A moment of unambiguous unhappiness

It’s the first time I’ve felt unambiguously unhappy for a while. In a way, it seems like lots of things have aligned in order to let this feeling fall through without being hidden amongst other emotions. I took this opportunity to list possible contributing factors:

  • Hunger, probable nutritional deficiencies, possible allergies and other health concerns
  • No good contact to text chat with at this time of day
  • Cannot run or play sports due to slow-healing injury
  • Parted ways with someone I cared about last week
  • Expecting a response to my message sometime
  • Overuse of social platforms
  • Recent urge to be creative cannot be properly addressed
  • Constant struggle between seeking distraction and avoiding distraction
  • Have been unproductive and feel stressed about it
  • No passion or interest left for my meaningless studies, yet I have to sacrifice anything/everything to move on in my life
  • Limited pursuit of learning
  • Feel like I have no control over the future; all my dreams seem arbitrarily unlikely and distant
  • Not living according to one’s values
  • Sense of longing but unsure what it is
  • Not enough close friends in this city, yet self-driven deprivation of social opportunities
  • Sub-par relationship with self
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My interpretation of “Instant Crush” (Daft Punk)

“Instant Crush” by Daft Punk (ft. Julian Casablancas) is a song that I liked from the first time I heard it, though I don’t know why exactly. The vocals are heavily processed and have a mellow and underwhelming presence. I could barely understand anything from the lyrics the first few times. The music video did leave a lasting impression though.

When I looked up the lyrics for the first time, of course it didn’t make much sense. The lyrics seem quite ambiguous and all over the place. Genius, a website for user-submitted song lyric interpretations, had some interesting suggestions. Initially, it still seemed a mess and that no one really understood the song. The most common interpretation is probably that the song refers to a love triangle, where Casablancas and another guy both have the same love interest, and Casablancas is the one being friendzoned by the girl. This interpretation is sometimes accompanied by a hint of speculation about his marriage, rather than it just being an inspired work. While it seemed like possibly the most straightforward interpretation of the lyrics, something didn’t sit right with me. The Pre-chorus just seemed to lack context, and most of all the name of the song didn’t mean anything.

[Pre-chorus]
‘I listened to your problems
Now listen to mine’
I didn’t want to anymore, oh oh ohh

The preceding line of the first pre-chorus is:

And all I hear is the last thing that you said

So it seems like Casablancas is the one who admitted that he didn’t want to listen to his lover’s problems anymore. This doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, which gives the impression that Casablancas was almost infatuated.

As I listened to the song more and more, it eventually started making sense to me. There were two things that I held in the utmost importance:

  1. How is the lyrical meaning consistent with the title? Why is the song called “Instant Crush” if most combinations of interpretations just seem to form arbitrary details about the relationship?
  2. What is the song about, on an emotional level? What sentiments would lead to someone expressing these lyrics?

As a side note, I’m used to a lot of music videos not matching up to the lyrics at all, so I decided to ignore the music video for the most part in trying to make sense of the lyrics.

Core assertions of my interpretation

  1. This song is about Casablancas and his romantic interest. There is no third guy or love triangle.
  2. Casablancas uses both first-person and third-person perspectives. When he uses the third-person, at least some of the time he is adopting the perspective of his partner.
  3. His “lover” is the one who let him down by not listening to his problems, lying, and generally failing him as a friend.
  4. The person he “chained [himself] to [as] a friend” is his lover.

Evidence against the love triangle theory

Frankly, all I can say is that the love triangle theory makes a mess of interpreting all the different lines. If my interpretation makes sense of nearly everything, there’s no need for such a conflicting theory.

He ask me once if I’d look in on his dog

For example, the above lyric is completely out of place if it’s referring to a third guy. I mean, it’s possible to construct a scenario where it means something in the context of the love triangle, but why should the reader jump through such mental hoops for a relatively unimportant line?

Either the lyrics are abstract and poorly written, or that isn’t the right interpretation.

Elaboration of important lines

Honestly, it all just makes sense if you adopt my four assumptions, but I’ll clarify the meaning of some important parts.

I didn’t want to be the one to forget
I thought of everything I’d never regret
A little time with you is all that I get
That’s all we need because it’s all we can take
One thing I never see the same when you’re ’round
I don’t believe in him—his lips on the ground
I wanna take you to that place in the “Roche”
But no one gives us any time anymore
He ask me once if I’d look in on his dog
You made an offer for it, then you ran off
I got this picture of us kids in my head
And all I hear is the last thing that you said

The key thing to note is that the lines jump between perspectives multiple times in this verse.

One thing I never see the same when you’re ’round

Casablancas’ point of view, because he is infatuated.

I don’t believe in him — his lips on the ground

His lover’s point of view (or what he imagines), because he almost worships her in a way that could only be shallow.

He ask me once if I’d look in on his dog

Lover’s perspective.

You made an offer for it, then you ran off

Casablancas’ perspective, saying she agreed to look after the dog but didn’t keep her word.

And all I hear is the last thing that you said

For some of these lines, it is ambiguous whose perspective it is, and it doesn’t change the meaning much either way. However, the line above is probably said from Casablancas’ perspective. The distinction might be arbitrary, but I’d say that in spite of the changes in perspective, all of it is ultimately being voiced and portrayed by Casablancas.

[Pre-chorus]
‘I listened to your problems
Now listen to mine’
I didn’t want to anymore, oh oh ohh

As for the pre-chorus, Casablancas is recalling their last conversation, but the first two lines are what he said, and it’s the last line that’s her response and the last thing she said (though probably not in the completely literal sense). This is an example that ties with the line of the chorus:

Kinda counted on you being a friend

The rest of the lyrics are still potentially ambiguous, but at least it should be clear what kind of atmosphere and significance there is even when the exact interpretation is unclear.

So what is the song really about?

Is there really a right or wrong interpretation of lyrics? Well, it’s a controversial question when it comes to poetry, which is quite similar. I would say that I personally believe the love triangle interpretation to be wrong. However, I also think it’s justified to go with whatever interpretation makes you content when things are ambiguous. Here is my personal interpretation.

Instant Crush is about an instant crush

Funnily enough, this was not an easy conclusion to make.

Overall, the song describes a relationship where the guy idealized the girl too much to begin with. The relationship might not have lasted anyway, but the song is dedicated to that kind of mistaken attitude and its practical and emotional consequences.

“He thought he saw someone that looked just like me” refers to him thinking that they were a perfect match and continuing things based on that misconception.

Lines such as “He sees right through me, it’s so easy with lies” and “Kinda counted on you being a friend” allude to the fact that despite Casablancas being aware of problems with the relationship (perhaps more so in hindsight), he tried to ignore them at the time in favor of his naive attitude regarding this crush. Indeed, in the present tense he is conflicted about whether the relationship should really continue or not (“Can I give it up or give it away”).

Ultimately, it’s the following part of the chorus that eventually clicked for me. I realized that I recognized this feeling and that I strongly relate to it:

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend
Cause I know it unlocks like a door / Cause I don’t know what else I can do

Romanticizing things too much was not his only mistake. He doesn’t know where to go or what else to do, so this relationship is founded on that insecurity of lacking other options. That’s the twist. This “Instant Crush” is a distorted kind of romantic interest. It’s the kind of relationship you pursue just because there is no one else, and that person is just the one who happened to be there. It’s convincing yourself there’s something there where there’s not, just because it’s easier to believe the lie in some ways. It could have been anyone, and not for whether it was really a suitable match or not. It’s not love at all, it’s just a blind crush.

If anything, she never really cared about him.

I don’t understand, don’t get upset, I’m not with you

Look over the full lyrics from this kind of pessimistic perspective. Is there any reliable evidence that they were ever even friends? That this wasn’t an entirely one-sided thing and this is all just his wishful recollection?

I didn’t want to be the one to forget
I thought of everything I’d never regret
A little time with you is all that I get
That’s all we need because it’s all we can take

One thing I never see the same when you’re ’round
I don’t believe in him—his lips on the ground
I wanna take you to that place in the “Roche”
But no one gives us any time anymore

He ask me once if I’d look in on his dog
You made an offer for it then you ran off
I got this picture of us kids in my head
And all I hear is the last thing that you said

‘I listened to your problems
Now listen to mine’
I didn’t want to anymore, oh

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chain myself to a friend
‘Cause I know it unlocks like a door

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chain myself to a friend
Some more again

It didn’t matter what they wanted to see
He thought you saw someone that looked just like me
The summer memory that just never dies
We worked too long and hard to give it no time

He sees right through me, it’s so easy with lies
Cracks in the road that I would try and disguise
He runs his scissor up the seam in the wall
He cannot break it down or else he will fall

One thousand lonely stars, hiding in the cold
Take it, I don’t wanna sing anymore

‘I listened to your problems
Now listen to mine’
I didn’t want to anymore, oh

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend
‘Cause I know it unlocks like a door

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend
‘Cause I know it unlocks like a …

I don’t understand, don’t get upset, I’m not with you
We’re swimming around, it’s all I do
When I’m with you

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away

Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend
‘Cause I know it unlocks like a door

And we will never be alone again
‘Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend
Can I give it up or give it away
Now I thought about what I wanna say
But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend
‘Cause I know it unlocks like a door

Baroque music playlist

Music Spotlight

This is an informal post detailing a themed playlist of 10 Baroque pieces that I recommend for someone unfamiliar with Baroque music. There’s nothing particularly educated about my choices; it’s just a personal selection of things I love, although I have tried to diversity it a little. I hope you’ll find something you like.

Brief intro

What people refer to as “classical music” is very broad. Anyhow, Baroque music is a style of classical music composed from 1600 to 1750. It’s one of my favorite genres, although it might be considered an acquired taste because it doesn’t just “make sense” to the “classically untrained”, unlike music from the Classical period (1750-1820).

You may have heard of Baroque style architecture; gold-plated everything, very ostentatious, the more ornaments and fancy decorations the better, even (especially) in churches. Baroque music is very stylistically distinct and has a lot of roles. Despite these rules, it’s usually very playful and dance-like in nature *because* of these rules. Great Baroque compositions are all about conforming to the rules and expectations yet knowing when to stylishly break the rules.

Ornamentation in the musical sense is also a prominent feature of Baroque music and overall there are some similarities between Baroque and Jazz.

1. “Ev’ry valley” from Messiah (Handel)

Handel’s Messiah is one of the most famous Baroque works. A concert performance of Messiah typically lasts two or so hours, but even then many pieces have to be left out because of the sheer number of pieces composed in this work. Here’s one of my favorite performances of one of the pieces. I like this one because the performer nails all those other components, not just sounding good: facial expression, conveying a message, dynamics, etc. Truly exceptional.

2. “Air on the G String” (Bach) – Bobby McFerrin

A very recognizable piece by Bach and one of my favorites, performed a bit differently by Bobby McFerrin, who is very unique and innovative. (Bach is the most famous Baroque composer. Heck, the end of the Baroque period is considered around 1750, which is the year he died. Coincidence?)

3. “Deconstructing Johann” (King’s Singers)

A quirky jazzy a capella (unaccompanied) medley performed by the King’s Singers. The King’s Singers are a very famous British vocal group.

4. Orchestra Suite No. 3 Gavotte (Bach) – Jacques Loussier Trio

I loved this concert (24 Hour Swinging Bach – Bach’s 250th anniversary concert in Leipzig) to pieces, so this is the third performance already in this list from it. I had a CD of this concert, but I’d pay anything to be at such an event these days! Who said classical music can’t be groovy?

5. Improvisation on Bach (Bobby McFerrin)

Bobby McFerrin is completely unique for several reasons; his impossible vocal agility, wide range, beat-boxing-like ability, unique improvisations, and even the ability to produce two notes at the same time!

6. “Rejoice in the Lord alway” (Purcell)

A very playful piece.

7. “As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending” (Thomas Weelkes)

Some other noticeable aspects of Baroque music. Tension is a very important aspect; great Baroque music just seems to keep flowing and keep you expecting/wanting what’s coming. Choral pieces often have a formal structure much like an essay that is discussing a topic, with introduction, conclusion, and paragraphs arguing for and against each main point. Counterpoint, i.e., multiple parts playing the same theme (or singing the same text) but starting one after the other is another common feature. Themes often recur. In fact, some pieces are based entirely on the “subject” established in the first eight bars of music.
Here’s a Madrigal, early Baroque, that demonstrates the layering effect throughout the piece.

8. Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 (Bach)

A real badass piece. The tension is maintained masterfully in this composition. Read the other Music Spotlight to learn more about the harpsichord and this piece.

9. “Agnus Dei” from Mass in B minor (Bach)

This is sung by Andreas Scholl, a famous German countertenor. A countertenor is a male who sings in the vocal range of female voice types. Don’t ask me how the physiology works; normal singing pedagogy is controversial and conflicting enough as it stands.

10. “Suscepit Israel” from Magnificat (Bach)