Jam of the Week: “You’ve Got Time”, by Regina Spektor

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.

One thought on “Jam of the Week: “You’ve Got Time”, by Regina Spektor

  1. Thanks for the insightful review, Jason. I am a big fan of the show and Regina as well. Regina was actually asked to write a song specifically for the show by the writer of the show, and did well, I think.

    I had heard a very small sampling of Regina’s work over the years, but really became a fan about a year ago. She is one of our best lyricists, and is brilliant in her use of metaphor whether about relationships (One More Time with Feeling), faith (Laughing With, Blue Lips)or the troubled history of humanity (Apres Moi). I strongly recommend exploring more of her work – I would start with the albums Begin to Hope and Far. Her excellent Live in London CD and DVD is also recommended…

    Robert A

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