposed causal relationships, are new or at least newly-highlighted information. The construction of them, and the reactions to them, are new actions.

3481520 I hear you, but writing is all about knowing how to have emotional impact. One of the things we've discovered over the years is that showing and good telling have more emotional impact than bad telling.

The fact that something else is going on while you hear those bad lyrics doesn't excuse the bad lyrics, any more than an exciting plot excuses a boring character. Doing two things well is better than doing one of them well, and one of them badly.

It's odd that "Friday" and "Favorite Girl" have so much telling instead of showing. But they were extremely popular, so they must be very good. :trixieshiftright:

Do please note, the latter former song is famous because it's bad.

I know. The ":trixieshiftright:" was supposed to indicate sarcasm. They're both examples of bad telling making bad songs.

3481584

Yea, the lyrics are simplistic and very tell-ey, but that's not bad, because it's condensing what could be 15 minutes of show-time into 3.

I think it's expanding what could have been 30 seconds of show into 3 minutes of song. They could get the info and the emotional impact across quicker and more powerfully by expressing them in actions within the story, rather than by singing trite platitudes repeatedly.

3481659 ... is this why you don't have any kids? :unsuresweetie:

3481645

That's why I can look at "Morning/Life In Equestria" and thing that it's good, because the former was a blatant setup that all viewers would appreciate would be immediately subverted—a setup to a punchline—while the latter reprised and brought us full circle with sincerity.

Ooh, that's a good point. Though it didn't work for me, because to me, "Life In Equestria" was just... creepy and pathetic. It sounded like Twilight Sparkle breaking the 4th wall and desperately trying to convince us that they hadn't just irrevocably screwed up the show.

One point I would mention: have you considered whether the show's trite lyrics are perhaps more appropriate for its intended audience than for adults such as us? (Not that I'm saying that they are; I haven't considered the question. But maybe you have?)

I hear you, but writing is all about knowing how to have emotional impact. One of the things we've discovered over the years is that showing and good telling have more emotional impact than bad telling.

The fact that something else is going on while you hear those bad lyrics doesn't excuse the bad lyrics, any more than an exciting plot excuses a boring character. Doing two things well is better than doing one of them well, and one of them badly.

"Bad telling" is not bad, full stop. It's bad when it occurs in certain contexts in which it would be better to have written something in a way that actually has emotional impact. Sometimes, delivering a certain kind or intensity or number of emotional impact(s) is unfitting for the work as a whole.

All that's just to say, you can't reason: "Bad telling, therefore bad." A part of a work cannot be understood without reference to the whole.

3482222 30 seconds...how? You have to cover Rainbow, Rarity, AJ, and Pinkie Pie - and simply doing jump-cuts of 'Here are the other ponies, here is Cutie Mark restoring itself, here is Rainbow/Rarity/AJ/Pinkie smiling' in a 30 second period wouldn't really have emotional impact the way the song does.

You can call them trite if you wish, but that doesn't rob them of meaning for many in the viewing audience :scootangel:

While your points are well taken BH, I tend to enjoy songs whole cloth rather than analytically. When I was a young lad, listening to music on cheap AM radios, I often did not even know what the actual lyrics were and was just as happy to sing the songs with my headcannon lyrics and enjoy them nonetheless. "Morning in Ponyville" shined for me mostly because of the unexpected chord which emerged on the word "shines." That being said even badly worded songs do clever things with rhythm and lyrics now and then. I especially liked the swing of this line: "A true, true friend helps a friend in need to see the light that shines from a true, true friend." While this would be a truly horrible sentence in most situations, here it creates something I like to sing over and over. You place "true true friend" on three consecutive beats, then two measures later accent the first note ("light" which is perfect) holding it for one and a half beats so you can toss in "that" as an eighth note allowing just enough space for "shines" to be a quarter note for a touch of emphasis before you hit it with "from a" as two eighth notes bringing in the fourth measure triumphantly with the same three notes which began the phrase: "true true friend", sustaining "friend" for emphasis. It's genius I say! (pointing my cigar like J. Jonah Jameson). Sometimes it's not about the story, just the experience.

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