The New England branch of the literary society PEN has announced that it’s bestowing its inaugural award for outstanding achievement in song lyrics in February (hat tip: Dave Bry/Maud Newton). Lyrics from all stripes of popular music can, of course, be utterly banal, but they can also employ words in ways that delight and confound, and it’s somewhat heartening to see that music, after all these years of being a sort of also-ran in the pantheon of cultural forms that can double as High Art, is getting a little bit of shine for its most outstanding examples. The jury that will select the winner includes such musical luminaries as Bono, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, and Paul Simon, and given that one of those people was responsible for committing the line “I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine/ I could see in the reflection/ A face staring back at me” to wax, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that suggestions from the peanut gallery are welcome. I asked some SOTC pals to pick their favorite potential contenders for this award; feel free to nominate your own in the comments.
André 3000, “The Sleazy Remix”
André 3000 has had a pretty fantastic run of guest verses this year, but the bars he added to the remix of Ke$ha’s fabulously boomy “Sleazy” still stand out: He starts off rapping from the POV of an eight-year-old confused about and steeling himself against his mom’s fraught relationship with his dad before spinning into a world where Ke$ha is actually the unimpressed-by-wealth version of Madonna depicted in the clip for “Material Girl.” Plus, the line “She says ‘Stacks, you’re true blue’/ I said ‘Nah, I’m Navy'” is just awesome.—Maura Johnston
I feel like she doesn’t get enough credit, but Dee Dee’s lyrics about her mom passing are great: “I never had imagined death/ beyond a vague and cold last breath/ but now I see his many forms/ the way he builds up like a storm/ in all the pain and all the sighs/ that well up in my mother’s eyes.”—J. Edward Keyes
This song gets me every time, and in some weird way always makes me think of Denis Johnson.—Miles Raymer
The memories outlined here emerge whole cloth via misapplied drugs—a window, a view, a girl, the typical kind of embarrassing subjects of nostalgic emo—and they’re written adventurously enough that they transform David Mackinder’s Michigan accent into a rope around his feet.—Brad Nelson
In Jay-Z’s lone verse on Watch The Throne‘s opening track, he posits a dystopian past/future in which he and Kanye are both members of a Holy Trinity and engages in a little bit of Euthyphro dilemma pondering.—Andy Hutchins
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 2, 2011