Catching Up – “Outside”

I’ve been meaning to write a blog entry about this song for a while. Unfortunately, life just has a tendency to happen and suck my blogging time away.

Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – Outside

Music videos have, as a general art form, seemed to have taken a nose dive since the mid 90’s. There were a handful of standouts here and there, but on the whole, watching them is an exception for me, not a rule. This video isn’t terribly notable (aside from its interesting time-stopping and CGI mirror effects), but the video isn’t the topic of this blog entry – the song is.

I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, and after a while, it got me thinking. As I get older, I find that “learning song lyrics” has been a task that now requires more formal effort and intent, rather that simply being the product of simply hearing the song enough. Perhaps it’s simply due to age, perhaps it’s simply due to some limit to the number of songs I can learn in that manner, and perhaps it has more to do with my focus being on knowing good in-points and out-points for DJ purposes, though most likely it’s a combination of them. Regardless, I did have to listen through the song once more – as well as read the lyrics directly – to ensure that I was accurate in my assessments.

What struck me wasn’t the lyrics – like I said, I had to look them up to tell you what they were. More poignant to me was the hook – the four bar synth melody that repeats a total of eighteen times in the radio edit. In the interminable debate regarding the level to which music itself can convey emotion (this question being the entrance to the rabbit hole regarding the nature of art itself),this purely synthetic loop, 7.5 seconds in length, to me, seems a bit of a paradox. I get a sense of both optimism and hopelessness, a sense of anticipation and letdown, a known cycle and a feeling that something isn’t going to stay the same.

Beyond the paradox, I am wondering why this particular song actually brought about an emotion to begin with.┬áThere have only been a handful of songs that have ever evoked a reaction, but they’ve almost invariably been based on lyrical content. Even the handful of others that stand out as a result of their instrumentation at least involved actual instrument-playing, rather than being the result of an evening in FL Studio. Regardless, why this song, and why not so many others? I just don’t get it.

Perhaps what I’m witnessing here is the difference between art and design, as described by my fellow CMN alum Len Wilson: Design answers a question, while art asks a question. Perhaps, in our world of synthetic music, designed to be popular just long enough to make it to the top of the iTunes charts for a week, Calvin and Ellie managed to do something notable: produce art.


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