Sunday, August 12, 2018

Song Critique - New Attitude by Patti LaBelle Using the Hero's Journey


What are the components that produce successful songs?  I used to believe it was only a combination of three elements: lyrics, music, and recording artist. For an example, New Attitude, a popular 80’s song, has redemptive lyrics, a techno danceable beat, and was recorded by Patti LaBelle, a well-liked R&B singer.  At the peak of its popularity, New Attitude was a staple on the air-ways, an anthem for female empowerment, and was the introductory music for the Dr. Laura radio program. Recently,
after hearing it on the radio, I became aware of another layer that makes it favored by many and still popular today-the songwriters used elements of the hero’s journey to craft a universally relatable story.

New Attitude – Song Analysis using the Hero’s Journey

Based on Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I summarize the hero’s journey into four acts:
I.                Existence in the ordinary world
II.              Ordeal
III.            Confrontation of the ordeal
IV.            Change/redemption.


Act 1 and Act II
Introductory notes express urgency.  A synthesized drum-beat serves as a prelude to an even faster up tempo melody. Your mind immediately thinks about something moving rapidly, possibly people running. Are they escaping danger? The opening lyrics fit the musically enhanced feelings of dread:

“Running hot
Running cold
I was running into overload
That was extreme”

Writers decide where to begin a hero’s story. This story begins at Act II with describing the ordeal; skipping Act I. The hero begins a tale about a stressful life experience from the past. The use of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ in close proximity indicate confusion. Also, the use of temperatures give the impression of a body fever, or possibly an illness.  

“I took it so high so low so long
There was nowhere to go like a bad dream”

These verses reiterate the first four lines, but give more insight into the struggle. This was not a brief episode. The hero hit rock bottom and reached despair. What I really like about these lyrics is that we do not know exactly what caused the meltdown, and neither do we know what ‘it’ is.  The use of the pronoun ‘it’ allows the audience to fill in the blank with events from their own lives which makes the song relevant to a large audience.

Before the next group of lyrics, I hear a decrescendo which lightly relaxes the music’s high intensity.  A positive change has occurred:

New Attitude – Act III
The inciting event described in Act II was confronted and resolved. By using the general word ‘somehow’, we do not know what caused the change. Likewise, we do not know what was the ‘lesson to learn’. Again, the songwriters use non-specific lyrics to make the song relatable to anyone’s journey.

Bridge
“Somehow the wires uncrossed
The tables were turned
Never knew I had such a lesson to learn”

New Attitude - Act IV
Now, with this new insight, the hero details how her life changed. The music's upbeat intensity reflects the meaning.

Chorus
“I'm feeling good from my hat to my shoe
Know where I am going and I know what to do
I've tidied up my point of view
I've got a new attitude.
I'm in control
My worries are few
'Cause I got love like I never knew
Ooh oh ooo oh
I've got a new attitude”

What caused the hero's ‘New Attitude’?  ‘Cause I got love like I never knew’. The hero found love, but she did not elaborate on what type of love.  Is it romantic love? Friendship love? Intellectual love? Self-love?  With this new love, whatever type of love it was, she has new insights for a fruitful life. Now the hero is in control and has few worries. She feels wonderful, hence the exuberant music that accompanies the chorus.  As I reflect on these lyrics, I believe that we grow and mature by changing what we love.  One way to change a habit, is to replace it with a new one.

New Attitude – Act IV

The musical melody is primarily a repeat of the first movement.

We hear additional details about the hero’s new life.  The ‘new dress, a new hat’ could be metaphors for both new inner and outer awareness.  She has ‘new ideas’ and is ‘changed for good’.  Notice the general nouns and adjectives. By not being specific, the songwriters allow us, the listeners, to see our personal life experiences in the story.

“I am wearing a new dress a new hat
Brand new ideas
As a matter of fact
I've changed for good.”

The ‘cold nights’ could mean the hero spent time in reflective isolation.  The ‘new moon’ and ‘night changes’ represent an extended period of time

“Must have been the cold nights new moon
Night changes
Or forget your love for just being like I should”

The last line, ’or forget your love for just being like I should’, puzzles me.  When I listen to the track, I cannot make out what Patti LaBelle is singing, exactly. I believe “just being like I should” means the hero let go of a false reality and replaced it with an authentic one.

Repeat: Bridge and Chorus
The Hero sings the end of her story confidently and with purpose.  You cannot help but be happy for her.

Whenever I listen to songs from my youth, they reveal qualities relevant to me now as an adult.  New Attitude is not just a song with an infectious danceable beat. Its cleverly written lyrics and engaging story unfold as a universal hero’s myth about overcoming life’s challenges and obstacles, and finding new reasons for living, of which we all can relate.

References:     
Old life. New Life Logo retrieved from https://openclipart.org/user-detail/laftello

Campbell, Joseph. (1949). The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press.

Song Lyrics, New Attitude. Retrieved from New Attitude lyrics searched on www.google.com/


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