Monday, June 11, 2012

Lyrics (Over)Analysis - Michelle by The Beatles

So this song has a reputation of being a simple "love" song. However, perhaps there is more that meets the eye regarding this song and that this piece is actually a satire on teen pop music and "silly love songs". 

Don't believe me? Let's go through the lyrics

"Michelle, my belle.
These are words that go together well,
My Michelle."

So the beginning of the song starts off with Michelle, my belle (which means my beloved) but there isn't any emotional meaning or deep thoughts to those words. They are essentially just words that sound romantic and goes together well. Michelle is not really a real girl Paul knows, it's just a nice female name that matches the pop song archetype. Which is Paul satiring the nature of pop music.

"Michelle, my belle.
Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble,
Très bien ensemble."

Now Paul is just repeating the same line but in French because translating English language into French automatically makes the song sounds more romantic. However, like the message of the song, it's only done because it goes together well with the song not because of any real meaning or affection.

"I love you, I love you, I love you.
That's all I want to say.
Until I find a way
I will say the only words I know that
You'll understand. "

It's turns out that John Lennon suggested the incorporation of the "I Love You" section of the song. Which makes sense because John suggestion in songs generally incorporate the cynical, downbeat section to the song (see. Getting Better, We Can Work It Out etc).

You see this is the clever part of the song where Paul is singing generic "I Love You" to the audience not because he actually does love anyone, but because the audience can't understand anything other than "I Love you". "Until I find a way" to sing lyrics with deeper meaning and songs that are more intelligent, he will keep on singing "I Love You" types songs because they are the only type of songs that the teen pop audience will understand. They are too stupid to understand lyrics that mean anything more than "I Love You". Oh man, that really biting cynical satire there from Lennon/McCartney.

"I need to, I need to, I need to.
I need to make you see,
Oh, what you mean to me.
Until I do I'm hoping you will
Know what I mean."

So the whole I need to make you see what you mean to me. In normal pop songs that generally means that he wants the other person to know that he loves her but in the context of this satire, it's a twist because he wants the fans to know that they mean nothing to him. That he's hoping that one day the fans become intelligent enough to see through the facade so that he would be able to write songs that are more intelligent.

Then there's the generic "I love you..." to follow the trope of the pop song genre

"I want you, I want you, I want you.
I think you know by now
I'll get to you somehow.
Until I do I'm telling you so
You'll understand."

So Paul is singing "I want you" and repeating it multiple times until the audience understands and gets (I think you know by now) the "subtle" point that Paul "wants and love the girl" because if he makes the song more subtle without outright declaration of love and affection, they won't understand what he means (man Paul is ridiculously nasty and cynical in this song. I'm no lover of teen pop but the fans of that genre aren't that bad).

Then there is a few repetition of the previous lyrics and ends up with the declaration that "I will say the only words I know that
You'll understand, my Michelle." which summarise the song that they are writing simplistic love song lyrics that people can understand easily.

Now some people may disagree and that this song is actually about loving a French girl despite the fact that they can't really communicate with each other due to language difference (thanks to George Starostin for pointing out the literal interpretation, I honesty could not make that connection that there was a language barrier between the two lovers which led to the creation of this convoluted theory). However even if that was true, isn't it genious that the song can be interpret as a straight up "silly love song' whist simultaneously be a deconstruction of the same silly love song genre?

Now you may wonder why you should buy into this teen pop satire interpretation when there's a perfectly logical and more simpler love song literal interpretation of the song.

Well for two reasons, a) This interpretation perfectly symbolises the status of Rubber Soul being the start of the mature phase of The Beatles writing music beyond "I love you". What better way to say that we are more than just another teen pop band by writing a song that parodies it b) This interpretation creates thematic consistency with the rest of the album. The basic theme of rubber soul is basically disillusionment with their relationship with woman and relationship with the teenage fans that worship them. This interpretation completely gels well and complements songs like "Think For Yourself" and "If I Needed Someone" and if this interpretation is true it would create greater unity between songs. Hell you could almost make this album a concept album about this topic.

Now maybe it's unlikely that Paul McCartney intended the song to mean this (but I haven't completely ruled it out) but it certainly in my "head canon". I just find it amusing the idea of Mr. "Silly Love Song" writing a parody of songs the type of songs he has written a lot of and I have an image of McCartney laughing in his head when people sing this song sincerely. 

PS: I  thought of this "biting satire" interpretation because I was completely stump by this line "I will say the only words I know that You'll understand. " and I didn't know how that connected with a "love song" and I thought that sounded rather patronising and like Paul was calling her an idiot. I was thinking that maybe he was calling her an idiot and then I extrapolated from that this song that the lyrics are a parody of the fans who can't understand anything from music beyond "I Love You".

Now I didn't believe that Paul intended it that way (although I would laugh if he did though) but at the time, it was the only interpretation that actually made sense to me. Now the more plausible interpretation is that line just meant "I Love You" was the only thing she understood in English and that this song is a comedic love song about falling in love with a French woman without being able to communicate with each other but I didn't make that connection until George Starostin pointed it out. Although I don't know what it says about me that I couldn't make that simple and more straight forward connection but was able to string together this more convoluted theory instead.

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