Fear and Reality – “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me” Analysis

It’s time once again for another niche post! It’s been too long, really. The following is a very in-depth analysis of my favorite Vocaloid song ever, Kikuo-P’s “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me”.

For those completely uninitiated, check out my last post about Vocaloid if you want a basic crash course on it. Vocaloid is an incredibly fascinating genre of music overall, but today I was feeling the itch to talk about how much I love this one particular song without getting too bogged down with the more general ideas of its genre.

“Love Me, Love Me, Love Me” is a prime example of my favorite part of producer Kikuo-P’s work, in that it presents a rather basic story with such creepy and otherworldly imagery that it comes off incredibly fresh and unique. If you’re looking for something super spooky in the world of Vocaloid, you really don’t have to travel too far. Probably due to the unreality of its “singers”, a lot of Vocaloid songs are free to explore very dark themes without being hindered by real-life morals and norms (an idea that I definitely want to expand upon at a later date).

However, personally, a lot of these songs leave me feeling uninspired, mostly because they are so incredibly unrealistic that I’m not even frightened by them. A lot of them seem to be trying too hard to be gory and scary and miss out on any actual personal connection the audience. Kikuo-P, on the other hand, opts for a far more personal and emotional take on the idea of creepy songs, one that is more grounded in reality, and in doing so actually evokes an emotional response from his audience. Fear, yes, but also far more complex emotions.

As is the case with most of Kikuo’s work (and most Vocaloid songs in general), “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me”’s meaning is very tied to its visuals, so I’ll be analyzing those as well. If you wish to follow along, here’s the video I’ll be using.

In addition, I also want to shout out this English dub of the song. While I won’t be directly using these translated lyrics, they did assist me in my understanding of this song (and it’s also a really well-done dub.)

The first twenty seconds of the PV to this song sets up the motif it will be following for its entirety, that of a red and black scribbly sort of chaos. It’s immediately unsettling because nothing in the video feels solid. In fact, not even the text of the title of the song, producer, and Vocaloid used is stationary, dropping in quickly and floating aimlessly away. This fits in with the jittery xylophone sounds present throughout the song. All in all, it’s pretty trippy, and also very thematically relevant.

Once the lyrics begin, the movement slows down, presenting only a black screen with a red border, although a ghostly image of a girl’s face flashes in several different colors while tilting unsteadily. Finally, the image settles on a white sketchy image of this girl, the only colors present being her magenta eyes and nails. This image is very important, and will be repeated with some variation throughout the video. Lyrically, we are also introduced to the idea of the “cursed necklace”, a very important, albeit a bit ambiguous, symbol to the meaning of this song.

The image eventually fills with color, revealing a more solid image of this girl. Her hands grip at her neck, but it’s important to note that she wears no actual necklace. The “cursed collar” is instead represented by scribbly white lines which dance around her neck. It’s this imagery that suggests to be that this “collar” is not real at all, but rather a metaphor. (The collar does later appear in the image, but it’s delayed, which makes me think that’s merely a stylistic choice.)

Meanwhile, the lyrics describe the motivation of this “collar”.

“I want people, I want people,
It cried, this cursed necklace,
Don’t get angry, don’t abandon me, don’t go anywhere”

The “necklace” tied around the girl’s neck desires human attention, and positive, loyal attention at that. Personally, I think the desires of the necklace, considering the fact that it isn’t truly real, reflects the desires of the girl herself. It is she who desires this attention. However, clearly this motivation is harmful to the girl.

“Fasten it tightly,
Until you throw up,
So there aren’t any people here.
Nice results, huh?
Hey, hey, aren’t I a nice child?
Aren’t I a cute child?
Hey, hey, I’m a nice child, right?
It hurts, hey”

These lyrics suggest a certain amount of obsessiveness in the girl. Her desire for human attention is so incredibly important to her that it chokes her, stifling her ability to connect with others. The questions in these lyrics reflect her obsessive need to be loved by others around her, constantly asking whether she is “cute” or “nice” while declaring that these feelings hurt.

I also want to draw attention to the visuals presented here.  In this part, a pair of hands clapping along with the beat appears. Between the hands, small red doodles show up, only to be smashed by the clapping hands, creating red scribbles on the hands and the surrounding video. The images shown are of a one-eyed creature, a crudely-drawn woman, and slightly more realistically-drawn man. In addition, the same image of the girl we’ve seen a few times appears between the hands for a bit, but this image isn’t smashed like the others.

I think the lyrics along with the visuals sheds light on what that collar represents. If we consider the beginning of the video to be a reflection of this girl when she was young, we might see the “collar” being representative of a childlike desire for validation from peers. The collar is constantly present, a reminder that this girl must constantly strive to be the very best in order to acquire love and validation from the people around her.

The visuals, on the other hand, seem to reflect an anger towards others around her. I’m not sure what the one-eyed creature represents, but the man and woman look like they could be parental figures. It’s notable that the amount of red scribbles/blood spatter increases drastically when the man is smashed as opposed to the woman. I don’t know what conclusion can be drawn from this, but I think overall this might reflect that it is the adult figures in her life putting pressure on her. I think it may be saying that during this part of her life, she feels the need to please her parental figures most of all. The chorus reflects this need to please others.

“Love me, love me, love me,
More and more,
Love me, love me,
So much that it’s maddening,
It’s painful, it hurts, this curse of mine,
Undo it, undo it, hey!
It can’t be stopped…”

The repetition of the “love me” in the chorus reflects an obsessive need for validation, and explains why she considers it a painful curse that cannot be stopped. The visuals during the chorus show various screaming faces, including that of the girl, represented with a white tie around her neck. Despite being a metaphorical reminder of the “cursed collar” causing all this agony, this image lends emphasis to the fact that the girl feels trapped by her need to please others.

In addition, butterflies begin appearing. Butterflies are symbolic of change and growth, and that brings us to another important motif that we’ll be looking at in the next verse – the growth of our main character. In the last visual of the chorus, she is shown covered in butterflies, then scribbles, and then her image changes. Her hair is longer and she appears to be wearing a school uniform. Clearly, taking the butterflies into account, we can assume she’s aged, perhaps to a high school age taking into account the uniform.

No matter how big your body grows,
This necklace remains small,
It hurts now, it’s not enough now
People aren’t, people aren’t enough now

First of all, we can see that even as our main character grows, her pressure to please others remains. Metaphorically, as she grows, the collar remains the same size, slowly strangling her. The pressure has led to what appears to be a lack of satisfaction towards just the affection of other people.

What does she desire now? Well…

I won’t lose to anyone of my class,
Aren’t I a lovely child?
Hey, more than that child and more than that child,
Everyone, everyone, come look at me!

She desires to be better than everyone else, of course. It’s still seemingly embedded in a desire to be loved, but now it seems the continuing pressure has made it competitive. She wants not only to be loved, she wants to be loved the most of everyone.

Overlaid with visuals of spiders suggesting a predatory instinct, we see the further degradation of our main character from a helpless child just wanting to be loved to someone far more malicious.

Behind the gymnasium, my confession to you,
Was it kind of a lie?
I love you,
You who are so filthy.

This line furthers the connection to the main character aging to high school age, since the behind-the-(insert school building here) love confession is a pretty standard trope. But this one is twisted. Though the narrator claims to love the person she’s confessing to, she also claims that they’re “filthy”.

So I think this scene serves as a more specific example of the depths our main character has sunk to regarding her need for affection. As we established before, she’s gotten to a point where she has to prove herself the most loved, so for her to love someone else is counter-productive.

The next chorus’s lyrics change slightly, with the “Love me, Love me”s followed with a few new lines:

I’ll give you everything
And I will have you, I will have you
Bear everything for me
It’s not enough, you’re not enough
I won’t let you go, ah,
Please forgive me

This is probably in reference to the person she confessed to behind the gymnasium in the last verse. There’s a lot of conflicting ideals here – while the subject wants to “give them everything” and wants to “have” them, they claim that they’re “not enough”. So here’s what I think. I think we’re seeing a conflict within the main character of the song.

She’s been taught, or led to believe, that she’s supposed to be constantly the most loved. It’s her curse, her “collar”, constantly strangling her. So when she falls in love with someone else, she’s unsure of how to fit it into her worldview. When she’s constantly trying to make others love her, how can she love someone else? Thus the “Please forgive me.” The subject of the song does actually love this person, but they don’t know how to.

The song then leaps into a repeat of the earlier chorus, minus the last line, “This is happiness, right?”

I think this connects back to what I was talking about earlier – that our character’s worldview is so skewed that she can no longer determine what love or happiness is. I also want to point out the visuals here – we see our character age again. Now, the collar is represented by two snakes twisting around her neck – one white, one black. Despite the obvious implications of the further decay of our main character’s state of mind, I think the dual snakes and their opposing colors also bring back that idea that she’s at war with herself, her love against her need to be loved.

And that’s the meaning of “Love Me, Love Me, Love Me”, but I wanna talk about one other thing, and that’s the genius of the horror presented in this song.

I always think the best horror comes out of fear for real life situations. Ghosts and demons and serial murderers and other oogie boogie creatures are scary on the surface, but true horror comes from forging a connection between the real and the fantastical.

Even though the horror of the song appears to come from the “curse” put on the main character, in reality, the “curse” is a far more real problem of her feeling that she must please everyone.  It’s true that the pressures to please everyone around you grow more suffocating as you get older, but that’s a hard thing to explain. So Kikuo-P uses the fantastical image of the cursed collar to represent this idea and the horror and pain it can cause through horrific, chaotic imagery. This situation is horrific, even if it’s realistic, so the emotions are effectively communicated through the lens of horrific imagery.

Anyway, Kikuo-P does horror so right. And I had to take approximately 2,000 words to prove it. Less niche post coming next week…. maybe.

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Over the Moon – “What If Nothing” Review

Well, my dudes, it’s finally here. The album I’ve been waiting for since Spring Break of 2014. It’s been a long, long time coming, so how does Walk the Moon’s new album “What If Nothing” stack up to my very high expectations?

Pretty well, actually. I mean, I’m incredibly biased, because I’ve loved everything this band has ever done and I suspect that will always be the case. But my personal biases aside, I believe objectively in a lot of the musical quality this band stands for. This album is definitely pretty experimental, and while I don’t know if every one of their experiments is a smashing success per se, it’s rejuvenating to hear some of my favorite musicians in the world testing the boundaries of their talents. It bodes well for the future of this band.

(Also, we got some pretty sweet jams and a new tour out of the deal, so I can’t possibly complain.)

So, let’s go track by track and take a look at this wonderful album.

Press Restart

So it’s pretty clear that this track is meant to mostly play the role of an opener to the album. I appreciate it a lot for the thematic overtones it lends to the album. I can definitely see it as a signifier that this era of Walk the Moon’s career is meant to be an era of self-reflection and change. I’ve seen almost all of the members of the band mention how much they valued their time away from touring and writing music as a chance to clarify how they approach their music.

It bears some resemblance, I think, to their self-titled album-era music, but with a much more poppish, polished sound. I like that, compared to the meaning of the lyrics, it pays homage to where they’ve come from while also looking forward into the future. It’s a slow, contemplative song, with that characteristic Walk the Moon optimism that brings it all together well.

As a song taken out of context, it’s perhaps not their strongest or most memorable, but I imagine, with time, it, like “I Can Lift a Car”, will become an emotional staple of Walk the Moon’s repertoire, with its notability deeply entwined in the culture surrounding this band.

Headphones

I’ve seen a lot of hate for this song from diehard fans, and I understand that. However, I’m in love with this song. It was the second single from this album the band dropped, and while I love “One Foot”, I was psyched to hear just how different this song is from the Walk the Moon I know.

I understand a want for our favorite artists and bands to never change, to always stay in the glory days of their first few albums, but there’s a danger in that too. As much as I love Walk the Moon’s first two albums, I respect them as artists and I really want to see where they take their music. And if “Headphones” is where they take their music, I won’t be too upset.

It bears some resemblance to “Up 2 U” from “Talking is Hard”, but that’s only in the case that it has the same hard rock feel. It’s really its own animal, noisy and raucous, with cheeky lyrics that I really enjoy. For all its differences, however, I think it still maintains the joy and energy that I’ve always admired in this band. That’s what makes me so excited about this song. It’s different, way different, but doesn’t stray from what made me fall in love with Walk the Moon in the first place.

Plus, it gets me SO HYPE. SOOOO HYPE.

One Foot

Ahh “One Foot”. I already talked at length about this song when it first dropped, and I’m not sure if I have much more to say other than shoutout to past me for TOTALLY predicting a bunch of things about this album waaay back in September.

But I will restate: I love this song! I think it’s fun and was a perfect first single to push Walk the Moon back into the public eye. I’m a fan. Also, Nick Petricca’s dance moves in the music video give me life.

Surrender

I kept falling so in love with each new single they dropped, my boyfriend made fun of me for declaring each new song my favorite. But I wasn’t lying! It really felt like each new song they released was better than the last, but I guess I have established that this band is a special one for me. So, essentially, I fell in love with “Surrender” from the moment I first heard it.

Anyway, I think this song is beautiful. It’s atmospheric but powerful, keeping up a driving beat that never allows the beauty to get boring. There are dips and crests of intensity and emotion that keeps the listener invested. And while I always praise Nick for his vocals, I can’t help but mention how his vocals are so on display here. It’s personal, restrained, and absolutely breathtaking. Also gotta shout out to that beautiful fade-out ending into the piano… just perfect. I couldn’t ask for a better finish to this beautiful song.

I also appreciate the 80s feel to this song. Walk the Moon always clearly draws inspiration from that decade, but it’s absolutely on display here. And honestly? It’s more relevant than ever for me (especially considering the 80s playlist I recently started compiling on Spotify).

All I Want

This is the song tumblr simultaneously freaked out over, due to the “maybe if I was straight” line. And while I appreciate that little hint of information on Nick… or whomever in the band this is referring to… I think the extreme focus on this one aspect of the song ignores a lot of what makes it great.

Firstly, I think this song maintains a lot of the jaunty energy from “Talking is Hard” with a hint of the new, spacey sound of “What if Nothing”. I love the merging of these two styles. It makes the song immediately approachable, but gives it a new breath of life and innovation for the band.

Most importantly, this song returns somewhat to the rock band instrumentals I know well from this band! I didn’t realize until I reached this track how much I missed Kevin, Eli, and Sean’s instrumental contributions. But of course, we get a characteristic Eli guitar solo and the strong backup from Kevin’s bass and Sean’s drums. Good to hear.

All Night

I sort of wish this song leaned a little harder into its sound. The “boom clap” percussion is fun, but I feel like it’s too tame, too quiet for the sound. Especially considering how Nick performs some of the falsetto parts of the vocals, I think it could have been served with slightly more boisterous instrumentation. I loved Eli, Kevin, and Sean’s contributions from the last track, so where are they now?? Bring them back! It would serve this track well!

Overall, this song is probably one of my least favorites on the album. It’s got some good parts to it, but it never goes far enough into those things to really sell the song for me. Perhaps it needs a little time to grow on me. Or perhaps there is a Walk the Moon song I’m ambivalent on, and always will be. Shocking.

Kamikaze

Don’t worry, though, my bias is back, because I adore this song. Honestly, I think “Kamikaze” has the intensity of performance and instrumentation that “All Night” desperately needed. I’d bet a sizable amount of money that this song will be electrifying performed live.

The lyrics have this incredible intensity and snappiness that I’m so obsessed with. I also love the slight atmosphere to some of the softer moments – it really ties it to the album as a whole without softening it overall. The intense instrumentation drives the song forward with unrelenting force, and you can’t help but bob your head along with the beat every step of the way.

I really think this song deserves radio play – it’s that kind of song that I think can resonate with a wide audience and represent the soul of the band. Time will tell if that will be the case, since I’ve certainly been wrong about this particular topic before, but I can have dreams.

Tiger Teeth

I’m pretty sure every hardcore Walk the Moon fan was waiting with baited breath for the studio version of this track. “Tiger Teeth” has been in Walk the Moon’s performance repertoire for years, but it’s never been recorded until now. Before, the song was only known as a soft acoustic ballad occasionally peppered in the band’s sets. Nick Petricca always said that they had wanted to record it earlier, but had felt it wasn’t the right time during the “Talking is Hard” era.

I’d agree, because this song is a little too soft and reflective to be able to stand out among “Talking is Hard’s” frenetic, joyous energy. However, on this album, it’s a welcome addition. It fits so well into this self-reflective, spacey experience.

While I think it’s a bit of an adjustment hearing this song in a polished, clean, non-acoustic form, I think it maintains a lot of the feel of the song as we’ve come to understand it. I think what I’ve always loved about this track is the simplistic beauty of it, and I think that feeling is maintained in the studio version. I’m sure there are probably people disappointed by it anyway, since I’m not sure any studio version could have possibly captured the intimacy of the acoustic version, but I think this version is beautiful on it’s own merit.

Sound of Awakening

This is another song that I’ve seen trashed a lot. And it’s certainly out there, compared to some of the other work we’ve seen from this band. However, I think there’s a bit of a rush to judge it. Sure, I think the beginning drags a bit, but as soon as the percussion kicks in, the song starts to make a lot of cohesive sense.

I think the lyrics are beautiful and powerful, and the unusual instrumentation gives it a particular punch that I can’t help but appreciate. This track really excites me to the possibilities for Walk the Moon going forward. I maybe don’t agree with all of the choices made here, but there’s a lot of fascinating potential for experimentation and betterment of the band as a whole.

Plus, I think the song gets better and better as it goes along. I wonder if perhaps the negative response is colored by the slow beginning, which lead some to not pay attention to the powerful, rhythmic climax of the song. Plus, I think the song grows on you on more listens. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this track ended up one of my all-time favorite Walk the Moon songs.

Feels Good to Be High

Alright, yes, this song is exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds long. Yuk it up, everyone. Weeeeed jokes.

Alright, now that we’ve got that out of the way, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive of this song at first. I’m generally not a fan of songs that derive all of their sound and meaning from drugs. I think it lends itself too easily to a lack of creativity. But you know what? I was pleasantly surprised. This song is very chill, of course, as one might expect from the title, but it’s got a really subtle groove that I really have to admire. It begs to be played loud and danced to.

I really love the instrumentation. It’s unique, but connected to the rest of the album. I’ve never heard a song like this one, but it’s still obviously Walk the Moon’s.

And thank goodness, right? I don’t really want to see my favorite band resort to making music that only sounds good when you’re stoned out of your mind. Because that’s just too much for me. I’m way too square for that.

Can’t Sleep (Wolves)

I’m a big fan of songs that approach vocals with a mind for rhythm. I think this track is an excellent example. Nick Petricca delivers the lyrics of this track in tandem with the instrumentation. It brings the whole song together, makes it stick in your mind, and is really just one of the things I adore about this band as a whole. It’s something they’ve done often in songs I’ve loved of theirs in the past, so I was ecstatic to hear it again in their newest album.

I think this song has a great atmosphere. (Have I said atmosphere enough?) I think it might be one of my favorites off of this album if I wasn’t so gosh darned indecisive. I love the guitar part in this song – it’s classy and restrained. Actually, I think I could probably describe the entire song in that way. It’s slick, refined, cool. I feel like if this song were a person, they’d be really well-dressed and articulate.

Is that odd? I’m having a hard time describing in words what makes me like this song so much. I just really do.

In My Mind

I’ll be honest and say this song didn’t really do it for me. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the song… I think it’s perhaps a little too repetitive. There are some good moments sprinkled throughout, but it otherwise begins to fade into the background a little bit, especially compared to the rest of the tracks on this album. I think it sounds a little unpolished, and it certainly isn’t very memorable. So I guess we do have a Walk the Moon track I’m not such a big fan of.

I will say that I enjoy the bridge for the way it builds, but I wish the rest of the song reflected it a little better. So bluh. A shame.

Lost in the Wild

I really enjoy the playfulness of this song. I think it may perhaps feel a bit overly poppy, but I can forgive it for that since I think the pop elements are used well. As always, it follows the beautiful, restrained (say it with me now, folks) atmosphere of the entire album. It’s not my favorite on this album, but it’s solid and well-constructed.

I love the falsetto backup vocals. It’s so very Walk the Moon, and it makes me smile to hear. While perhaps the instrumental choices don’t harken back to this band’s past as some of the rest of the album, there are certain, small vocal and instrumental choices that echo where the band has come from, and I really love that. It sums up this album as a whole well, and wraps everything up in a nice little package.

So, overall, what did I think about this album? Well, I loved it. I think it remained cohesive throughout, and did a wonderful job of playing homage to where the band has come from while also making strides forward. It does my heart good. I’m so happy to see my favorite band back in action, and I’m already excited to see what they’ll do next. I’m sure it will only get better from here.

Stranger Song Selections

I just finished watching season two of “Stranger Things”. Spoiler alert: it was super good, for a lot of the same reasons season one was super good. I thought I might do a post after I finished critiquing the series, but honestly, I felt like it was a solid follow-up to the incredible first season. I know there’s probably a lot of people out there who disagree, but my experience was overwhelmingly positive.

Just like season one, season two had an incredible atmostphere. Just like season one, season two had great, realistic, well-developed and likeable characters (well, save for one newcomer, Billy, but I suspect we’re going to see more depth in him in season three). Just like season one, season two had a fun, interesting plot that doesn’t explain itself too much nor too little. Just like season one, season two had a fun score full of 80s goodness… well, except for just one misstep.

Yep, my biggest problem with the new season of “Stranger Things” was one song choice in once scene in one episode. But, believe me, it was a big misstep.

So, before we move on, a quick warning. I will be spoiling some details for season two. Nothing big, but one subplot needs to be traced in order to truly understand what bothered me so much about the music choice. Also, the scene in question is the last scene in the last episode, so while it’s not a huge spoiler for the plot as a whole, it’s still an ending scene and therefore inherently spoiler-y.

So, let’s discuss Eleven and Mike.

In season one, Eleven and Mike’s relationship was a fairly major subplot. After an entire season of dancing around each other, the way kids with crushes do, Mike invited Eleven to his middle school’s “Snow Ball” and we watched them share a chaste little kiss before Eleven made her big sacrifice in the finale. At the beginning of season 2, as expected, we see a relative amount of angst on both Mike and Eleven’s parts on their sudden separation. I joked with my floormate several times about the middle school drama between them, but in all seriousness, it was quite touching. Eleven uses her psychic powers to keep an eye on him, and he continuously reaches out to her via walkie-talkie, fully aware that she probably won’t be able to reply.

So considering all the drama surrounding their separation, they reunite with a lot of fanfare. It’s all so touching, so wholesome, so pure.

It’s that wholesomeness that I want to focus on. Eleven and Mike are very young, much younger than a romantic couple would usually be on a TV show. Personally, I think that changes the game a little bit when considering how their romance should be depicted. They’re middle schoolers. True, they’re middle schoolers who have had a lot of crazy shit happen to them, but still. They’re babies! Their love is innocent and good and something to root for.

So, of course, as one might expect, the season ends with the “Snow Ball” teased in the first season. While technically Eleven is not allowed out in public, Hopper pulls a few strings and manages to allow her to go. And so, in the final scene, Eleven, done up in light makeup and a poofy blue dress, arrives and gets her dance with Mike.

And what song is picked to accompany this touching, adorable scene? Why, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, of course.

And oh, in that moment, how I wished I had been able to watch this with my dad.

See, my dad used to DJ a lot of weddings back when “Every Breath You Take” was a popular first-dance song for newlyweds. And that makes sense. It’s a pretty, slow ballad by a popular and talented band.

And oh, did I mention it’s about a stalker?

Yeah, it’s not at all the beautiful romantic ballad it seems on the surface. I mean… look at the lyrics. “Every breath you take / Every move you make / Every bond you break / Every step you take / I’ll be watching you”? I suppose you could read it romantically, and many people do, but taken as a whole, it’s really a much more possessive than any healthy romance really should be. And even disregarding the debate over whether or not this song is truly romantic, is it really a song that should wrap up Eleven and Mike’s relationship up to this point? A relationship that, as I mentioned above, is entirely youthful and wholesome?

Okay, yes, it was a popular song at the time, and it’s not out of the question for inappropriate songs to be played at middle school dances. But the fact of the matter is that this is a conscious choice by the creators of the show to play this particular song over this particular scene. This isn’t real life. It isn’t coincidence. It’s a narrative choice.

Although, wait. Hold on. Maybe I was too blinded by my particular experience with this song. Maybe I judged too quickly. Because if this song was a conscious choice by the creators to play over Mike and Eleven’s first dance, then it must be stating something…

Oh…

“Every step you take, I’ll be watching you”? Eleven has psychic powers, and thus keeps an eye on Mike throughout the season without his knowledge, making sure he’s safe?

…Alright “Stranger Things.” Clever. I’ll give you that. Perhaps a little on the nose. But I can appreciate being a little on the nose, I guess, especially when it involves such a good song used in such a good season of such a good show. So you get a pass. For now.

(Don’t get used to it.)

 

 

Musical Month Week 5: Curtain Call

So we’ve come at last to the final week of my first ever themed month. This has been a fun little experiment, and I’m sure I’ll do more themed months in the future, but for now, I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to going back to a variety of types of content.

And since I’m being so honest, I’ll tell you something else – I had no ideas at all for what I wanted this week’s post to be. I had made my plans for this month banking on the fact that October would have four Sundays. But oops! It has five. So while I had plans for all four of the posts leading up to this one, this last week remained kind of a question mark. Until I thought… duh. I’ve talked up and down all this month about specific musicals and songs from musicals I liked, but I haven’t really talked about what it is about musicals in general that is so appealing.

And I think that really is an important thing to consider when looking at musicals. It’s a unique genre with it’s own unique rules and quirks, and I think it’s definitely worth going into.

So what makes musicals so good? Well… the music, obviously.

I don’t think this is a wild, earth-shattering revelation. It’s the music that sets a musical apart from a stage play. It’s the music that has lent musicals the reputation of being unabashedly unrealistic (How many times have you seen the “why do we burst into song out of nowhere?” joke repeated ad nauseum about them?) And it’s the music that makes musicals appealing, at least for me.

Music is a very powerful tool of storytelling. Believe me, I’m a big fan of the storytelling power of music; see my post all about it. So I think that’s one of the biggest draws of musicals for me. It utilizes the storytelling power of music in a way that is incredibly literal and often really fascinating.

And while, yes, music from musicals can often be really straightforward as to how to tells story through music (usually through people just singing about whatever is happening or about whatever they’re feeling), there’s also a lot of potential to add in a lot of depth and nuance just through how the songs are performed, or written, or composed.

Take for example “Natasha & Bolkonskys” from “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.” This song song tells the literal tale of main character Natasha going to meet her fiance’s family for the first time. It’s obvious just from the dialogue that the visit does not go well, but more depth is added to the dynamic between Natasha and her future sister-in-law, Mary, just in the way their notes clash on the “Constrained and strained” lyric. The audience can understand that Mary and Natasha don’t particularly like each other, but through this musical clue, they can also understand why they don’t like each other. They come from fundamentally different places in life, and have clashing perspectives that cannot be reconciled without a change of perspective. Thus, the notes they choose to sing literally clash just as their worldviews do.

But that’s a pretty straightforward use of music to tell the audience key details about the characters. How about something a little more abstract? Consider Angelica Schuyler in “Hamilton.” Her big solo number and the introduction to her character is “Satisfied”, where we learn about her short-lived relationship with Alexander Hamilton before she more or less gave him up to her sister. What’s interesting about this song, though, is the fast-paced rapping Angelica does. Rapping in “Hamilton” tends to clue the audience into the character’s revolutionary attitudes, so the fact that Angelica has the rapping ability to rival Alexander’s, it lets the audience in on the fact that she is his intellectual equal. Compare that to her sister’s songs, entirely sung and not rapped, and the fundamental intellectual difference between the two women is clear. (Not insulting Eliza at all, as she’s my favorite character, but she’s definitely less of a revolutionary/intellectual.)

But there are even more interesting ways to tell stories using musical conventions. Consider the reprise. The reprise is a fascinating way to connect plot points throughout the story of the musical. For example, compare “Dead Girl Walking” and its reprise from “Heathers.” The first song is mostly a way of cluing the audience into Veronica’s rapidly decreasing caution when faced with the circumstances of the story. Also, it sets up her relationship with JD. The reprise, on the other hand, is the breakdown of her relationship with JD, and features her taking responsibility for her role in the disasters that have taken place in the story, due in part to that aforementioned recklessness. The fact that one song is a reprise of the other connects the entire arc of Veronica’s character really nicely. (Also, both songs are some of my favorites in the whole musical).

So, all that being said, I think I admire musicals for how how their structure leads to some really unique ways of telling story. Plus, it’s done with lyrics and music, and I love lyrics and music. And storytelling. And incredible performances. And musicals!

Thank you for hanging on with me through this Musical Month. Your regularly scheduled varied-topic shenanigans will resume next Sunday.

 

Musical Month Week 4: A Lovely Tribute

MS FLEMING: “Veronica? Jason Dean told me you just committed suicide!”
VERONICA: “Yeah? Well, he’s wrong about a lot of things.”
MS FLEMING: “Oh… I threw together a lovely tribute, especially on such short notice…”
“Dead Girl Walking (Reprise)”

After writing a post a while ago on how media consistently screws up its depictions of mental illness and suicide, I got to thinking – are there any examples of media that does the depictions right?

And ruminating on it a bit, I came to the conclusion that a great piece of media that does discuss both of these topics in a way that is constructive without glorifying either is the musical “Heathers.” And since it’s musical month, what better time is there to talk about it?

I’ve wanted to talk about this musical for a while. In fact, this post has been sitting in my drafts for months. I initially wanted to discuss JD’s morality as a character, and that’s a still a topic I find fascinating and worthy of discussion, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue a discussion on suicide depiction in media, a topic that really deserves further conversation.

Besides being just an overall entertaining and amazing musical, “Heathers” also has a lot to say about mental illness and suicide. Especially how our society as a whole tends to handle both topics, and how it harms the people actually in need. In my opinion, you can easily read the events of the musical as an allegory for our world’s honestly garbage treatment of real people with mental illness and suicidal thoughts… teenagers in particular.

So, let’s meet the main players in the musical, shall we?

Veronica Sawyer, A Teen for All

Let us begin with our humble protagonist, Veronica Sawyer. At the beginning of the musical Veronica is your average everyday high school senior. All she wants is to finish up her final year of high school and jet off to an idealized college life. She doesn’t want to stick out. She just wants to survive until her “freedom” arrives.

She is also most certainly the audience stand-in. Her point of view on events, at least in the beginning, most certainly aligns with how the audience would see them. This is aided not only by her role as a “typical” teen, but also by her personality. She is cynical, smart, and witty, allowing her to have the moral upper-hand on most other characters. So, the audience not only understands her well, but also can take her side morally.

For the rest of this analysis, always consider Veronica the audience stand-in. This is especially important when looking at the other major player in “Heathers”.

Jason Dean, Romantic Rogue

When Veronica first meets JD, it’s incredibly easy to see why she would fall in love with him. He’s dark and mysterious, and seems to represent a part of Veronica that wishes she could dismantle the school system and society that has tortured her for years. He’s a loner with an almost comically tragic past. A mother who died when he was young, an abusive father, and no friends to speak of.

And considering Veronica is the audience stand-in, the musical expects the audience to fall in love with JD as well. Why wouldn’t they, really? He’s a sympathetic character with a dash of mystery and intrigue. So when Veronica makes the decision not only to fall in love with him, but also to quote-unquote “fix him,” the audience is probably right there with her.

However, JD is not what he seems. Well, okay, he is actually what he seems exactly. He’s the romanticized ideal of troubled teen. However, it’s that ideal that is the focus. He’s just an ideal. The ideal that you can take someone with such a sad and troubled past and fix them with love.

So, at first, when JD begins taking Veronica along with him on his mission to fight against “society,” the audience roots for the both of them. And even when that fight claims its first victim, Heather Chandler, there still isn’t much moral ambiguity. After all, Heather is the “mythic bitch” of Westerberg High, someone known for her cruelty to others.

And how do they cover up their first victim in their quest to dismantle the “man?” Why, a forged suicide note, of course.

“Me Inside of Me”

PRINCIPAL: “Heather Chandler’s not your everyday suicide!”
COACH: “We should cancel classes.”
PRINCIPAL: “No way, Coach. I send the kids home before lunch, and the switch board will light up like a Christmas tree.”
MS FLEMING: “Our children are dying! I suggest we get everyone in the cafeteria and just talk and feel together… I’m telling you, we all misjudged Heather Chandler. This is the most beautiful suicide note I’ve ever read.”
“Me Inside of Me”

The suicide note Veronica forges for Heather’s death reeks of martyrdom and meaning. The letter becomes the focus of Ms. Fleming’s attempts to convince her students to reveal their feelings and discuss them. What happens instead, though, is that the entire student body comes to the conclusion that Heather was secretly a tragic figure, who died so others could be happier. And Ms. Fleming, for all her outward desire to help her students, seems more focused on the attention she is getting for spreading Heather’s “message.”

In the meantime, keep in mind that Heather’s death was not at all a suicide. She was murdered in cold blood by JD and Veronica, who go on to commit two more murders under the guise of suicide, this time football stars Kurt and Ram. Kurt and Ram’s supposed suicides lead to a revelation of the suppressed homoerotic desires of their fathers once Veronica forges their suicide note saying that they “died because [they] had to hide [their] gay forbidden love from a misapproving world.”

Once more, the suicides of teenagers is used to derive meaning for those left alive. Kurt and Ram’s deaths are seen as symbolic of the need for acceptance of LGBT identities, and leads two men to stop denying their feelings for one another. Like with Heather Chandler, Kurt and Ram’s deaths aren’t seen as the tragedy they are, but is rather shown as a positive decision they made that improved the lives of others around them.

And again I must stress – these deaths aren’t actually suicides. They’re murders. But in the frenzy of celebrating the “positive effects” of these suicides, everyone ignores the actual problem lurking beneath.

“The Tiniest Lifeboat”

As all this fake suicide goes on, two actual suicide attempts are more or less glossed over by the Westerberg community as a whole.

The first, Heather McNamara’s in “Lifeboat” and “Shine a Light (Reprise)”, is brought on by the bullying of Heather Duke, who calls her “pathetic” and tells her to “kill herself”. How much help is given to Heather McNamara by the supposedly mental health-conscious community as a whole? None. Nada.

(It’s also symbolic that the scene where Heather Duke tells Heather McNamara to kill herself is a reprise of the earlier song where Ms. Fleming urges the children to share their deepest fears in an attempt to prevent future suicides. Clearly, her efforts are not at all working.)

The second is Martha’s, the constantly-bullied former best friend of Veronica. After crooning out her sadness over the loss of her childhood innocence in “Kindergarten Boyfriend,” she leaps from the Old Mill Bridge holding a suicide note.

Neither Martha nor Heather McNamara succeed in their attempts to kill themselves, and I think this is an incredibly important fact to understanding what “Heathers” has to say about suicide.

Think about it. Thus far, the only two actual suicidal teens fail in killing themselves. Meanwhile, three teens who supposedly succeeded in killing themselves were not actually suicidal. But because they were the ones who actually died, society as a whole pays attention to them and them alone, while people like Heather McNamara and Martha slip between the cracks. Unless you’ve already succeeded in killing yourself, the world of “Heathers” doesn’t care about your mental health.

And Now Back to Our Protagonists

Remember back when I told you to remember that Veronica stands in for the audience? Keeping this in mind, let’s examine her role in the events of “Heathers”.

Veronica, while not being the one to orchestrate the murders, is very complicit in all of them. She is the one who forges both suicide notes, and she keeps what she knows of Heather, Kurt, and Ram’s deaths a secret from the powers that be.

And JD, on the other hand, sweet, troubled JD, is the one to mastermind it all. The musical purposefully writes him to be likeable in the beginning of the musical, so even as he murders people in cold blood, the audience goes along with it. He’s sweet! He just has a troubled past! He loves Veronica! It’s all okay. And Veronica, our audience stand-in, loves him too.

But keep in mind, remembering that she’s the audience stand-in, this implicates the audience as just as complicit in these deaths as Veronica is. They trust JD too, at first, and they give a silent cheer when he slays the “mythic bitch”. Perhaps they’re impressed by his and Veronica’s cleverness when they fake the suicide notes. And maybe they chuckle a little bit at the humorous nature of Kurt and Ram’s deaths. Either way, the full weight of what has happened never really sets in.

Like the rest of the community of “Heathers,” the audience is lead to focus more on these fake suicides than the actual mental health of the still-living teenagers in the musical. Martha and Heather McNamara’s suicide attempts, though heart-wrenching and accompanied by beautiful musical numbers, are mere blips on the overall plotline. And Veronica herself is not around to witness either. It’s only at Veronica’s lowest point in “Yo Girl” that she learns of Martha’s suicide attempt, and it’s only during the last song that she makes peace with Martha once more.

So what does this have to say about the nature of suicide and mental health in society? Well, it’s the sad truth that society as a whole doesn’t really pay attention to the still-living teenagers struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. For those who have already committed suicide, it’s easy for society and media at large to grieve and make something meaningful of it, but “Heathers” points out that very little is done to prevent those still living from meeting the same fate.

In an exaggerated microcosm of our world, the adults of Westerberg High are tricked by two teenagers into romanticizing the murders of three teenagers while ultimately ignoring the actual suicide attempts of two still-living teenagers.

So what does this say about our world and the people in it? What does “Heathers” say about mental health and suicide? Well, it stresses prevention. It points out that we live in a world where it’s far easier to provide commentary after-the-fact. It shows how easy it is to ignore the still-living mentally-ill people at risk for suicide in favor of trying to draw some selfish meaning from the deaths of those who are already gone.

It’s also a kickass musical with a great plot and musical score. Social consciousness and overall quality… what else could you ask for?

Musical Month Week 3: CHRISTIIIINEEE

Back when I wrote the first post for Musical Month, I had a deep inner crisis over which song deserved the number three spot for “Be More Chill.” Though I knew “Do You Wanna Ride” deserved the spot just as a song I enjoy listening to, I also desperately wanted to talk about “I Love Play Rehearsal,” a short, sweet little song that does an absolutely fantastic job of characterizing Christine. In the end, it came down to the fact that I felt like I had a lot more to say about “I Love Play Rehearsal” than “Do You Wanna Ride,” so it merited its own post. This post, actually!

Yes, Christine is probably the best character in “Be More Chill” (besides Michael). For a character who doesn’t actually have that heavy a role in the actual plot, she remains a character motivation for Jeremy, and an important one at that.

Wait, the female love interest who does nothing but be the character motivation for the leading guy? Hasn’t that been done over and over and over and over (and over and over) again? Isn’t it playing along with that idea that women are merely actors in a story dominated by men?

Oh yes, that’s very true. But allow me to make a case for Christine. While I don’t know if I can say that she’s the perfect example of a woman with agency in a musical (as I said, she doesn’t do a whole lot), I do think she gets excellent characterization. It would be easy for “Be More Chill” to sideline her as the adorable, quirky love interest she is – always just a bit out of Jeremy’s reach, but still lovely and perfect – but instead she’s made out to be a person with feelings, and it’s not until Jeremy realizes that that he “gets the girl.”

I also have to commend “Be More Chill” because Christine appears in maybe, like, three songs? And she still manages to be a really interesting, complex character. So let’s talk about her solo number, “I Love Play Rehearsal,” and what it implies about her character.

{CHRISTINE}
I love play rehearsal
Because it’s the best!
Because it is fun.
I love play rehearsal
And I get depressed as soon as it’s done.

So, what is there to say about this song except… it’s adorable? Well, a lot (obviously, as I’m writing a whole post about it), but it is also incredibly adorable.

But besides establishing the adorable tone, this verse sets up a motif we’ll be following throughout this song. Escapism! Christine uses play rehearsal as an escape from the rest of her life, explaining why she gets “depressed” as soon as it’s over.

It’s also worth noting the tone she sings these lines with – namely, the difference in enthusiasm between the second and third lines. “Because it’s the best!” is cheered, while “Because it is fun,” is toned down purposefully, as if Christine is trying to remind herself to remain calm. Considering she is saying all of this to Jeremy, a guy she has never talked to before, the audience can assume she doesn’t wish to come off too enthusiastic to a guy she’s just met – she’s self-conscious about her enthusiasm.

But not depressed as in like kill yourself depressed
No, I’m not into self-harm
Dude, I swear, here check my arm!

In another telling verse, Christine makes it a very specific point to tell Jeremy that she is not depressed, or suicidal. It’s such a quick and desperate point that I would be surprised if it wasn’t meant to imply the opposite.

This brings me to another important point about Christine in “Be More Chill.” As I mentioned above, she doesn’t play that huge of a role in this musical. Honestly, this makes sense to me, since the story we’re presented is Jeremy’s, and one of Jeremy’s biggest character flaws is the fact he doesn’t seem to care all that much about the problems of other people.

This is directly stated in his treatment of Michael and Brooke, but I think it applies to Christine too. The implication that she might be depressed or suicidal here is basically skipped over by the musical, and I think that’s on purpose. Jeremy doesn’t care about Christine in any way other than as an object of his affection, a prize once he finally becomes “cool.” So, we only get implications of Christine’s problems, because Jeremy doesn’t notice and doesn’t care, and so neither does this story.

See, I just use the word to emphasize a point,
Show the passion I have got
I am passionate a lot.

Christine’s passion is another important part of her character we’re given in this song. Christine is actually one of the only characters to have a defined “passion” in the musical, except maybe Michael with his love of retro products and video games. I think that sets her apart as slightly more mature than the rest of her classmates, assured enough in herself that she knows exactly what she loves to do.

The other characters spend most of their time concerned with the drama of their high school life, while Christine seems to flit above it all. She’s not pegged as one of the “popular crowd,” but she also gets attention from Jake, who is one of that crowd. I find that interesting when compared to Jeremy, who is absolutely obsessed with his status in high school, but loves the girl who seems pretty disconnected from it all.

I have mad, gigantic feelings,
Red and frantic feelings,
About most everything
Like gun control, like spring,
Like if I’m living up to all I’m meant to be.
I also have a touch of ADD.

Where was I?
Oh, right!

I love the juxtaposition of the two things she names as passions of hers. Gun control and spring… doesn’t that just say so much about her? Passion for the political and the downright fluffy. Precious.

But anyway, we get a little more implication of depth and conflict in Christine’s life in these lines. She wonders if she’s “living up to all [she’s] meant to be.” From this line, we can assume she’s probably a very self-determined person, with an image of who she needs to become one day.

I love play rehearsal,
Cause’ you are equipped with direction and text,
Life is easy in rehearsal,
You follow a script so you know what comes next.

These lines also reveal an interesting motivation for Christine. Her love of how the script provides direction for life speaks to a discomfort with the unpredictability and difficulty of real life. This matches up pretty well with Jeremy’s motivations, actually. Like Christine alludes, he also seeks an easy answer to life’s problems.

That’s a pretty easy way for Jeremy and Christine to connect right here, but as I’ve mentioned a few times at this point, Jeremy is currently too wrapped up in his own problems to notice Christine’s. He’s not even able to recognize his own problems in hers! That will change as the plot of the musical progresses but… yeah.

Anywho the point that I’m getting to is sometimes life can’t
Work out in the way
It works out in the play
Like the only time I get to be the center of attention,
Is when I’m Juliet or Blanche DuBois
And can I mention?

That was really one of my best roles,
Did you see that?

These lines continue with the idea that Christine longs for an easy solutions for life’s problems, but then implies that Christine also longs to be “the center of attention.” I already briefly talked about how Christine doesn’t seem to factor into her school’s popularity hierarchy, but it’s interesting that despite this, she still longs for attention.

Also, I can’t help but look into the two roles she namedrops. Juliet is something that comes up again later in the musical, so I can discount it as a story beat, but Blanche DuBois is especially notable, especially since she calls it “one of her best roles.”

Blanche DuBois is a formerly wealthy southern belle who comes to live with her sister and her sister’s husband in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Without spoiling the plot of that excellent play, Blanche is an incredibly complex character who ends up slipping into a state of insanity. It’s a really intense role for a high schooler to play, and I can’t help but think that it not only speaks to Christine’s talent as an actress, but also perhaps her connection to the character?

I think later parts of the musical confirm that Christine deals with mental health problems of her own, so I think that she connects so deeply with a role like that.

And no matter how hard I try,
It’s impossible to narrow down the many reasons why-y-y,
I love play rehearsal.
I happiness cry whenever it starts!
It’s just so universal
Getting to try playing so many parts.
Most humans do one thing for all of their lives,
The thought of that gives me hives!
I’ve got so many interests I wanna pursue,

And another interesting point about Christine! I really love the concept of loving acting as a way to escape from yourself. I’m not an actress, but I am the daughter of two actors and the granddaughter of an actress, so I’m acquainted with their mentality well enough, I’d think. I also think writing has a similar appeal. I love sitting down and writing about other people and worlds for a while. It’s a wonderful form of escapism.

But anyway, Christine reveals she has a lot of interests beyond acting, but acting gives her access to all of them. It’s a rather fascinating approach to interests. It implies that Christine would be doing so much more if she had the time, but uses acting as a way to efficiently explore all her many interests. It sheds more light on her insecurities regarding whether or not she’s living up to all she’s “meant to be.”

And why am I telling this to you?
Guess there’s a part of me that wants to.

These two lines get reprised in “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into.” I mention this because I think they take on a different meaning if you consider the context the reprise adds. At this point, the audience is meant to think this means Christine might be harboring secret romantic feelings for Jeremy. However, “A Guy that I’d Kinda Be Into” reveals that these lines show more platonic feelings for Jeremy. She trusts him without knowing why, a fact that isn’t enough for selfish Jeremy at first, but eventually becomes a basis for their relationship.

Back to play rehearsal,
My brain is like ‘bzz’
My heart is like ‘wow!’
‘Cause we’re here at play rehearsal,
And it’s starting,
We’re starting,
It’s starting,
Soon.
Oo

Not much more to say, just more cute lines.

Overall, “I Love Play Rehearsal” is a really fascinating introductory song for Christine’s character. It explores her love of theater as an escape and as a way to explore many of her passions. It touches on her inner worries and motivations. And it also, in a low key way, points out Jeremy’s character flaws and the way they align with hers, setting up their relationship throughout the musical.

While I don’t think Christine is a perfect example of female representation in a musical, what strengths in her character exist are unique and worth celebrating.

Musical Month Week 2: Pierre & Natasha

I want to start this post with a slight disclaimer. I think a lot of parts of this analysis are a bit self-indulgent on my part. I think in many cases analysis of things we love can often fall to self-indulgence due to the fact that the things we love very often connect to ourselves in a personal way. I don’t think it’s unusual or detrimental to an analysis to feel a personal connection, but I also think it can make it difficult to see opposing sides of an analysis.

So, wordy apologies aside, I want to talk about Natasha and Pierre. I want to talk about them both individually but I mostly want to talk about their relationship. This analysis will mostly focus on four songs – “No One Else,” “Dust and Ashes,” “Pierre,” and finally, and most importantly “Pierre & Natasha.” So, let’s break this down.

Part 1: Natasha

At the beginning of the musical, Natasha is defined by her youth. It’s the first thing the audience learns of her – she is young, she is in love. In “No One Else,” this idea is expanded upon even further. In a sweeping ballad, Natasha declares her love for her absent fiance.

While the audience could definitely take note of her passion, they might also take notice of her innocence. Consider her repetition of “I love you,” as if in childish glee over the new adult emotion she feels. Or when she expresses her want to “put her arms ’round her knees,” “squeezing as tight as possible,” and “flying away”. Or, maybe most notably, her naive wish that Andrey will suddenly appear, “sitting in the drawing room” and she’s only missing him because she “forgot” he was there.

Ultimately, while the audience might be charmed by Natasha’s love for Andrey, it’s hard to ignore the fact that she loves him without a hint of realism. In a way, that’s admirable, but as the musical progresses, it becomes obvious that it’s detrimental.

As Natasha is caught up with Anatole, it’s clear that her passion for Andrey was fueled more by childlike glee than actual adult emotion. Throughout the musical, she continues to make uninformed decisions, getting involved with a dishonest man, nearly eloping, and then almost killing herself. While Natasha’s idealism in “No One Else” is beautiful and touching, it is also ultimately hollow.

One could blame Natasha for rushing into things, but in a way the blame could also be put on the world she lives in. She is young, after all. Her marriage to Andrey was not her own decision, and although she was willing to convince herself that she loved him, swept up in the idealism of being a wife, it was ultimately grounded in very few of her own decisions. Similarly, Andrey’s disappearance to fight in a war is out of Natasha’s hands. So is her whirlwind romance with Anatole, who repeatedly is the one to make the plans, up to where he almost whisks her away on a troika. She is repeatedly a victim of her society and those around her, using her for their own ends.

So, by the time of “Pierre & Natasha,” Natasha has had her innocence and naivete beaten out of her. While she certainly deserves some of the blame, it is obvious that the mistakes of others have been pinned to her, bringing great shame to her name.

Part 2: Pierre

Unlike most of his fellow characters, Pierre is not explained with a short little word and phrase. Instead, Pierre gets an entire song, aptly named “Pierre,” to explain his mentality at the beginning of the musical.

Essentially, Pierre is a man unsatisfied with his current life. He feels as though he has declined in his age. He constantly compares himself to Andrey, feeling as though Andrey’s choice to go to war makes him a better man. In comparison, Pierre views his life as too quiet, too sedentary. The rest of the cast appears to see him as a sad, yet generally good-hearted old man. (Interestingly, Pierre doesn’t really seem that much older than the rest of the cast, at least not physically. Regardless, he gets referred to as the old man a lot.)

However, we also are introduced to Pierre’s romantic life, or the lack thereof. While he is married, his wife, Helene, clearly doesn’t love him. The two of them argue, and refer to each other only as “wife” and “husband.” In addition, Helene’s romances with many other men (and probably also women, let’s be honest) is pretty much common knowledge to the rest of the cast. Pierre only briefly touches on this situation in “Pierre,” when he remarks that “the women they all pity me / because I’m married / but not in love / frozen at the center.”

It’s not until Pierre almost dies in a duel with Dolokhov that we get to hear his true feelings on romance. In “Dust and Ashes,” Pierre comes to the conclusion that the only reason he feels compelled to stay alive is that he still hasn’t fallen in love. He hypothesizes that only through love (romantic love, mind you) can one find divinity.

Pierre, Natasha, and Marriage

So it’s easy to draw comparisons between Natasha and Pierre. Both seem to put a lot of stock into romantic love. For both, it’s their downfall, the main source of their pain and dissatisfaction with their life. But I want to take a look at what part of romance has caused them such grief, because I don’t think you can argue that it’s simply romance as a whole. No, it’s marriage.

Think about it. Pierre is stuck in a loveless marriage, and it’s that marriage that is preventing him from being able to find love, and by extension, divinity. Natasha, on the other hand, is controlled by her impending marriage to Andrey. When she’s finally convinced to act on her “own terms” without worrying about that marriage, she’s caught up with Anatole and ruins her life by trying to elope with him. It’s not love or romance, it’s marriage specifically that is causing both characters such trauma.

In addition, I’d be willing to make this analysis even more specific. It may not just be marriage that is causing both characters problems, it may be the idea that marriage and romance are the same thing. Natasha’s seemingly endless passion for Andrey is actually not at all lasting, and goes away as soon as Anatole becomes a more present option for marriage. And then it’s her haste to marry Anatole that ruins her life. In both cases, her longing to marry both of these men is mistaken as romantic feeling.

On the other hand, we don’t really know why Pierre married Helene. Though, once again, their marriage by no means equals romance.

So, with that in mind, I want to look at “Pierre & Natasha,” the last song I’ll be analyzing. In this song, after Andrey has firmly rejected Natasha, Pierre tries to comfort her. However, the conversation that takes place starts to say a lot more about their relationship with one another.

First of all, I want to point out that in War and Peace, Natasha and Pierre were good friends when they were younger. This song draws attention to that friendship early on, when Natasha refers to him as “Peter Kirilovich,” and he corrects her, wanting her to call him “Pierre.” Not only does this show he feels comfortable enough with her to be on a first-name basis, but “Kirilovich” was his former last name, before his now-deceased father allowed him to take on the name “Bezhukov.” It shows that she knew him during a time before now, when they were both young and idealistic. It’s a sign of familiarity and friendship.

Another point to draw attention to is Pierre’s question to Natasha about Anatole, and her response:

[PIERRE]
But I should like to know one thing
Did you love—
Did you love that bad man?

[NATASHA]
Don’t call him bad
But I don’t know, I don’t know at all

Natasha doesn’t know now whether she ever loved Anatole, and I think this goes to show my point earlier about her confusing marriage and romance. Now that Anatole is firmly not a candidate for marriage, Natasha isn’t sure whether or not she ever truly loved him, or was more excited for the possibility of their wedding.

After this exchange, Natasha breaks down into tears, and Pierre, at this sight, also begins to cry. Despite the fact that Pierre tries to “despise her” for what she’s done, he cannot help but feel for her on a personal level. Again, the audience is shown the connection the two of them share on an emotional level.

He promises her that they do not need to speak of the situation with Andrey again, and says “But one thing I beg of you, consider me your friend / And if you ever need help, or simply to open your heart to someone / Not now, but when your mind is clear / Think of me.” Repeatedly it’s the friendship and close emotional connection Natasha and Pierre share that is brought up. Neither expressly declares a grand, sweeping passion for one another, but it’s made abundantly clear that they care deeply for one another. Even after Natasha tries to say she doesn’t deserve his care after the things she has done, the music cuts out and Pierre delivers the one spoken line in the entire musical:

[PIERRE]
If I were not myself
But the brightest, handsomest
Best man on earth
And if I were free—
I would get down on my knees this minute
And ask you for your hand
And for your love

And yes, you read that right, Pierre heavily implies that he wishes to marry Natasha. Remember how I said that marriage and romance in this play are intertwined in the minds of the characters? It’s this line that confirms what the audience may have been suspecting this whole time – Pierre loves Natasha romantically.

But here’s the thing. Pierre can’t marry Natasha. He’s a married man, she’s disgraced and shamed, “unmarriable.”

Still, this doesn’t seem to sadden either Natasha or Pierre. In fact, it leads Natasha to “weep tears of gratitude / tears of joy / tears of thanks” and to leave the room “smiling.” Pierre too weeps some “tears of joy” of his own, and leaves the room to deliver the final, hopeful number of the musical.

So what does this all mean for their relationship? Well, I don’t think it’s an accident that the couple that cannot even consider marriage is the one that seems the most happy with the idea of their love for one another. Plus, it’s the couple whose platonic love for one another that gets their happily ever after, in a sense.

Pierre’s declaration of love for Natasha is a microcosm of what makes their relationship work. Unlike the rest of the musical, sung grandly with beautiful language, he states his love for her frankly with no music in the background. It’s not grand, but it’s earnest and well-thought-out.

And so what do we take away from Pierre and Natasha’s relationship? The kind of romance that lasts and brings happiness can only exist on a foundation of friendship and shared emotional connection. It has very little to do with passion or grand gestures or traditional marriages.

We don’t get to see what comes of Pierre and Natasha, but I think the audience nonetheless leaves the theater (or the YouTube playlist) satisfied, knowing that the too have found a real love. Platonic, romantic, lasting, and happy.