Southcliffe is a very good, but disturbing show focusing on a handful of people before and after an active shooter situation in their small British town. Well worth seeing, but that’s not what I want to talk about.
Each of the first two episodes contains a scene in which a group of people loudly sing along with a song. Shout along, actually.
The first features a group of returning soldiers celebrating in a pub, shouting along with The Human League‘s “Don’t You Want Me”:
The words tell the story of a man who has lost his girl, pitched somewhere between pleading and threatening. However, the song’s meaning totally changes here through the audience’s engagement with it. This can especially be seen with the celebrating couple shouting the words to each other in the foreground. The words being shouted may still mourn a breakup, but the shouted song now embodies the joy of reunion, and bonding between the comrades in arms. It now means the opposite of what the words say.
In the second episode a man who has just lost his wife and daughter shouts along to Oasis‘s “Champagne Supernova” with his mates:
Here the relationship between the song and its use becomes a bit more complicated. The elegiac song is being used to mourn a loss, but the singers are not directly addressing the loss here. Kind of the opposite. They are insulating themselves against that loss, tamping down their emotions through the careful application of beer and pop songs in a ritual of male bonding.
Where does a song’s true meaning lie? In the words? In the music? In the performance? Or in the use to which fans put the music?