Tears from the Ear

September 20, 2008 / Daily Life / 13 Comments

One morning in the subway, I almost cried.

It was the song playing on my mp3 player – a Japanese song called ‘Motherland’ by a half-Korean half-African American singer, Crystal Kay. I’ve had this song on my playlist for more than 5 years, but I’ve never paid any attention to it. I always thought that it was just a good song by a good singer – beautiful melody, and strong vocals.

This is a perfect example of how I judge songs; I only listen to the melody. It seems that I’ve grown to ignore lyrics. It’s probably because I’m too jaded from American music; the lyrics are always about sex, drugs, rock and roll. You know, I really don’t need to profess my sex life to the whole world with a Billboards Top 100 hit. So, I don’t see why they need to. And no, I don’t know and don’t want to know what it’s like to have a cocaine addiction or jam in a band.

So, I turned my attention to Korean and Japanese music in 1999. The same great melody, and I have absolutely no idea what they’re singing about. Perfect. But after a decade later, I learned Korean, and watched enough Japanese animes to understand some of the lyrics anyway. The irony.

After the 5 years of leaving Crystal Kay’s Motherland to collect virtual dust, I finally understood its lyrics. What beautiful lyrics that explain my life and my fears! The sorrow of leaving a place, friends and family. The need to know that I have a place to return. The need to feel connected. The patriotism I have never felt. All expressed is very simple Japanese – simple enough for someone like me who’s never learned Japanese ever to understand.

That is why I couldn’t hold back my tears.

In the end, I took our my glasses and silently teared behind the safety of the lens.

So what do you listen to when you listen to music? The lyrics or the melody? Has any song ever touched you?

Crystal Kay – Motherland

This is also the ending song for popular Japanese anime Fullmetal Alchemist (鋼の錬金術師, Hagane no Renkinjutsushi). Enjoy!

  • I don’t really listen to lyrics much, even if I know the language. My problem is that I have this really odd hearing problem where really high and low pitches go through one ear and out the other. Therefore, all my life, I never really could fully understand the entire song’s lyrics unless I have the lyrics in front of me. I especially have a hard time understanding the lyrics if the singers do not enunciate them well, but even if they do, the music distracts me from it, so yeah.

    So basically, I listen to the melody, which is why I like instrumentals music. However, sometimes instrumentals also brings tears to my eyes because of it’s beauty, so, er, it works in its own way? XD

  • I agree with what you said about a lot of American music. While a lot of them have good tunes or beats, they often have terrible lyrics!! It reminds me of the “I kissed a girl” song which has a catchy tune but the lyrics are way too awkward!! Anyway, I really do like the melody to this song that you have posted. Its very nice =D

  • When I listen to a song, I mainly listen to the lyrics. And yes, a lot of songs have touched me before!!! I’ve even cried too!

  • mainstream american music, eh? yeah, I haven’t been keeping up much with that either, for mostly the same reasons as you. But my favourite song is Drops of Jupiter by Train. I love the lyrics.

    A while back, I was listening to Hamasaki Ayumi’s Walking Proud, and it really struck me how triumphant it sounded. The feeling really matched the lyrics.

    For the most part, though, I pay attention to the melody. I’d say it’s because I’m a pop-person, and most pop songs have similar lyrics.

  • It’s the composition that makes music good. Be it vocal, spoken word, instrumental or a mix. You can listen to the same song and have different experiences and opinions, so I’d rather not say potato or potato (not really that great an expression when written but try singing it. Over and over again. People will be so captivated that they capture you. White dresses, needles, straitjacket, the whole bit:)

    Take Leonard Cohen for instance. Really great lyricist, but sometimes I just listen to the music and join in on the chorus.

    My eyes hurt from writing this comment. The accessibility of this comment form brings tears to my eyes. Literally:(
    Otherwise, good post as usual:)

  • I pay attention to the melody first and then the lyrics. Sometimes, I can’t decide which bears more weight between the two, really. I wouldn’t want to listen to something noisy (think: screamo or heavy metal), no matter how touching or beautiful the words are. At the same time, I have a bunch of songs that merely serve as background music to me (like Camera Obscura): lovely lyrics, soothing melodies, but nothing really ear-catching.

  • I know what you mean about the ‘American’ music. I was listening intently to the lyrics in my car this morning, and they were disgusting. All it was about was this guy thinking of how he was going to bang a few girls ‘sweetly’.

    It depends where I am or what I’m doing when I listen to lyrics. If I’m driving for a long time, I listen to the lyrics and play the song over again if they’re good. I usually choose music for the melody and other complementing sounds, but if the lyrics are disgusting – then no.

    I find Japanese/Chinese/Korean music has a lot more meaning than the music found in NA. We sing about girls kissing other girls and liking it, having sex with lots of girls and doing drugs for a living. :

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  • I mostly like ’80s music for the same reason. I hate raps, which I don’t even understand most of the time.


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  • Sometimes some songs aren’t even worth listening to the lyrics, especially with all of this garbage that has come out today. A lot of other times I tend to be more into the lyrics than the melody. There are a lot of songs that have touched me and that I could relate to. It seems that most songs don’t have substance anymore.

  • I am like you as well… I only listen to the songs for the melody… but maybe one day, I should really research up the lyrics and see what they actually mean.

    Great Lyrics along with great melodies I find is the ones that always sticks around for most of your life.

  • Liz

    I can’t help listening to the lyrics – it really gets in the way if I’m trying to work or something. I have to choose music without any singing, or in a language I don’t understand sometimes works as well.

    I had an experience a bit like what you wrote about a while back. At one time I was really into Manu Chao and listened to it a lot, but I couldn’t understand everything because a lot of the songs were in Spanish. Then I learned Spanish, and after a while listened to the album again. It was quite a strange sensation – a bit like if you look at a really blurry picture and then it comes into focus.

    Hope the job’s going well. Great that you’re still finding time to blog!

  • Same here Ivy! I usually listen to the melody first to decide whether I’ll like to song or not… and it’s only when I’m hooked to the song that I’ll start to explore the meaning behind the lyrics 🙂 I was introduced to a song called White Flag by Dido and it was one of the few songs that I’ve paid more attention to the lyrics than the melody. The lyrics just made me sad too!

    Anyway, nice song you have over there. I’ve only watched a few episodes of Full Metal Alchemist back in college and now you’ve rekindled my passion for it 😀 I shall start watching it during this year end break!