If you go on Spotify and type “instrumental” in the search box, it’s painfully obvious: playlist titles like Study Music, Sleep Soundtrack, and Focus Blend come up instantly. Do we really see instrumental music as something to ignore, a song to play in the background when you want some noise but don’t want the distraction? Do we need lyrics in a song in order to give it our full attention and appreciation?
As someone who makes a living stringing sentences together, I’ll agree that instrumental music is excellent to work to. It keeps me focused and gives me something to listen to without any words getting in the way of my own. That being said, it’s far from a genre that should be cast away into the background. I listen to instrumental bands just as often in my free time as I do while I’m working, and you should too.
When Coldplay graced our radios with Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall I loved it instantly. Once, it came on while I was driving with a friend and after a few verses, she said she couldn’t get into it if she couldn’t even understand what he was saying. That’s when I realized I didn’t know half the lyrics either. Coldplay is a fantastic band with equally great lyrical quality, but I didn’t need to understand what was being said. The mixing of vocals with the music did it for me on their own.
So, what if a band has lyrics, but there’s no chance in you understanding them? Groups like Sigur Rós make a living out of doing just that. They’ve managed to stir up a phenomenal fan base while singing most of their songs in Icelandic (and let’s be honest, how many people can really say they know it?). They’ve also produced songs in “Hopelandic,” a type of invented language where the words actually have no meaning, syntax, or grammar. In this sense, they are using their voices merely as instruments to add to their sound. Can a band that relies on empty words, or none at all, stack up to the great songwriters?
Artists like Taylor Swift, who gains the bulk of her fans through her lyrics rather than her sound, can sell out stadium tours while instrumental bands seem to be confined to playing gigs at bars and smaller venues. It seems that the majority of people believe they can only truly relate to a song if the lyrics hit home with them, but that seems like taking the easy way out of a truly creative form of expression. If the words are eliminated altogether, the listener is left free to create the story and decide what the song means to them.
So in the end, are lyrics really necessary in a song? Not at all. Everyone knows the famous My Heart Will Go On theme song to Titanic. Imagine how much better it would be without Celine Dion. Or, better yet, just listen to Roses’s Theme, the tragically beautiful piano version. There are songs out there that will get you so pumped-up, happy, sad, or inspired without ever uttering a single syllable (or at least any that you can understand).
Don’t know where to start? Give the emotionally driven sound of Explosions in the Sky, LITE, Mogwai, or TTNG a try. You’re bound to find something that can make you feel, without it telling you how to feel.
Watch the video for Sæglópur by Sigur Rós here: