Search the Site

Our Daily Bleg: What Are the Greatest Lyrics of the 21st Century? No Stairway Please …

Our resident quote bleggar Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, is back with another request. If you have a bleg of your own, send it along here.

Enough with 21st-century movie lines. Let me now move on to 21st-century popular song lyrics. Here we face the same issues of qualitative decline as with movie lines, I believe.

In earlier eras lyricists like W. S. Gilbert, Cole Porter, Oscar Hammerstein II, Bob Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, and Jagger & Richard saw themselves to some extent as working within a literary tradition and were interested to some extent in lyrical sophistication and experimentation.

I suspect today’s popular songwriters have different attitudes or different levels of success in achieving lyrical goals, although my son tells me that the best hip hop is politically savvy, and certainly hip hop is a highly verbal art form where the words are less subservient to music than in the past.

I would welcome suggestions of memorable quotations from 21st-century popular songs, from hip hop and from other genres. It should be kept in mind that songs that are great musically may have mediocre lyrics (such as, from an older time period, “Stairway to Heaven”), and I am interested in the lyrics here rather than the music, however good that may be.