Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Since U Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson



She said that we were too different.

My girlfriend dumped me because I was too different.

The reality was that she gave up on the relationship and that hurt. And I never understood the different conflicted emotions that one feels during a break-up until I went through it myself. We blame ourselves in an attempt to take control of the situation, we blame others to doge responsibility for our actions, we mourn the potential of a relationship that is lost and hopefully, we see that we are better because of the experience.

Behind its veneer of a simple pop song, Kelly Clarkson’s "Since U Been Gone" takes us on an emotional journey through a break-up, the hard kind of break-up. This is a break-up where no one is the bad guy. This is a break-up where no single person can take the blame. And this is a break-up that through the pain, we understand that we can finally “get what we want.”

I’m not a fan of American Idol. I don’t think it’s a bad show at all, it just doesn’t capture my imagination. There are many interesting cultural dynamics in that show that I may address in a later post including amateur entertainment, cross-generational music selection and music performance as a competitive activity. I did not think much about Kelly Clarkson who won the first season of American Idol in 2002 until I heard "Since U Been Gone" from her second album, Breakaway.

Everything in "Since U Been Gone" serves to focus the listener on the emotional journey of a break-up. What does the opening guitar riff express about break-ups? Nothing, but the simplicity of the guitar and drums allows our attention to focus on the singing and the lyrics where the meaning of the song lies. Other instruments come in later creating a deeper texture but they never overshadow the singing and the lyrics.

Let’s take a look at the first two verses.

[Verse 1]
Here's the thing We started out friends
It was cool, but it was all pretend
Yeah, yeah, since you been gone
You're dedicated, you took the time
Wasn't long 'til I called you mine
Yeah, yeah, since you been gone
And all you'd ever hear me say
Is how I picture me with you
That's all you'd ever hear me say

[Verse 2]
How can I put it, you put me on
I even fell for that stupid love song
Yeah, yeah, since you been gone
How come I'd never hear you say
I just wanna be with you
Guess you never felt that way

The lines “Yeah, yeah, since you been gone” do not fit in the narrative of the verse, so let’s take them out and se what we got.

[Verse 1]
Here's the thing We started out friends
It was cool, but it was all pretend
You're dedicated, you took the time
Wasn't long 'til I called you mine
And all you'd ever hear me say
Is how I picture me with you
That's all you'd ever hear me say
[Verse 2]
How can I put it, you put me on
I even fell for that stupid love song
How come I'd never hear you say
I just wanna be with you
Guess you never felt that way

These verses discuss what happened in the relationship. She admits that she fell for this guy’s tricks and is frustrated that he doesn’t feel the same way but she does. The end of the first verse reflects her optimism and the end of second verse shows how he didn’t reciprocate her love for him. These verses involve self-blame, frustration and a realization that these people did not view this relationship in the same way.

Next we have the chorus:

[Chorus]
But since you been gone
I can breathe for the first time
I'm so movin' on, yeah, yeah
Thanks to you, now I get, I get what I want
Since you been gone

She is happy that the guy is out of her life. Things are better without him and she thanks him for helping her realize what she wants in life. This is a celebratory “look at me, I am TOTALLY over you and my life is GREAT!” The interesting thing is how the line “Yeah, Yeah Since you been Gone” is part of the verses. This statement of independence and freedom is interjected between lines of self-blame and frustration during the verses. It’s like the singer needs to remind herself that things are better after the break-up when she reflects on the relationship.

The turning point emotionally in this song is the bridge:

[Bridge]
You had your chance, you blew it
Out of sight, out of mind
Shut your mouth, I just can't take it
Again and again and again and again

There is no interjection of the line “Since You Been Gone.” There’s no need for the narrator to convince herself that things are better. She’s realizes that the bottom line is not about who’s to blame but about moving on in life.

This is not a simple female empowerment song. There are levels of emotion that even with a simple melody and popular music presentation speaks in a mature way to the conflicted feelings that make up almost every emotional event in our lives.

This song works for so many people partially due to its technical aspects. The producers have balanced the instruments well, featuring a melody that is fun to sing. "Since U Been Gone" rocks out with a great tempo and familiar aural landscape. However, what makes it lasts in our minds is that an American Idol is a singing a song that dares to go deep, dares to show inner conflict and dares to feature the emotional development of a person in pain.

This song is about hope. Break-ups can be devastating. They seem like failures of the human heart. In break-ups we question our compatibility and even our potential to love. We relate to the pain, but it is message that happiness does not lie in others but ourselves that is so powerful. Much of art reflects on how only through finding a soul mate can be whole, but more importantly "Since U Been Gone" speaks to the reality that we can truly love that life partner unless we are whole by ourselves first.

I am happily married and I hold no animosity towards my that girlfriend who broke up with me. She helped realized who I was and what I really needed in my. I thank her for all of that and for continuing to be a positive force in my life.

Thanks to U, I have what I want in my wife, and I love I got, since U been gone.

-Kingsley

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