I had heard of Regina Spektor before July 15th, of course, but I had never heard her before then, when I started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix. “You’ve Got Time” serves as the theme song, and was recorded for the show.
I want to compare “You’ve Got Time” to System of a Down’s “Prison Song.” System (one of my favorite bands, mind you) puts things bluntly in the song: prisons are a way to control Americans, and American society relies too heavily on incarceration to hide its problems. There’s even a more-or-less spoken word section about the growth of the American prison system.
“You’ve Got Time,” on the other hand, is laden with metaphor, which seems like a good decision for a song about prison life. Metaphor is an important part of the English language, and kind of central to artistic expression. On the one hand, it’s possible for different audiences to interpret metaphors in different ways. On the other hand though, when an artist flat out tells you what they’re talking about it feels…less artistic.
I think it’s safe to say that Spektor is also criticizing the prison system (that’s a central theme of the show, after all) but she uses metaphor to help put the listener into the shoes of an inmate. “You’ve Got Time” isn’t about prison, it’s about the experience of prison. This is an important distinction.
When you’re writing something, any kind of piece really, it helps to really think about what you’re saying. There’s a big difference between knowing about something and experiencing it first hand, and there’s a big difference between telling someone about something, like prison life, and helping them understand the experience of that thing. I expect that, when done well, the latter is more powerful than the former: if you’re trying to reform prisons, for example, just telling people why prisons need to be reformed might not sink in, while showing them the details of prison life, in a show or a song, might be more effective. It’s just as possible to walk a mile, or something close to one, in someone else’s shoes through a song as through actual experience.