Illusion of Life Analysis on 45 by Gaslight Anthem



The retail store I work at (Sportchek) generally plays a mixture of pump-up songs aiming to make the gym-buff buy more muscle shirts, the hockey player amped to practice with his new stick, and the golfer to ready to feel his swing in the golf course simulator. This is a portion of Sportchek’s advertising scheme aimed to get customers excited while in the store. But then I heard 45 by Gaslight Anthem and wondered if the gym-buffs, hockey players and golfers that were shopping knew the true meaning of the song. I didn’t really notice the darkness of the lyrics at first because of the upbeat nature of the song itself, but after I heard it a couple more times I began to think of the dynamic interaction between virtual experience and virtual time; first about the lyrics, secondly about the music, and lastly about the incongruence between the two in this particular song.

The story within the lyrics focuses on the familiar story of a man who lost the love of his life and has to deal with his loneliness, his friend’s [sometime’s harsh] opinions, and his past. You can tell already that he is angry in the first line, “Have you seen my hands, just look at ’em shake” and catch glimpses of the pain he has for his lover by the end of the first verse. Following the chorus, it starts to dig deep into his true feelings, “The tick, ticking of hours lonely… I hear the alarm. /I used to hear when she would sleep in my arms.” The songwriter also used an interesting form of dramatic illusion, which I think creates the sense of suspense-seeking resolution in the song that tends to represent intensity. The songwriter talks about the present and looking forward into the future, but it almost seems like a poetic illusion because he is stuck in his past, “And I dance with your ghost. But that ain’t the way…/I can’t move on and I can’t stay the same.”

A hard rock song such as this offers intense rhythms, loud phrasing, fast tempo, and full instrumentation. This song has a hearty rock n’ roll feel with a kick of country bass that is infectious. Its rhythmic structure has a driving tempo that is unpredictable. Its harmonic structure is stimulating and discordant, with a melodic structure that climbs sporadically with short-held tones. Its dynamics are disjointed and punched, and get louder and faster as the song progresses. Lastly, the song has many amplified instruments. All of these aspects of the song point to representative intensity in the musical elements.

Tragic lyrics paired up with an intensity musical pattern can have various effects on the listener. I think that in this case it is meant to inspire the listener to be strong after a break up; I think that the band wanted a song that could speak to people in a similar situation.The song also uses strategic ambiguity by not including any details of the ‘break up’, leaving listeners drawn to the song because they can theorize their own background stories. I know for a fact that if I would have listened to just the lyrics or just the music I would have a very different opinion on what message the song was trying to portray.

Ultimately, the emotional message of the lyrics and the conceptual message of the music contradict each other, making the lyrical and musical messages incongruent. I believe that the band chose to combine the two incongruent elements to create a lasting effect on the listener.



A Sweet Surrender


The song, “Never Let Me Go,” by Florence and the Machine, was released in 2012 and went to number one on various international music charts. The soulful lyrics illustrate the feeling of drowning through the perspective of Welch, who wrote this song based on the tragic suicide of Virginia Woolf. Woolf was a writer, who had left a note for her husband explaining the amazing time she had with him and that she could no longer be a burden to him. The context in the lyrics depicts the struggles that individuals face in their life and inevitably the decision one makes to stop living. This illustrates that the song is a representation of finding peace with oneself, and realizing that life’s devotions are not always enough. This can be exemplified through the virtual experience, release patterns, and congruity.


The virtual experience encompasses tragic lyrics as it explains the resolution of moral dilemmas. This is shown when she states, “reflections still look the same to me,” because she can no longer fix her past she decides to let them go. Also, Welch reflects on the past experiences seen through her eyes, which illustrate a poetic illusion of backwards looking with situations that cannot be changed. This shows that she regrets the choices she has made in the past but cannot amend her actions, which causes her to give in. Lyrics like, “But I’m not giving up, I’m just giving in,” exemplify release as seen often in poetic illusion. She states that she is not giving up but inevitably, she becomes enveloped in the prospect of death because it is seen as her only escape. Furthermore, when she states that, “It’s the only way to escape,” it portrays that the only way for her to move on is to escape from the reality of life.

Moreover, the release patterns found throughout the song consist of a rhythmic and melodic structure accompanied by phrasing. This illustrates that the song follows a slow temple, with long-held notes and a ritardando (gradually slower) flow (Sellnow, 118). Furthermore, the chorus is sung generally louder than the rest of the parts but still maintains a soft and mellow tone, which contributes to the overall message of leaving your attachments behind. Throughout the song, “Never Let Me Go,” the message that is conveyed through the lyrics, also contains the same emotional musical message. This is also known as, congruity. The smooth, soft and slow tempo of the song illustrates an emotional message which represents release patterns. Likewise, the conceptual message in the lyrics communicate that she has found peace in no longer living but still wants to be remembered, “In the arms of the ocean deliver me, Never let me go, never let me go.”

Overall, the message that is conveyed is blatant in that, it is about how she has found peace with dying because she can no longer handle the struggles in life. Furthermore, the patterns of the para-linguistic cues can further analyze the emotional and conceptual messages found throughout the song.

The Machine, Florence, perf. Never Let Me Go. Writ. Welch, Epworth, and Harpoon. 2012. Film. 25 Feb 2013. <;.

Sellnow, Deana. The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts. California: Sage Publications, 2010. 118. Print.

You’ll Think of Keith Urban – Illusion of Life Analysis



Lyrics (studio version):

Keith Urban took the music scene by storm when he released his album Golden Road in 2002. In specific, “You’ll Think of Me” became a huge hit providing Keith with his first Grammy. But what is it about this song that makes it so worthy of the acclaim of a Grammy? As shown in his live performance of  “You’ll Think of Me”, is successful due to its ability to represent the raw emotions of a broken heart which all can connect to.

The studio album featuring "You'll Think of Me"

The studio album featuring “You’ll Think of Me”

Keith Urban is an Australian-American country singer known for infusing elements of rock and pop music into his music. Thus, country music fans are the intended audience of “You’ll Think of Me”. However, the song transcends genres making it relatable to men and women, from teenage hood to adulthood, and across all races. Thus, the song relates to anyone who has experienced heartbreak.  This specific version of the song was released on his first concert DVD, “Livin’ Right Now” and was one of my favourite recorded performances.

Musically, the song effectively functions as virtual time as it “suspends actual time” (Sellnow 118) by making listener’s engage in his heartbreaking story. The song has an overall release pattern. Rhythmically, the song maintains a consistent and slow tempo, and a predictable strumming and drumming pattern.  The phrasing changes over the course of the song. Though usually conforming to the release pattern, toward the conclusion of the song, Keith changes the phrasing to represent the intensity of his emotions by using multiple crescendos and the use of an accelerando. This is absent from his studio recording of the song, making the live performance of the song far more moving for listeners. The listener becomes completely immersed in the heart wrenching feeling portrayed through Keith Urban’s voice. From the very first beat, the instruments are organized to represent one’s heart breaking. The constant drumbeat can be said to one’s heartbeat, slowing as the pain sets in. Then, as Keith begins playing the note progression on the guitar, listeners feel as though their heartstrings are being plucked.  Toward the end of the song, the intensity pattern represents the rage and bitterness one feels after being left brokenhearted.

To accompany the arrangement of music, the lyrics to the song reinforce the heartbreaking emotions. It is no surprise that song’s lyrics are tragic (“focus on self-consummation… and coping with fate” (Sellnow 119)). The song focuses on the virtual past,  “Woke up early this morning ‘round 4 am… Thoughts of us kept keeping me awake” and the future as Keith hauntingly repeats, “You’ll think about me” or “When you’re lying alone in the middle of the night, wishing I was there to hold you tight, that’s when you’re gonna think about me baby”. As such, the lyrics create both a poetic and dramatic illusions.  The lyrics are blatant, as it unequivocally about being left broken hearted and forced to live without that person. Hence, the song is relatable to a vast audience, as suffering from a broken heart is a common feeling.

Keith Urban after winning one of his (currently) four Grammy's

Keith Urban after winning one of his (currently) four Grammy’s.

“You’ll Think of Me” is notably one of Keith Urban’s most successful songs. The congruent message of the music and the lyrics demonstrate the pain, bitterness and devastation of the broken hearted. His delivery of the song challenges audience members to have a dry eye during the performance (I find myself whipping away tears every time after watching the vulnerability and hearing the rawness of Keith’s performance). The song has the unique ability to transcend audiences, because of its ability to relate to all emotionally.  Thus, Keith Urban’s, “You’ll Think of Me” rightfully deserved to win a Grammy and all the praise it continues to receive from audiences worldwide.

Sellnow, Deanna D. ”A Musical Perspective: The Illusion of Life Theory” The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture: Considering Mediated Texts. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2010. 115-142. Print.

An Illusion of Life Analysis: Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks

Today’s top radio hits are usually similar sounding electronic, dance and party sounds that have sweeping build-ups, catchy choruses, and that are fun to dance and sing along too. However, there are some exceptions to this consistent theme. The uncharacteristically mellow song ,“Pumped up Kicks” by Foster The People, was an immensely popular song not too long ago. However, although the instrumentals are easy on the ears, the message that is depicted in the lyrics contradicts the calming sound and it’s that violence is acceptable towards members of a higher economic status and of ideal family situations. It is arguable that this incongruence is the reason for the songs success in modern radio music. While most songs exhilarate listeners with loud and fast rhythms accompanied by simple lyrics, in this song the tension between the musical sound and lyrical content can be somewhat exciting for two reasons: First of all it allows one to feel energized while still maintaining a calm composure. Since Sellnow mentions that music does not evoke feeling, but rather it represents them (117), songs like “Pumped up Kicks” can be appreciated by both excited and tranquil listeners; this universal compatibility is very alluring because sometimes simply exciting or mellow music just isn’t appropriate. The second reason is that the incongruence allows for the morally unethical message of the song to appear more acceptable.

The song is about a little boy named Robert who appears to be neglected by his father and doesn’t seem to have a mother or any siblings. After finding his father’s “six-shooter gun”, he learns to cope with his father’s absence via violence (2011). The virtual experience consists of comic lyrics as it tells the tale of a young boy that has triumphed over the odds. He also has discrete and sadistic ideas for the future which situate the lyrics within a dramatic illusion, “Robert’s got a quick hand. He’ll look around the room, he won’t tell you his plan.” Furthermore, the chorus of the song is very simple and repetitive, making the song fun to sing along to, but the message is dark as it implies that Robert wants to console for his loneliness by harming children who are economically well off which can also imply that they have “desirable” families: “All the other kids with the pumped up kicks better run, better run, out run my gun. All the other kids with the pumped up kicks better run, better run, faster than my bullets.” The overall message conveyed by these lyrics is that one who belongs to a lower economic status and a poor family situation is entitled to empower themselves by eliminating people who live better than they do. It is a very vicious moral and it would normally be rejected outright by the masses if it wasn’t for the song’s emotional content.

The virtual time of the song is composed predominantly with release patterns. The chorus is slightly louder than the verses, but generally the sound is still predictable, mellow, soft and connected. Also, there aren’t too many instruments playing at once either which further builds on the song’s release rhythms.

As soothing as the sound is, the difference between the emotional and conceptual messages in the song is what makes the normally unacceptable message depicted by the lyrics seem nonchalant and feasible. All of the lyrical content of the song would normally be paired with music that consists of mostly intensity patterns. According to Sellnow, songs with comic lyrics and dramatic illusion are best represented by intensity patterns because optimism is enthusiastic and the future is unresolved (118- 120). Songs with lyrics similar to “Pumped up Kicks” that also consist of mainly intensity patterns do exist, but they are not palatable by a larger audience as they are targeted at a smaller sub-group of people. Through the rhetorical ascription utilized in this song though, members of the sub-groups previously mentioned would listen to it, but general listeners can also tolerate its harsh words because of its generic, animated sound.

There is an effective use of strategic ambiguity in the song too. Most of the verses are composed of seemingly non-related and harmless sentences, but they connect to form controversial ideals. For example, in the second verse, Robert “reasons with his cigarette” then tells someone, “Your hair’s on fire, you must have lost your wits, yeah?” Upon the first time hearing this line, one might be confused. Eventually though, the listener will deduce that the cigarette and all that it stands for is the foundation for Robert’s moral system and it allows him to cause an innocent victim harm whilst blaming them for not being able to protect themselves against his obscure “wisdom”.

To summarize, “Pumped up Kicks” by Foster the People is an incongruent song with soft, smooth and mellow instrumentals that mask lyrics that approve the sinister message of violence against the wealthy and fortunate. Consequently, if listeners do not take the conceptual content of the song seriously, they may become desensitized to this form of violence and actually consider it to be acceptable. Since many radio listeners are children, allowing sly rhetorical persuasion like this to manipulate the acceptable set of ethics can produce unsettling results in the future.

A Music Perspective: Who Says by Selena Gomez

A music perspective: Who Says Selena Gomez

Audience: teens, individuals with low self esteem

Virtual Experience:

The song, Who Says, uses both comic and tragic lyrics, mainly because it is about being yourself, and having confidence in yourself, by knowing you are worth a lot and that you can do whatever you set your mind to. This is found in the lyrics, “ Who says you’re not star potential? Who says you’re not presidential?”.  The lyrics to this song also have more of a poetic illusion, communicating a sense of finality by lyrics that mention that you can do whatever you want as long as you believe in yourself, and that in the end all that matters is that you believe in yourself. Also, another thing Selena Gomez has in her song lyrics is strategic ambiguity because self confidence and high self esteem is not something that many people believe they have, and many people have difficulty handling these situations, with everything seen in the media about how you ought to be, for you to be beautiful.  This song has a goal of trying to get individuals to know that they are not worthless and that they are beautiful inside and out.  I personally find that this song helps me a lot when I’m feeling down, and it helps boost my confidence.

Virtual Time:

Rhythmic structure: slow tempo, predictable (release) and fast tempo lyrics (intensity)

Harmonic structure: Mellow (release)

Melodic Structure: Long held notes, conjunct (release)

Phrasing: Legato, soft (release) and accelerando (intensity)

Instrumentation: few (release)

This song, Who Says, by Selena Gomez has a calm tone to it, and I find it relaxing.  Even though the chorus has a faster tempo, I think its supposed to get the listener into a happy mood.  As well the music doesn’t seem to be using many instruments, making it a release pattern type of song.  This song also had many repetitions in the rhythm of the song in the chorus, making it predictable. During the song you can also notice that the pattern definitely shifts between intensity and release patterns, mainly between chorus and rest of the lyrics.  As for what is particular for this artist, I would say it is very typical of Selena Gomez, as a lot of her songs change between intensity and release, and a many of her songs also speak about confidence, and feelings.


I would consider this song to be congruent because the main pattern of song is release and most of its lyrics are tragic with poetic illusions.  This song has an overall happy tone to it and a very boosting melody to it.  I find this song does exactly what I would expect it to do with respect to the lyrics.


The implications I get from this song is that it is teaching the youth to have high self esteem and confidence.  This song helps individuals see that they can do what they want in life if they set a goal for it. Also, the beauty shown by the media, isnt what real beauty is, because real beauty has to do with whats inside your soul and what your heart believes is beauty for yourself.

Illusion of Life Through Rise Against’s “Prayer of the Refugee”

With many punk rock bands the idea of fighting against the norm and bringing awareness to oppressed groups is a unifying strand and from this ideal and their use of upbeat intense music and gritty lyrics they tend to appeal to young adults (both male and female) aging from 16-30. The band Rise Against is no exception to this umbrella of punk rock bands. Just from their band name, it is evident that Rise Against is an active group when it comes to shedding light on controversial societal norms whether they lie in the realms of politics, social habits or even daily human interactions; furthermore, their presence on the mainstream platform of music has made their messages extremely effective because of their great listener appeal. One of their songs in particular that shed light on a very controversial issue in the United States of America is “Prayer of the Refugee” (2006). The context of the track illuminates the struggles of immigrants to the US and at the same time acts as a call to action and unification for these oppressed people’s rights. Through effective congruent patterns the song ultimately acts as both a “prayer” and an “anthem” for the oppressed immigrants of the US by shdding light on their oppression and calling them to action. This post will examine the virtual time, virtual experience and congruity of the song to determine how it accomplishes the spread of its message.

Prayer of the Refugee is a very interesting track to analyze under the “Illusion of Life” perspective because of its combination of a wholly congruent pattern through both intensity and release patterns coupled with comic-dramatic and tragic-poetic lyrics respectively throughout the song. If we take a look at the virtual experience of the song the first thing to note is the title; as a “prayer of the refugee” the song acts as a both a plea for salvation and an anthem for the “refugee” or US immigrant. The beginning of the song appears to be the plea for salvation as the lyrics depict an immigrant sharing his experiences with a young child. With a sombre tone the refugee tells the child “stories of a better time; In a place that we once knew” clearly referring to their country of origin where life was better and they weren’t “the angry and the desperate; The hungry, and the cold”. These lyrics from the first verse and the first half of the second verse portray a tragic and poetic illusion as the protagonist appears to be coping with fate and dwelling on the past to communicate a sense of finality because they have “left all this behind [them] in the dust”. From here however Rise Against changes the course of the song entirely by shifting the virtual experience to a comic and dramatic illusion thus also converting the plea into an anthem or a call to action. Through amplified and yelled lyrics like “we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm” and “We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up; Everything you’ve known” the refugee shows how the immigrants have been beating the odds and fighting to change the system that they have become trapped in. Furthermore, the chorus of the song, which is yelled with great anger and enthusiasm, is a message from the refugee that he or she does not need to depend on anyone anymore and they don’t need us to hold them up anymore because they are strong enough to hold their own ground thus continuing to develop the idea that the immigrants have beaten the odds. The final verse of the song solidifies the dramatic illusion of the lyrics as the refugee is telling the child to take the reins and continue the refugees’ fight, that it’s time for them to be on their way and “broken windows and ashes; are guiding the way” so they may let their voices be heard and “sing though the day;…of the lives [they’ve] reclaimed”. The First generation immigrants have broken the barriers (windows) and burned the bridges (ashes) so that it’s up to the new generation to firmly plant their rights and their ways of life in their new home. Through the use of strategic ambiguity the song persuades it’s listeners to take heed of both the plea for salvation and the call to action without using specifics within the language; thus ultimately leading the listeners to become aware of the oppression of the refugee but not to think that he or she is weaker than them in any way even if that was not the listener’s initial perspective.

The analysis of the song’s virtual time produces very similar results in that the song begins with a release pattern that leads into an intensity pattern which also cements the idea that the track acts as a plea that transforms into an anthem. Throughout the first verse and the first half of the second verse the music primarily demonstrate release patterns with a predictable slow tempo, a constant harmonic structure, legatos and little instrumentation. Just as in the virtual experience of this song it is at this point that the track changes direction. Just as the call to action begins the drums suddenly increase in volume and speed, the base and guitar becomes more frantic and a background harmony builds up that adds to the intensity of the remaining verses and the chorus. The patterns that demonstrate this intensity are an unpredictable driving tempo, a dissonant harmonic structure, accented phrasing with many crescendos and multiple amplified instruments. The shift from a release pattern to an intensity pattern is effective in illustrating that during the plea for salvation the refugee seeks sympathy and desires fellow US citizens to become aware of his position yet when the shift occurs the refugee is now calling out to his fellow immigrants so that they can understand that they are strong and they must unify to continue beating the odds and thus the intensity pattern is effective in pumping up the listener and rousing their excitement towards the cause.

Although Prayer of the Refugee alternates through different virtual time and experience it still displays a wholly congruent pattern. During the first verse and part of the second verse the message is a clear appeal for the awareness of oppression towards immigrants in the US which is conveyed via lyrics that are tragic and music that follows a pattern of release. This congruence along with the idea that the audience isn’t being directly addressed but is instead listening in on a conversation between the refugee and a child ensures that although the message may be overly depressing the message will not be short-lived but instead heard and understood. Furthermore the use of congruency of lyrics with a comic and dramatic illusion with an intensity pattern functions effectively as an “in-group”message to rally the immigrant group towards the cause of changing the system and standing up for themselves without the dependence on others by making the message aggressive and evoking.

Implications of this effective use of congruency could be an overall awareness and appreciation for immigrant minority groups in the US from the young listeners of today; consequently this may go against the US melting-pot culture which in turn could lead to a more diverse and dynamic social system in the country. Ultimately Rise Against’s Prayer of the Refugee effectively uses a dynamic congruency patterns to illicit feelings of both sympathy towards immigrant minority groups and passion for change and unity within those groups.