Tag: Jam of the Week

Jam of the Week – Q.U.E.E.N by Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu

“Are we a lost generation of our people?”

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of music these days focuses too much on sex and the events that circle it. Although it’s cliché, back in my day, music had thought and meant something when you read the lyrics. I’m not old enough to say that, but it doesn’t matter because I’m standing by that statement. Every generation will always have those pure “sex songs” but there has to be a limit. This song, this entire album, came out just in time to save the world.

Janelle Monae is an amazing singer/songwriter. Her album The Electric Lady is her second album, and features the popular hit “Primetime” featuring Miguel, which is amazing on it’s own. This album also features 19 (I think) other singles & interludes. Though there is no denying the great rhythm and movement to her music instrumentals, her lyrics are so powerful that it’s hard to avoid them in the song. They aren’t words you want to ignore because they’re repeating over and over a part of the body or something a girl should do, or what have you.

In her song “Q.U.E.E.N,” Ms. Monae is writing about oppression in society from a variety of forms. From being talked about for how one dresses, to a person’s gender, Janelle Monae is speaking up and giving the music world exactly what it needs: good, quality lyrics. Writing takes on many forms, and song lyrics are a branch of poetry. Writing about personal experiences is one of the greatest forms of expression and can create some of the best music. This album, this song, is a great form of expression and is something that will attract music lovers of all kind. It’s a great mix of R&B, Rap, and Pop. The song will end and you will feel so inspired to do something amazing with your life in the world.

“Will you sleep, or will you preach?”


Jam of the Week – World So Cold


“World So Cold” by Three Days Grace seems like a very appropriate choice to kick off the Jam of the Week with this semester. In my quarter-century as a Michigan native, I don’t recall ever having experienced a winter so brutal. Ice storm, blizzards, sub-zero temperatures, one MSU snow day and two delays- this combination hurts the soul. It makes going to class and getting work done for school that much more difficult. So, in a song with lyrics clearly written about losing someone dear, I hear the lyrics and think of the sun and how much I miss it. While I’m pumped we’ve survived January, I fear we have a great deal of winter left to withstand. In the meantime, jam to “World So Cold” – then come on into the WC and warm up with some hot coffee while having your paper consulted by one of our many wonderful and capable writing consultants.

Jam of the week: “Royals”, by Mayer Hawthorne

Why a cover of a good, catchy song? Because it’s a good cover of a good, catchy song. There’s much to be said about his oh-so-dreamy voice and the fabulous drum part, but the beauty here is in the new vision of the original song and the unique spin that was put on what could easily have been a straight forward copy. Mayer Hawthorne takes the popular song, “Royals” by Lorde, and turns it into a funky, snazzy jazz tune. While “Royals” is indeed my guilty pleasure and I do love this cover, the point that this here entertaining example is meant to illustrate (that I hope gets stuck in your head all day) is not that this is a great song (though it is).

The point is that sometimes wonderful things come from imitation. Each of English Professor William Penn’s course packs begins with a note on imitation. In this note he says that imitation is “a useful activity that helps students find where stories are, learn how they begin or are structured and told, and discover the truths that all stories come out of other stories and there are no new stories, only interesting ones retold.” At first I was skeptical. Why would copying someone else’s work make me a better writer? They’ve already written that; copying it is just plagiarism, right?  No, because that isn’t what imitation means.

Imitation in writing will “force you to get outside yourself, observe the world and all its myriad details and images and select ones that are appropriate to your story” and let you emulate a writer that you admire. You’re not plagiarizing their work, you’re drawing inspiration from a word, a sentence, a vague idea, or even a tone or style, and you’re letting your work take shape from that. When you’re that inspired, your writing will shine and you’ll have no need for plagiarism. No, you won’t always need or want to imitate things that you read, but it is a great tool for breaking through writer’s block and allowing yourself to figure out your own voice as a writer.

Jam of the Week: “I’m the One That’s Cool”, by Felicia Day and Jed Whedon

“I’m the One That’s Cool” is the third song Felicia Day wrote as an extra for her (now complete) web show The Guild. The Guild is pretty much my favorite thing from the Internet, and Felicia Day is one of my heroines (I had her sign the back of my iPad), so I love all the songs she wrote. They’re all very different songs, and they’re all great but “I’m the One That’s Cool” is probably the most interesting, because she’s commenting on the whole “geek is chic” thing, which she’s commented on before. That’s cool, and I could write a lot about that, but the important thing about this song for our purposes is her use of tropes.

Tropes are essentially building blocks that writers can “reasonably rely on as being present in the audience member’s minds and expectations.” Tropes are similar to cliché in that they give the audience a quick idea of what you mean, but tropes aren’t stereotypes, they have more value in that they still have a connection to something the audience actually recognizes. Tropes that get used too much and outlive their relevance become cliché.

So why talk about tropes? Because they’re useful, and this song is full of tropes connected to “geek” life and culture. Tropes allow writers to express things concisely, without having to resort to excessive exposition or explaining details. You know the idiom concerning jokes that, if you have to explain it, it isn’t funny? The same idea applies, the more time you spend explaining what you mean by something, the longer it takes to move on with the story. Check out TVTropes.com and see how others have identified and used tropes, and see where you can fit them into your own writing.

Jam of the Week: “What is Love?”, by Haddaway


This song has been stuck in my head for like, two months now, I listen to it every few days, and I take every single chance I get to sing the chorus, preferably without context. But I keep coming back to the question: what is love? And more importantly, why doesn’t Haddaway ever tell us what love is? Does he not know? If you listen to the lyrics, he seems confused by it, as if he wrote the song to ask the early 1990s for help in answering one of the fundamental questions of the human experience.

For our purposes though, I think it’s a pretty good example of a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions, to quote my best friend in the world, Wikipedia, are “not posed to elicit a specific answer, but rather to encourage the listener to consider a message or viewpoint.” So Haddaway wants us to think about love, that’s fair.

Rhetorical questions can be useful when you’re trying to get your audience to think about something they might not be used to thinking about, and therefor can be a good tool for essays and other academic papers.

They do pose a risk though, in that when you ask a question of your readership, they might expect you to answer that question. I think the trick is to pose a question that seems like it has an obvious answer. Rhetorical questions should be reasonably broad. Overly specific questions can lead them to seek answers in your writing, which you may be trying to give them, but they’re going to want those answers to be clear and probably pretty soon after the question.

Rhetorical questions can be useful, but they can be tricky, too. Haddaway may not have chosen the right format, because generally I’m too busy bobbing my head and trying to figure out why he’s at a dance party in a vampire’s house, to really think about what love is.

Jam of the Week: “Losing You”, by Solange

This week I want to share “Losing You,” by Solange. If you’re not familiar with Solange, I’m so very, very sorry. She’s Beyoncé’s little sister, so you can probably expect she’s pretty talented. You’d be right!

The song is catchy, but the lyrics have a somewhat somber feeling. It’s a song about facing loss. If the uptempo nature of the song and all the dancing in the video are anything to go by, it’s also about facing that loss with courage, and refusing to let it break you.

Can we talk about this video? It’s amazing, there’s just so much energy in it, and it looks like Solange just absolutely loved filming it. As far as inspiration goes, I don’t really know what to tell you. I don’t own this album yet, so I only get to hear the song if I’ve got the video playing, and then it’s pretty hard to get anything done, because I’m watching the video. I can say this though: this song usually puts me in a good mood. It doesn’t get me pumped up, but it does give me a sort of contented feeling, something that makes me feel like I can face down deadlines or edit difficult term papers or whatever other task awaits me.

Jam of the Week: “Birthday Cake”, by Stephen Walking

I don’t know how you feel about electronic music in general, it seems like people with opinions on it either love it or hate it. I’m in the former camp, I’ve been a fan of most of the sub genres for years now, but I’ve been listening to a lot of electro, house, and dubstep lately. This is how I discovered Stephen Walking.

Stephen Walking covers a number of sub-genres, but “Birthday Cake,” my favorite track by him so far, is electro. I listen to a lot of electronic music when I’m reading or writing for a couple of reasons. The general lack of vocals tends to be less distracting than lyrical songs, which is really useful. In a similar vein, since electronic music is primarily written for clubs, it tends to favor rhythm over melody, and good electronic music (especially trance) tends to remove the listener from the rest of the world. It’s probably best listened to through headphones.

“Birthday Cake” does these things well, but it’s also got just a ton of energy, this song gets me pumped up. Having the energy to write (or read, there’s a lot of that in graduate school!) is as important as having the motivation to do so. I find that music can keep me writing or distract me, and “Birthday Cake” tends to do the former.

If it helps, I also tend to listen to electronic music when I’m thinking about or working on science fiction. Something about electro and the like feel futuristic to me, and I doubt that I’m the only who feels that way.

Jam of the Week: “War”, by Poets of the Fall

If you’re like me, then you have a hard time functioning without music. I especially find that I pretty much can’t write without it, whether I’m looking (listening?) for inspiration, or just want something playing in the background. I find different artists and different genres useful for different reasons. Sometimes songs just make me think about writing in a different light.

Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall aree pretty inspirational, especially this Jam of the Week. “War” is from their fourth album, Twilight Theater, which the band has described as “cinematic rock.” I don’t exactly know what that means, but it seems like a pretty good description. The song is epic; it’s moody, and spooky, and kind of uplifting. It feels like watching a film.

The video is dark, both literally and figuratively, and the narrative is focused on loss and confusion, but there’s a sense of longing and desire too. It puts me in the mood for shows like Twin Peaks, or games like Alan Wake (in which the song is featured, and is where I first heard it), stories with dreamlike, and often nightmarish, qualities.

For all of that though, I still find it uplifting (especially the beginning of the chorus); like the story might still have a happy ending, it’s just going to take a lot of work on the part of the protagonist. Not a bad metaphor, especially for the writing process. Sometimes writing is an uphill battle, but it will still come out okay in the end. And just like the narrator in the song, sometimes you have to remember that you’re not always in it alone, and there are people who can help you with that process, like us here at The Writing Center.