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You'll find, my friend, that in the gutters of this floating world, much of the trash consists of fallen flowers.

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Which song from all of MLP has the best lyrics? · 11:35pm Dec 9th, 2017

I asked the above question to various friends, most of whom do at least some writing. I had expected a clear favorite to emerge, but surprisingly the responses were a wide range of songs with almost no overlap. Some I nearly forgot about, but found new appreciation for them after taking another listen. I didn't ask for reasoning (maybe I should've) so it's just gut reactions. People have a lot of different qualities they look for in song lyrics.

I posted some thoughts on the MLP movie last month, where I said I loved the song melodies but found the lyrics to be mediocre. They're boring and forgettable. And they're all penned by Michael Vogel, co-executive producer and co-writer of the movie project. He also wrote some of the show episodes that feature songs, including a Bollywood style number, and an entire holiday musical episode.

In my survey, no one picked a Vogel song!

Steffan Andrews composes the (underrated and overlooked) background score, and Daniel Ingram composes the songs. But Ingram doesn't write the lyrics, though this has changed slightly over the years. Whoever does the episode's script has to plan the lyrics to match the plot events. Sometimes Ingram is co-credited as lyricist, but I get the impression he's assisting by tweaking the lyrics rather than coming up with them. In later seasons, Ingram is the only credited lyricist, usually for songs that don't drive the plot. "Find the Music in You" could've been about anything really, it's just a song that Fluttershy sings in her performance. One weird exception is Magical Mystery Cure, where Larson wrote "Morning in Ponyville" and "What My Cutie Mark is Telling Me" and Ingram wrote the rest of the songs, presumably after the original plot was altered.

If you don't believe me, there's this hilarious interview with Larson and Berrow where they talk a little about the process with the songs. There's an anecdote about how one rhyme in the "Cider Squeezy" song got changed without Larson's knowledge, and he assumed that's what he originally wrote at first. :trixieshiftleft:

Since Ingram worked on every song in the show, he's the common denominator here. He writes consistently great tunes. There's some leeway for Ingram changing a few lines, but it's safe to assume it's the episode writers who are responsible for the quality of the lyrics. Even though this is extremely subjective, the songs have certainly made an impact on the viewers, even if everyone has different favorites. It's a wonderful kind of diversity, just like how everyone has different favorite ponies, and favorite episodes.

So why do I find Vogel's lyrics so dull? Because of the diversity, it's impossible to compare his work to one perfect song and say "you should write like THIS." But maybe I can find some patterns and approaches that worked. The problem with mediocre lyrics is that there's nothing obviously bad about them, just that they're so bland and inoffensive that there's nothing to praise either.

Keep in mind I don't really know anything about songwriting or lyrics in particular, and have no experience. But neither do the episode writers! :trollestia: Apparently, Amy Keating Rogers was the only one to record demos of her songs, playing them on ukulele. Larson and the others approached it like any other form of writing. I assume he's a fan of The Music Man and other musicals, and that's probably all he had going into this.

As tempting as it is to compare lyrics directly to examples from Broadway or Disney feature films, it would be totally unfair. Who can compete with Howard Ashman or Danny Elfman? (Also, watching those old songs on youtube got too addictive and distracting.) So that's why I'll only look at other great songs from MLP itself, with the bonus that they involve the same characters and similar themes.

Even though I won't compare them in terms of quality, I think it still helps to look at the ways Musicals use songs. Apologies that I'm more familiar with film musicals from Disney animation and old Hollywood, and not so much with Broadway.

The songs are usually the parts everyone remembers the most fondly. They're the big plot moments, more important than even the climax at the end. In 2 or 3 minutes, a single event or mood can have a huge impact on the audience. They make or break the musical (in Bollywood even more so), and I think that applies to many people's favorite MLP episodes. A good episode is made even greater. Despite the universal criticism for Magical Mystery Cure's story pacing (or executive decisions), there's quite a few fans who rank it highly because of the songs. It's not a mere gimmick like some ending credits music, but a core part of the viewing experience. I think I would've forgiven many of the MLP movie's story flaws if the songs were better. I'd even say it's great. :twilightsmile:

It's not "realistic" for characters to break out in song, but that'e exactly the point! It's supposed to be part of the fantasy. I constantly hear writers and analysts claim this is all non-diagetic sound, but that seems like total cognitive dissonance! It's part of the musical's reality and self-contained rules, because they apparently hear the singing and react to it. And sometimes even dance to it. It's also unrealistic to hear the sound waves from an explosion in outer space, but it aint non-diagetic if Luke Skywalker can still hear them inside his spaceship. It's all part of the fantasy.

(There's this fascinating NY Times interview about how Michael Bay's action style was inspired by the hyper-reality of West Side Story. Heightened Reality is a whole other discussion topic for another time.)

Songs can be used for exposition, or reflection on what's already been shown (much like the older aristocratic opera tradition (TANGENT DELETED)). Or a character expressing inner emotions, which are too important to be subtle about? A character can try to convince another character of their viewpoint through song. The song can compress time and events like a montage, though when the characters sing there's the illusion of the skips being seamless. Songs are also great for ensembles, giving a lot of characters a chance to interact in musical harmony instead of verbal chaos.

You can think of examples of the above from the MLP movie, or any musical you remember. They're not so important as rigid categories, just as examples of why these can be more important than anything else in the story for bringing characters and key moments to life. The ponies get to be sky pirates for only 3 minutes of the movie? In theory, a good song can make that work. Aladdin only spends 3 minutes showing off Prince Ali's fabulous riches, and then they're never seen again for the rest of the movie. It's a great song, makes a huge impact, and that feeling echoes throughout the rest of the story.

Show or Tell?

Speaking of Prince Ali, this is a common type of song where the lyrics describe a bunch of stuff going on. This works great in animation, where anything can be drawn on screen, and it gives the animators a lot to work with. On MLP, writer Ed Valentine ("Glass of Water", and Gabby the Griffon's song) likes to do that rapid pace song, kinda like the absurd style of Gilbert & Sullivan.

Bad Horse wrote a blogpost a while ago (I can't even find it now) about showing vs telling in song lyrics. Comparing David Bowie to uh, Rebecca Black. And I think it's a useful starting point when thinking about lyrics. So many songs want to show you something, but are they using fresh, bold imagery to deliver subtext? Or relying on stale cliches and vague generalities?

Is this a firm rule to follow? Well... yes and no.

Looking at the early Disney Renaissance, many of the songs are indeed attempting "show, don't tell." Except the love ballads! Their lyrics are mostly "telly", yet they still work fine. In particular, the ballroom song in Beauty and the Beast is the crux of the entire movie, everything depends on selling the emotion of this scene to the audience. And the lyrics just directly tell you the message of the whole fairy tale, no hidden subtext at all. :pinkiegasp:

Similarly, "The Smile Song" is so straightforward and direct, and it was one of the rare songs to get picked multiple times in my survey. There's something about how it repeats the same message over and over, with slight variations, to make "I want you to smile" to go from sounding childish and cheesy... to genuine and universal. I can't promise that it works for everyone, but the song's got its fans. I suspect that it wouldn't work nearly as well if it were only 30 seconds, instead of building up over 3+ minutes.

In these examples, it's not that the lyrics are trying to show and failing, but making a conscious decision not to even bother. Like communicating that kind of emotion is best done directly, without being coy and hiding it in subtext. I dunno, it's weird, I can't explain why. Something about being subjective instead of objective. (On a related note, the lyrics of "All You Need is Love" by the Beatles appear to be "showing" at first glance, but the verses are all silly tautologies. The only meaning in the song is in the repeated chorus. Again, weird.)

So it's not universal, it's a specific choice. But it's still a pretty good start, because it's apparent when a song tries to "show" with its lyrics. And then doesn't do it at all.

Take a look at everything around you
All the smells that surely will astound you
Open up your heart, it will surround you
In the magic of Hearth's Warming Eve

The little things that make it better
Little ponies spreading cheer
Give a toy, a hug, a sweater
Memories that last all year

The present's always filled with presents
Large, medium, and small
Sometimes the most important things
Aren't very big at all

Michael Vogel, "Pinkie's Present"

This describes "everything around you" at a bare minimum. What kinds of smells? What kinds of toys? What kinds of memories? There's something weird about this song that tries to build up this punchline at the end, and then goes on about how great this "important thing" is instead of illustrating it. The song doesn't hold up by itself, it relies on the animation to show partying or memories or holiday cheer.

Winter Wrap Up! Winter Wrap Up!
Let's finish our holiday cheer
Winter Wrap Up! Winter Wrap Up!
'Cause tomorrow spring is here

Cindy Morrow, "Winter Wrap Up"

Holiday cheer! Only this song surrounds the chorus by describing what they're actually doing, waking up animals and clearing the snow. I bet you can remember a couple of the lines without even looking them up. Not that it's a very complex song, but it succeeds at showing the story, with or without the animation.

What if it's a specific character trying to describe what they're passionate about?

Pay attention to the details
Every gem even-spaced
Make the colors perfect
Takin' one or two to taste
Inside and out, beautiful throughout
Generosity is what we're all about
You got this
You got this
[Rarity and Spike]
We got this together

Daniel Ingram & Michael Vogel, "We Got This Together"

Something brash, perhaps quite fetching
Hook and eye, couldn't you just simply die?
Making sure it fits forelock and crest
Don't forget some magic in the dress
Even though it rides high on the flank
Rainbow won't look like a tank
I'm stitching Rainbow's dress

Charlotte Fullerton, "Art of the Dress"

This isn't about some subjective inner feelings or anything like that. Both are about Rarity's artistic process. Which of the above examples sounds more convincing?

Character Voice

On that note, which of those last two examples sounds like it's actually sung by Rarity? :raritywink:

When used properly, the last section isn't just about describing details, but showing what matters to that character personally. After all, these aren't non-diagetic songs, but characters expressing themselves as part of the plot. It's implied they're coming up with these lyrics on their own. Even if they're not all that musically or poetically literate.

Drowning in Horseshoes had a surprising lyrical analysis of the song "Apples to the Core", where he argues that Pinkie's verse was written in an intentionally clumsy way to show that she's ad-libbing, in a way that would be natural to her. This is a slightly unrelated tangent, because the song doesn't take place in musical-reality, they're performing a song for fun, but I just wanted to plug it here anyway. The character who sings the words can even be more important than the meaning or beauty of the words themselves.

Rainbow Dash would probably be the least musical of the Mane 6, so it's okay to lower the bar for her lyrics.

I know the world can get you down
Things don't work out quite the way that you thought
Feeling like all your best days are done
Your fears and doubts are all you've got
But there's a light shining deep inside
Beneath those fears and doubts, so just squash 'em
And let it shine for all the world to see
That it is time, yeah, time to be awesome

Daniel Ingram & Michael Vogel, "Time to Be Awesome"

The problem with this song is that almost anypony could've sung this verse. "A light shining deep inside"? Is she taking meditation classes? :rainbowhuh: This song is about fun times and bad times, but Rainbow doesn't describe them at all. Only the word "awesome" could be associated with the character... generically.

Been dreamin'
I've been waitin'
To fly with those great ponies
The Wonderbolts, their daring tricks
Spinning 'round and having kicks
Perform for crowds of thousands
They'll shower us with diamonds
The Wonderbolts will see me right here at the Gala!

Amy Keating Rogers, "The Best Night Ever"

This is what Rainbow Dash thinks "awesome" is like. She wants action, attention, and glory. If this was your first time watching MLP, you'd know everything you need to know about this character from 20 seconds of singing.

How well do you know her from her first song in the movie?

Sometimes the pressure gets you down
And the clouds are dark and grey
Just kick them off and let the sun shine through
And scary as it seems, more help is on the way
'Cause friends have friends that wanna help out, too

Daniel Ingram & Michael Vogel, "We Got This Together"

Huh, the lyrics are almost exactly the same as the pirate song. :facehoof:

Back and Forth

You might think the words are clunky or beautiful, I couldn't say. But either way, I think they don't work if they lack character voice. Here's one of my favorites, where Rainbow Dash isn't able to express herself very well, besides the words "cool" and "awesome".

Fluttershy, pal, this won't cut it
I need a pet to keep up with me
Something awesome, something flying
With coolness that defies gravity!

Charlotte Fullerton & Kevin Rubio, "Find A Pet Song"

She can't express herself because that's its purpose in the story, she doesn't know what she wants in a pet. So instead she describes something she deeply loves, herself, and asks for something just like that. And of course this leads up to the moral in the end.

I love this song because it can only be sung by Fluttershy and Rainbow... Not merely because the episode is about them, but because this combination of characters advances the song (and story) in a specific way. At first, Fluttershy is enthusiastic, doing most of the singing, which is about her knowledge of animals. Rainbow is skeptical, gradually opens up to Fluttershy's suggestions, and becomes fully excited at the idea of making it a fun contest. Now she's singing about the animals too, and takes the lead in the song. Fluttershy's happy that she convinced Rainbow, and becomes the supportive singing role. She's not only singing about cute animals, but also the awesomeness contest ("Don't forget style, that should be considered... The one who is awesome as cool...")

They both started on opposite ends of an issue, and by the end they're in unison, literally. It tells a mini-story on its own, just through music. The story is still clear even if you don't watch the animation... or even the episode surrounding it for context. I can't assume the style of music here is your cup of tea, but if it is, I bet these lyrics were extremely memorable for you.

If a song isn't about a character expressing herself, it's usually about them trying to convince each other with arguments. Almost all the songs from the movie belong to this category, yet they probably come across as preachy to non-fans. Being straightforward isn't the problem -- Find A Pet has the characters directly say, "I want a pet," "OK let's get you a pet". I think the movie songs don't show any argument at all, and progression happens within them too suddenly. It's unconvincing to the audience, because it shouldn't be convincing to the characters either.

Why do they trust Capper from his song? It's hard to read anything honest and trustworthy into his tone there.

What is this "one small thing"? I kept waiting the whole song to find out, but it turns out there's no punchline.

What is Tempest even trying to say to Twilight? The chorus is a repetition of "listen to my point of view", but she doesn't clearly state her thesis.

You need to change
If you want to compete
But fear not, for I know what to do
I know it feels strange
But trust me, when we're done
We'll make sure that you're a hit, too

[Pinkie Pie]
Don't ever change
Being different is good
Don't let what others do be your cue

Never rearrange
'Cause somepony said you should
Just trust your heart, it will know what to do

[Pinkie Pie and Rarity]
It's gonna work
I know it's gonna work
It's gonna work out just fine, trust me
It's gonna work
I swear it's gonna work
It's gonna work out just fine, you'll see!

Michael Vogel, "It's Gonna Work"

Neither pony gets to explain their argument beyond one line. Why do they need to emphasize "just trust me on this" when that's already the mantra of the chorus? As amazing as it is to see a Bollywood parody in a children's cartoon, it's kinda wasted by the characters saying nothing. The chorus is almost catchy because of the tune, but held back by the lyrics. Only two words change, just so it can form a rhyme... and not a very memorable rhyme.

How people talk.

This section is different from character voice. This is about how general people talk, out loud. Meter, rhythm, cadence, rhyming, and a bunch of other words I sorta know the definition. This is also the section I have the least credibility on.

I think I read this somewhere on Only Solitaire: Lyrics exist either to be meaningful, or just sound cool. If they do neither, why put them in the song?

You can ignore this entire essay up to this point on how to be deep and meaningful, because sounding cool is fine too. It gets the job done, which is to be catchy and memorable.

You don't even have to be a good writer, because I think this aspect comes intuitively. There's written rules on this kind of thing, but the rules were formed around how people naturally speak the language, not the other way around. It's also really subjective, and difficult for me to express clearly when it's done right.

But I don't think Michael Vogel really listens to how people talk. At all.

There's something weird about his meter, that no other lyricist on the show seems to have. The singers seem to have to speed up and slow down to fit them within the music. The Hearth's Warming Eve musical episode seems to be full of this.

Ponies' voices fill the night
Hearth's Warming Eve is here once again
Happy hearts so full and bright
Hearth's Warming Eve is here once again
Oh, what a sight
Look at the light
All for tonight
Hearth's Warming Eve is here once again

This isn't awful by itself on paper. But hearing the song is jarring, like the lines alternate between too few syllables and too many. I really don't know anything about poetry or singing. There's something forced about it. Add that to how the song doesn't express much meaning since the imagery is so vague, and it doesn't feel festive at all to me.

And in just about any other song in the show, I can find interesting lines with clever wordplay or alliteration or whatever. Something special that stands out. The best I can find in Vogel's musicals is the line "the present's always filled with presents" which is cute. But everywhere else it seems like his goal is to be as plain and perfunctory as possible.

Everypony loves this cursed holiday
But would they be better off with it out of the way?
Well, okay

"Well okay"?? That's the rhyme? :raritydespair:

Looking back at it now, the whole verse of "Time to Be Awesome" is awkwardly phrased, just so it can lead up to a desperate rhyme with the word "awesome" -- squash 'em? toss 'em? I guess they count as rhymes.

Good rhymes are another subjective thing, and I couldn't really tell you how to make them. But I think when done right, they're a little bit predictable, in a good way. Like they feel natural and effortless. Even when they're surprising in the moment, like there's a little anticipation building up to them.

The seeds of the past
They grow pretty fast
Just look at who you were back then
The seeds, as they grow
Look what they can show
Reveal the truth time and again

The rhyming here is.... well it rhymes. Yet they're not memorable rhymes, just really common ones. Normally saved for filler in between the good rhymes. :ajbemused:

It's like Vogel is hitting some quota. The song's about X, so the characters will talk about X, and the ends of the lines should rhyme when written on paper. There's little meaning to be found, but nothing about the words sound good out loud either. He has the required rhymes to be considered a "song" in the technical sense, but it's like they're reluctantly thrown in, rather than used for a purpose.

Vogel has no professional writing credits, he's a Hasbro VP who stepped down to join the creative teams. He's probably well-meaning and enthusiastic about it, just not very competent at it. He's not too different from any other fan, but one with enough power to get in this position where his input can't be ignored. Not from high above at Hasbro HQ, but in the studio itself. And in a way, I get more scared of all these individual cooks selflessly helping out in the kitchen, than a faceless robotic corporation trying to milk a franchise. The latter's predictable, at least.

I'm sure he's a nice guy. It's just that his writing is noticably below average, and that's just from looking at lyrics because I personally care about silly pony songs too much. His episode storylines are questionable too. He has yet to achieve mediocrity. :trollestia:

But on a positive note, I hope these are some starting ideas to think about when it comes to crafting song lyrics. If YOU have a brief urge to write a song and a few seconds pondering how to do it, then you already have more experience than I do. I can't tell you how to do it well, just the things I notice I like from hearing songs that work. You can probably tell me what works for you, if you're a music person. I'm clueless and easy to please.

"I'm just no good with lyrics. Coming up with words is like... really hard."

Report hazeyhooves · 152 views · #lyrics
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Comments ( 4 )

I don't think I included "Find a Pet" in my list, but your analysis makes me sad I didn't, for pretty much the reasons you gave. I wouldn't put the lyrics in isolation in my S-rank tier (maybe A-rank), but it tells a story very effectively with some clever turns of phrase.

That song will always have a special place in my memory..... as one that I actually didn't like at all at first :twilightsheepish: and then with every new listen, I gradually grew more fond of it.

much like Rainbow Dash and her pet tortoise, I guess? huh. :rainbowderp:

But where's "Hope Shines Eternal"? :fluttercry:

too eternal, not hopeful enough.

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