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The story-telling nature of music

When reading a book or listening to a song, you are immediately teleported to a different world. Both mediums have the ability to create new characters and places that allow our minds to put together its own story. 

Reading is essentially a form of escapism: as we read, we are no longer sitting on our desks staring at the alphabet arranged on a page, but are instead completely encapsulated within a new experience.  Songs are not too different in the ways that they grant us escape from our lives as well. We listen to songs that have been just as cleverly crafted as literature, and are just as powerful to take us into the story that the artist wants to tell us.

With so many songs in the world, we as listeners can easily relate to a song and become a part of that journey. We listen to songs about heartbreak, friendship, adventure and love because these are all human emotions and experiences that we cherish and have been through in our lives.

Songs in movies, for example, are used to advance the narrative of the plot without taking up too much screen-time. Days and years can go past and the viewer is still able to understand the story because of the lyrics of a song.

Bollywood movies essentially feed off music and songs to progress the plot. A song can give us the background story of a character that the film doesn’t have time to do. This is the same with songs used in Disney films, which often use songs as didactic and easy elements of story-telling for their young audiences.

After all, music has no language, and yet still the most powerful ability to tell us a story within a song

Story-writing and screenwriting have so many elements to them that they cannot fully bear the burden of it all alone, and therefore songs give the viewer a melodious relief from the narrative while still narrating the story the whole time. 

Performances of dance and theatre tell us stories through different mediums of acting and dance too, but the songs and instrumentals that accompany them allow the spectators to truly understand the plot, especially for those of us who are uneducated in these mediums. 

The spectators know when a character is happy, sad or anxious depending on the music in the background because music creates emotions, whether it be through its lyrics or the melody. This makes even arguably niche mediums more accessible because music and song has its own language that can help us to understand a story even if it is not directly told to us through the writing in a book.

After all, music has no language, and yet still the most powerful ability to tell us a story within a song.  In fact, the most moving songs are those that possess the story-telling nature of books, or even poetry. Songs can tell us the romantic love story that a novel tells us in a hundred pages or so within two or three minutes, or about the grief and pain that someone feels because of a story that has happened in someone’s life.

The lyrics of the songs written for individuals often resemble poetry, using the same poetic techniques

Songs are just like poetry and those that are elegiac and dedicated to individuals are able not only to tell the story of that individual’s life, but also of their impact in the world and those around them. Elegiac songs allow us to experience grief and memorialise a person and their story within our hearts just many eulogies are able to do so. 

One of my favourite K-pop songs is a eulogy by the members of SHINee to their late member, Kim Jong-hyun after he committed suicide. ‘Our Page’ narrates the story of their journey as a group together from debut and their journey that will continue with Jonghyun in their hearts. The song is about friendship, love and grief, and about five lives that will remain interconnected within the “pages” of their “story.” 

The lyrics of the songs written for individuals often resemble poetry, using the same poetic techniques. These are made even more poignant with the story-telling power of poetry and music working hand in hand. 

Songs, like books have the power to take us not only to a different place within the story but also to that place in our minds and memories where we can relive our own stories, proving the power of the narrative contained within music. 


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