Before I get into it, last week I published a zine via my zine press Wendy House Press. It’s the newest installment of my Mini Music Mag series and features a bunch of cool music based personal essays (like the kind I write here) by awesome guest writers. It costs $5 and all proceeds benefit Brave Space Alliance in Chicago. Check it out! You can buy it HERE and read it for free online HERE!
Scene: My boyfriend and I drive from our home in West Philadelphia to the Conshohoken IKEA. Sometimes he allows me to play music so I put on Free at Last by PUP, a great song with a good music video, and then Drunk II by Mannequin Pussy, a brilliant song with a brilliant music video. And I have a thought as we walk toward the entrance.
Saying your own name in lyrics is very funny. Hey, I could write a newsletter about that.
From what I can tell there’s sort of three formats this arises in:
- Ostensibly quoting someone speaking to them (the most frequent kind)
- A communication to the listener who is speaking (usually pushed by rappers and hardcore bands)
- True referencing of themselves (the best kind)
I made this playlist of crowd sourced examples if you wanna get fully stuck in!
Drunk II by Mannequin Pussy
Everyone says to me Missy you’re so strong
I love this song and this music video so much. Mannequin Pussy is one of the coolest bands, as a matter of general fact. It also embodies the most frequent way singers will say their own names— a quote. Or at least a reference to other people talking to her. I find this a charming thing to do and it makes sense. It’s more natural this way. Mostly I like this song for her cowboy hat and shiny outfits though.
Syke! Life Is Awesome! by Bomb the Music Industry!
Depression set in, I was a product of my environment, And then the other day, you said, “Jeff, get in your car. Yeah, pick Glenn Tillbrook up at the hotel and take him to the bar.”
Two exclamation points on this one how very 2009. This song is also very BTMI. Jeff Rosenstock really leans in. “I’ll get mad for the next ten years, but realize that sometimes things are great” is kind of the Jeff Rosenstock Vibe. We have nothing without our friends. That’s the message of Jeff’s music I think. And also that the government blows. This song does a bunch of name dropping aside from simply Jeff’s, from friends to his hero. I however had zero fucking idea who Glenn Tillbrook was so looked that up. Moving along…
Piano Man by Billy Joel
He says, "Bill, I believe this is killing me."
As the smile ran away from his face
"Well I'm sure that I could be a movie star
If I could get out of this place"
This is a stone cold classic example. It’s also not unlike Psych! Life is Awesome. Music makes the world go round baby. All these sad people just wanna hear Bill play. I really like when singers refer to themselves by their given names instead of a stage name, too. However, it does confront us with the reality that this grown, adult man goes by Billy usually. Much to consider.
Ketamine by Single Mothers
Now you're calling all my friends askin'
"Where is Drew Thompson?"
If they knew, they'd tell you
But what that really means is 'get a clue'
I find this example especially interesting as the man does not simply refer to his first name, but his last name as well! A rare full name self reference! You simply must respect it. He actually does two self references. Both in quote form. First one just mentions his first name and that’s less fun. This song also Rocks with a capital R. Like if La Dispute was … Less like that.
Now we move into new territory. Sometimes, an artist is speaking to the listener as if to say, “hey, this is me. I am the one speaking.” and this takes several forms. Let’s discuss using examples. A lot of people, when I tweeted about finding songs that fit this bill, shouted out Jason Derulo immediately. I understand the impulse to do so and, while I find his brand of starting off the song with his name not exactly what I was intending with the question, it is important to note. I would say this is more in the vein of a producer tag so I’m not sure those are lyrics but he gets a shout of from me just for the sheer pervasiveness of his name in my mentions.
While I mention this, before moving onto my favorite form of the phenomenon, I would like to give a special shout out to hardcore bands and those of adjacent genres. They really give rappers a run for their money when it comes to making sure you know who you’re listening to. Of course this doesn’t really count for a different reason, that you’re getting a band mentioning the band name. But here’s a couple fun ones of this genre of self reference.
Revulsion by Revulsion
This one is special because not only do they say their band name, it’s also the name of the song! Wow! What is this, Titus Andronicus?
Hot Grills and High Tops by Attack Attack!
DJ Club! 2008!
Fell into a hole with this one. Remember their cover of Still Fly? We’ve progressed past the need for rock bands to cover rap songs (case in point, Biffy Clyro covering WAP… deliver us from evil) but like idk that song kinda goes. Okay back at it.
Love Sosa by Chief Keef
These bitches love Sosa
These bitches love Sosa
I really am a big fan of this as an example sort of bridging categories 2 and 3. There’s quite a lot of referencing himself and the other musicians on the song. In the recorded version there’s a whole intro of the audio from that fan video of that kid ranting about school and people calling Chief Keef a fake. I love that. That’s like an infinitely better version of putting a tv audio clip in your song. I also like that rappers will refer to themselves by other stage names. Someone on twitter recommended Slim Shady which is a super funny. Anyway, one of the top comments on this music video is that Love Sosa is still the safest song to play when you have the aux and they’re right. Song rules. Okay moving on.
Free at Last by PUP
Sloppy Steffy back at it again, callin' you up at 5AM
"Have you been drinking?" Well of course I have
Why the hell would I be here if I wasn't?
All in all, this isn’t my favorite Morbid Stuff song. It’s good, I don’t really dislike any PUP songs except one, but it’s not my favorite. It does, however, have my favorite lyrical moment. I just love that he says “Sloppy Steffy” it makes me laugh and adds some fun levity to the album. It’s also true self reference fully in context of lyrical content. I’m also a big fan of Eva Hendricks’ appearance adding to a literal sense of conversation. Very cool. PUP rules.
Kimochi Warui (When? When? When? When? When? When? When?) by Car Seat Headrest
Hey Will, why don’t you cut the shit
And tell me who you’re fighting for?
If you’re not taking care of yourself
Then what are you here for?
This counts as storyline integration because talking to yourself isn’t a quote. Anyway, I think this song is sad. I remain really sad about Brian Wilson. I like this song though it makes me feel bad but in the way a lot of my favorite songs do. I like quite a lot of CSH songs. What am I talking about?
Extra Special Mentions:
I was responded to with this and it really made me giggle:
Preston @PayRentWithFun@mirandareinert This made me realize that Random Rules by Silver Jews, Summer Shandy by Front Bottoms, and Sad Songs by AJJ all feature the singer incorrectly identifying themselves as Steve
September 1st 20205 Likes
I think of what my mentor used to say:
"Who fuckin' gives a rat's ass Steve, just write a love song
When she asks me why they call me Brian instead of Steven,
I tell her it's got as much to do with personal
As it does professional reasons
I asked the painter why the roads are colored black
He said, "Steve, it's because people leave
And no highway will bring them back"
Now why were Sean, Brian, and David all referring to themselves as Steve(n). Let’s discuss.
It’s implied by Mr. Brian Sella, at least in context of that song, that his real name is Steven. I’m not sure that’s true but it is implied in the song. Unless the implication is that he’s lying to this girl he wants to go swimming with about his real name being Steven in which case maybe the song is like about wanting a different life with a different name. That feels like a probable premise of a Front Bottoms song. Either way, he’s Steven in the context of the song.
In the AJJ song, he’s also pretending to be someone else and in the context of the song, he is Steve. Steve in this song is a fictional country star. In an interview, Sean Bonnette says that he would write songs for a project in which he would be playing a character of Steve Chavez, a “long lost outlaw country great that people are just now coming back around to”. That’s cool. AJJ isn’t really for me. Maybe Steve would be.
Now we move onto the Silver Jews song. There’s some suggestions as to who Steve could be in this one. The genius page for this song suggests the Steve could be Steven Malkmus or, as another user suggests, maybe it’s Steve Keene, a painter who did work for Pavement. Neither of these make sense and just sound like indie rock assholes who want you to know that they like Pavement and know who did their artwork.
I don’t think it matters who Steve was in Berman’s song. What matters here is that his fans think it must be in reference to the Pavement related Steves he was associated with because, as the Stereogum article linked in the ‘Proposed Annotations’ section of the line says, “in the end, Berman didn’t come out on top”.
Not that it matters.
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and law student based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like polling the emo community on where good pizza in Philly is: @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading!
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