Monday, April 9, 2012

The Sign by Ace of Base

What does the “The Sign” mean to you?

To my wife, it’s a song that came out when she was around 9 years old. For a talent show her and a couple of her friends came up with a dance for this song and performed it. My wife’s understanding of this song back then wasn’t very deep. She thought that this song was literally about a sign.

This song was huge. “The Sign” was the #1 one song of 1994 and sold over nine million copies in America alone. Part of it’s appeal was its drum beat but also that this song had layers beyond the idea of a “printed sign.”

For me, the song is about someone seeing a sign in the sense of an action revealing something deeper. Like when you are going out on a date with someone who is constantly texting throughout dinner, that’s a “sign,” that he or she is not that into you and lacks elementary social skills.

What’s the sign in this song? They never say. It’s kind of like Meat Loaf ‘s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). People don’t seem to know what “that” is (even though the song pretty clearly lays out that it is cheating/adultery).  “The Sign” doesn’t really help us in a literal sense understand the sing but we get an emotional sense what finally seeing the sign feels like.

You get a sense of this in the way that the chorus of this song opens up harmonically. But the best part that describes this and my favorite part of the song is when the song modulates (suddenly changes keys). This occurs at the end of the instrumental break after the second chorus: “I saw the sign and it opened up my eyes and I am happy not living without you. . . ”

There’s a beautiful sense of freedom that happens in that moment. The song changes from that point on from a contemplation of circumstance to a celebration. While I love this moment and this song, I don’t know if the song is strong enough to appeal outside of my memories.

Is this song notable for any other reason than nostalgia? I don’t know. I’m too biased having grown up with this song in my life to know for sure. I can’t help but wonder if pop music that means so little to me actually means a lot to the younger generation and will continue to mean something to them as they grow up. It’s hard to say, but songs like “The Sign,” make me take pause before I criticize the latest pop music trend, because sometimes nostalgia is enough of a reason to make a song meaningful.

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