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Nexilius

Where do you draw the line between "cliche" and "simple"?

So I was listening to the radio and a song with a collaboration between Micheal Jackson and Justin Timberlake came on. The song is "Love Never Felt so Good", it was brimmed to the teeth with cliches. "Baby" was repeated many times over , nearly all the lines were simple and probably said at least once before. It was set to a very catchy beat though. And of course the singers could sing. I know it's pop, but this begs the question, is cliche actually a bad thing? Where do you draw the line between "cliche" and "simple" words/lines?

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Great topic. IMO cliché is solely in the mind of the listener.

Like, suppose someone were raised by wolves and is just now starting to listen to songs and hear lyrics. Nothing would be cliché to that listener would it?

As songwriters, we run the risk of sounding "same old" with lyrics our listeners have heard time and again (the ones that weren't raised by wolves :)/>).

But if we invent something entirely new, we take the listener out of his comfort zone. So the key is to strike a balance - say things in an unique way so the listener can still connect his past experience with this new thing he's hearing.

There will always be plenty of pop songs that are chock full of clichés and people that enjoy them.

I'm happy they invented the off switch for the rest of us :)/>.

Paul

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Though what is and isn't "cliche" is in the mind of the listener, in my opinion, just because a lyric is "simple," and conversationally realistic and natural-sounding, doesn't make it "cliche." Moreover, even if a phrase once considered novel has truly been overused to the point where it's now irritating, and thus, cliche, playing off such a cliche in a song lyric can often be appreciated as a creative and novel use of the cliche. Also, sometimes using a phrase that's cliche is the very best way to express the thought or feeling - especially where it also provides a needed rhyme. I also personally think you give a very poor example of a song that is, as you say, "brimmed to the teeth with cliches." Though "baby" is used a lot in song as a term of endearment - especially in songs intended to have a sexy vibe - it's used a lot because that's what men really say to a women as a term of endearment. Besides, I think it's odd that you think just one word can be cliche. Is "the" cliche? For me, the only phrase in Love Never Felt So Good that is truly "cliche," is the phrase "through thick and thin."

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My wife has often accused me of using too many clichés in lyrics, so I have tried to notice this and move away from the worst/most-used ones.

"Cliche" - Todd Rundgren

One more game, one more chance

One more orchestrated song and dance

He'd be up front and speak his peace

And ask for her time

To put their heads together

And try to make the knot unwind

And it strikes home that it's time to make his move

Or it's time to turn and walk away

So he plays that old cliché

Silent tears, bleeding heart

Well our prima donna plies her art

Defenses of defenses of faultless design

Still she's only asking him

To help her make the knot unwind

And if the very next words

Leaving her lips could decide

If he'd go or if he'd stay

She would play that old cliché

Who makes up the rules for the world?

Haven't we been down this road before?

Isn't anything peculiar here?

Certainly there must be something more

Where are the words, where are the words,

Where are the words

Where are the words, where are the words,

Where are the words

And it's almost not worth singing about,

It seems so everyday anyway

Still we play that old cliché

And here sit I, one man show

I vivisect and then pretend to know

All it ever gets me is an ache in the mind

Can't somebody help me to try to make the knot unwind

And I say what I say when I know

There's really nothing left to say

Then I play that old cliché

Throw away that old cliché

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I don't see cliche as an issue. It's purely subjective as to whether or not it's an issue. We listen to music past & present and many of the most popular songs of the past and present, that are played over and over again on the radio and elsewhere have cliches in them. If it is so much of a taboo or a no, no, so to speak, then why are hits of the past that are heavy on their use of cliches, still popular and played on the radio as frequently as the new songs? Why do current hits become chart topping even with cliches, if cliches are such a bad thing and people don't like to hear them used in song lyrics. I don't draw any lines. It's all blurred to me.

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Thanks for the replies and insight.

@hobosage Hmmm...while it's true that a lot of men call women "baby". There's no denying it is used a lot in love songs. I also think it's unfair to compare a preposition, definite article ( the) to a noun or object. People often focus on the very latter. Anywhere I see someone put that much "babys" in their lyrics on songwriting forums in particular, they normally got heavily criticised for it. I don't know how many love songs you've listened to, but I've heard similar lines or exact lines from other songs before. "Imma love you" you really don't think people have sung similar lines in other love lyrics? I'm not saying cliche is bad or anything, as mentioned it's all subjective. Lots of people in songwriter forums actively try to avoid cliches and I was just wondering what other people's views on it was.

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Thanks for the replies and insight.

@hobosage Hmmm...while it's true that a lot of men call women "baby". There's no denying it is used a lot in love songs. I also think it's unfair to compare a preposition, definite article ( the) to a noun or object. People often focus on the very latter. Anywhere I see someone put that much "babys" in their lyrics on songwriting forums in particular, they normally got heavily criticised for it. I don't know how many love songs you've listened to, but I've heard similar lines or exact lines from other songs before. "Imma love you" you really don't think people have sung similar lines in other love lyrics? I'm not saying cliche is bad or anything, as mentioned it's all subjective. Lots of people in songwriter forums actively try to avoid cliches and I was just wondering what other people's views on it was.

One thing I am learning about being on songwriting forums, is that people can be overly critical if a song is not totally original in sound and lyric. It seems to me that a lot of aspiring song writers have forgotten to be listeners. If the song sounds good and feels good or elicits a particular emotion, why pick it apart? why not just enjoy it? I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well. So, it stands to reason that anything can become cliche. I don't concern myself when people tell me my songs are repetitive. I already know it. I think that in our quest to become the great songwriter of our mind's fantasy we forget that some of the best songs are the simple ones. If that is cliche then I for say be cliche.

Not that there is not a lot of good advice on these forums but sometimes you just have to ignore the critics.

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Thanks for the replies and insight.

@hobosage Hmmm...while it's true that a lot of men call women "baby". There's no denying it is used a lot in love songs. I also think it's unfair to compare a preposition, definite article ( the) to a noun or object. People often focus on the very latter. Anywhere I see someone put that much "babys" in their lyrics on songwriting forums in particular, they normally got heavily criticised for it. I don't know how many love songs you've listened to, but I've heard similar lines or exact lines from other songs before. "Imma love you" you really don't think people have sung similar lines in other love lyrics? I'm not saying cliche is bad or anything, as mentioned it's all subjective. Lots of people in songwriter forums actively try to avoid cliches and I was just wondering what other people's views on it was.

One thing I am learning about being on songwriting forums, is that people can be overly critical if a song is not totally original in sound and lyric. It seems to me that a lot of aspiring song writers have forgotten to be listeners. If the song sounds good and feels good or elicits a particular emotion, why pick it apart? why not just enjoy it? I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well. So, it stands to reason that anything can become cliche. I don't concern myself when people tell me my songs are repetitive. I already know it. I think that in our quest to become the great songwriter of our mind's fantasy we forget that some of the best songs are the simple ones. If that is cliche then I for say be cliche.

Not that there is not a lot of good advice on these forums but sometimes you just have to ignore the critics.

You nailed it. Cliché works very well in the real world with the everyday casual lister. Which is what most people are. Of course, there are the more creative type of people in this world like us. Who sometimes cringe when hearing a few to many cliché lines in a song.

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Thanks for the replies and insight.

@hobosage Hmmm...while it's true that a lot of men call women "baby". There's no denying it is used a lot in love songs. I also think it's unfair to compare a preposition, definite article ( the) to a noun or object. People often focus on the very latter. Anywhere I see someone put that much "babys" in their lyrics on songwriting forums in particular, they normally got heavily criticised for it. I don't know how many love songs you've listened to, but I've heard similar lines or exact lines from other songs before. "Imma love you" you really don't think people have sung similar lines in other love lyrics? I'm not saying cliche is bad or anything, as mentioned it's all subjective. Lots of people in songwriter forums actively try to avoid cliches and I was just wondering what other people's views on it was.

One thing I am learning about being on songwriting forums, is that people can be overly critical if a song is not totally original in sound and lyric. It seems to me that a lot of aspiring song writers have forgotten to be listeners. If the song sounds good and feels good or elicits a particular emotion, why pick it apart? why not just enjoy it? I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well. So, it stands to reason that anything can become cliche. I don't concern myself when people tell me my songs are repetitive. I already know it. I think that in our quest to become the great songwriter of our mind's fantasy we forget that some of the best songs are the simple ones. If that is cliche then I for say be cliche.

Not that there is not a lot of good advice on these forums but sometimes you just have to ignore the critics.

You nailed it. Cliché works very well in the real world with the everyday casual lister. Which is what most people are. Of course, there are the more creative type of people in this world like us. Who sometimes cringe when hearing a few to many cliché lines in a song.

I agree with this 100%. I value feedback from other songwriters and recording artists when it comes to technical things about a lyric like prosody, point of view, etc., and about how a particular mix sounds to them. But, when it comes to objectively judging whether a my lyric choices, arrangement choices and production choices are "good" ones or not, I think other songwriters/recording artists tend to be the least objective listeners, and that their feedback is primarily an expression of the choices they would make if it was their song. Don't get me wrong, I want to know what they would do too. But, I also know that just because their choices are different than mine doesn't mean I should think they're better choices, or that other listeners would think so too - despite any subsequent "snowball effect" with critiques. And, there is also a "snowball effect" when it comes to critiques on forums like these. One person points out something, and subsequent reviewers will naturally address those matters when they might not have otherwise thought to do so on their own, thereby unnaturally emphasizing that as an issue with the song.

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I draw the line by whether it seems cliche to me. If one of my lines bothers me, there's a reason why it bothers me, and it's best to hold out for something better. If I were to put it in anyway, I would be writing down to the listener ("I don't care for it myself, but it's good enough for them"). Simple is good. Using as many one-syllable words as possible is great. A phrase isn't trite for being made up of short simple words. But if I recognize it as a stale image or figure of speech that won't support my theme, elicit a feeling, or engage any of the listener's senses, I think it doesn't belong in my lyric. If there was someone like me in the audience, resonating on my wavelength, I'd want that listener to like all the words, not zone out because of trite, overused images and sayings. A lot of cliches are similes: Pretty as a picture is trite. Pretty as a prayer book is Paul Simon.

One of my best songwriter friends, whom I deeply admired, had the line "Home sweet home, how could I ever roam" in the chorus of one of her songs. As a performer she was able to put the song over in concert sets because of the conviction behind it and her skill in fitting melody to words, and how great she was at getting the audience on her side. But when she got her Nashville shot, her producer wouldn't let the song onto her album.

My friend had grown up in Appalachia, didn't get far in college, didn't read much, and though she did some inventive and original things with her lyrics, I think she often had trouble telling her good lines from her bad ones. Years after we fell out of touch and I heard several of her songs with fresh ears, it occurred to me that she'd been a very bright spark writing from an extremely impoverished vocabulary. I remember how she would talk about resenting it when one of her mentors tried to get her to up her game lyrically. It's hard to do by sheer will if you were never exposed to good poetry and you're not a reader, and if you yourself don't hear the problem in a problem line. If a line that you wrote is fresh to you, it's hard for anyone else to convince you it's stale. And she was always wary of letting anyone else influence her words, since she believed her songs came to her as gifts from beyond herself. Suggestions felt to her like assaults on her artistic integrity, so nothing her producer or anyone else said had much effect; I would not have critiqued her lyrics, and she wouldn't have critiqued mine. Any time I heard her sing, the sum total seemed to conquer any stray clunker lines. But once she aged out of her waif persona, she pretty much wilted as a performer. Other friends with stronger lyrics are still performing well into old age.

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I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well.

But the emotions experienced by the characters in the story differ.

Here is a list of emotions, 100 of them.

list of emotions

If you were writing the story and chose just 4 emotions the character would experience you would have 75.2 million possibilities. Let's say you did this for each story type, you have over 527 million stories.

Mind you, that's just having one character express 4 emotions, you are most likely going to have more than one character, and well, the number only gets bigger. Then the all the other factors that make a story a story, though the number could be defined, you are basically flirting with infinite possibilities.

To think all the stories have been told and all the songs have been written is kind of absurd. Heck, the best ones probably haven't been written yet.

Cliches were once a part of this seemingly bottomless well that creators try to tap from. They didn't appear out of thin air.

Cliche = easy button, but don't expect to be called brilliant or original.

Also, sometimes using a phrase that's cliche is the very best way to express the thought or feeling - especially where it also provides a needed rhyme

See -- easy button, and lazy. I'm guilty of it at times, but recognize it as such. And how would you know it's the very best way? For me I'm just giving up when that happens.

Though I do think cliche can be used effectivly to give context to a complex or obscure idea. A little spoon feeding on occaision doesn't hurt I suppose.

Originality= Taking risk and failing A LOT. There is nothing wrong with failure, when people realize this their creativity can bloom.

The choice is up to the artist really. Try to create something new, or recycle old ideas that have lost their impact over time.

Peace

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It's all in how "cliches" are used. They're just another tool in the songwriter's tool box.

There's no question that cliches are cliche for a reason -- they work and they flow well in many different song lyrics.

However, their misuse is not clear-cut, and determining misuse is a product of, er, musical intuition: you'll know it, your audience'll know it, we can't quite expound on why that is, but you can just "feel" it. Like the ear detecting when something's unintentionally out-of-rhythm, it's similar to that.

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I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well.

But the emotions experienced by the characters in the story differ.

Here is a list of emotions, 100 of them.

list of emotions

If you were writing the story and chose just 4 emotions the character would experience you would have 75.2 million possibilities. Let's say you did this for each story type, you have over 527 million stories.

Mind you, that's just having one character express 4 emotions, you are most likely going to have more than one character, and well, the number only gets bigger. Then the all the other factors that make a story a story, though the number could be defined, you are basically flirting with infinite possibilities.

To think all the stories have been told and all the songs have been written is kind of absurd. Heck, the best ones probably haven't been written yet.

Cliches were once a part of this seemingly bottomless well that creators try to tap from. They didn't appear out of thin air.

Cliche = easy button, but don't expect to be called brilliant or original.

Think your list of emotions can be broken down into 6 primary emotions

love

joy - happiness

surprise

anger

fear

Sadness

Yes, it is an oversimplification, but to say that you can write every song completely original in thought and sound is absurd. If you were able to, you probably would not connect with very many listeners. How many songs do you know that don’t focus on at least one of the basic emotions listed above?

In my opinion, one of my best songs came to me one morning as I awoke and before the end of the day I had it recorded and I loved it. It is called Walk With You. I just did a quick search on SoundCloud and over 500 songs came up with the words walk with you in the title alone. I thought my song was original I still think it is original. Just because I used words that have been used before does not make me lazy. I spend hours and hours sometimes days or months working on a song and when it sounds right to me then I am satisfied. If I use a phrase that you think is cliché, it shouldn't matter if it makes the song sound better. It is not lazy. I think you are dismissing the fact that people pour their heart into their songs. I guarantee that every one of those 500 songs sound completely different. It is not just words that make a song.

I grow a garden and this year I had way too many jalapenos. I was looking for something new to do with them. So I candied them and added them to a cheese cake. It came out great. I thought I had come up with a new dessert. A Google search proved that to be wrong. But to me and the people around me it was new and great. And my version was slightly different then the other recipes. My point is certain ingredients taste good together and so cooks use those ingredients even when they try to use them in new ways they still use the ingredients they know to be good. It was still a cheese cake I just added jalapenos to make it different. I think the same thing applies to music there are certain ingredients that sound good and we try to add a new ingredient to make it sound a little better or different. That’s what most artists do, build on what they know, Try to add something new. But we all start with something already know.

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So I was listening to the radio and a song with a collaboration between Micheal Jackson and Justin Timberlake came on. The song is "Love Never Felt so Good", it was brimmed to the teeth with cliches. "Baby" was repeated many times over , nearly all the lines were simple and probably said at least once before. It was set to a very catchy beat though. And of course the singers could sing. I know it's pop, but this begs the question, is cliche actually a bad thing? Where do you draw the line between "cliche" and "simple" words/lines?

As I've gotten deeper into songwriting I've found myself not as impressed with the songwriters who I had aspired to be like when I was a teenager or in my early 20s.

I've never considered myself a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, but despite that I had always been impressed with Corgan's level of output when I was younger and aspired to be a prolific songwriter at that caliber. At closer inspection though, much of Corgan's stuff doesn't stand the test of much scrutiny.

Unfortunately as I've grown as a songwriter I've seen that Corgan hasn't. Over his entire career it's clear that most of his lyrics are non-nonsensical and sound as though he put little to no effect in actually crafting his work or in attempting to articulate a thought or idea. He either gives a lot of his songs goofy titles that have absolutely nothing to do with the lyric ("Mayonaise", "Panopticon", "Anti-Hero", etc.) or he goes in the polar opposite direction and writes songs that basically say nothing but the title ("Run2Me", "Dorian", "Bring the Light", etc.) and his lyrics are so abstract and non-nonsensical that often times the only meaning for a given song will come from what he states in interviews. For example, he claimed in an interview that "Drum + Fife" was about the soldiers in the middle-East, but there's no way could derive that from the lyric... there's absolutely nothing in the lyric that would indicate that the song has anything to do with the soldiers, or war, or anything related to what he claims it's about.

It's very apparent in interviews with him that he's very arrogant when it comes to how he feels he is at his craft and he's been vocal in saying that he's a musical genius (his words, not mine) so that gives the same kind of attitude as younger posters who join the Muse wanting instant praise for their songs and over-react when legitimate criticisms are posted against their work.

In all reality he's been very lucky. He's had a level of success that has allowed him to remain in his own little world and not grow as a songwriter. He's been busy blaming his declining success and popularity on filesharing and the new generation that doesn't value music when in all reality his inability to grow and adapt as a musician and songwriter to a new environment is really what is to blame. I mean just because something worked so well in the 90s doesn't mean that it's gonna work almost two decades into the 21st century.

Dave Grohl's songwriting has worn on me over the years in a similar fashion. I remember being so impressed with songs like "Let It Die" and pretty much the entire In Your Honor album (which I still enjoy) but his more recent work has really took a nosedive in quality. Starting with the entire Wasting Light album his lyrics were just entirely composed of either tired cliches or slight alterations of cliches that you almost wished were just the original cliche. By his own account the lyrics to "White Limo" were written in two minutes.

http://www.fooarchive.com/gpb/classicrock11.htm

Grohl clearly believes in the spontaneity of the moment for a lyric, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, except when it becomes very clear that a lot of his "five minute lyrics" sound as though they were written in five minutes or less. :/

I mean c'mon... "This was no ordinary life/This was no ordinary wife"... my brain just shuts down listening to this benign, boring, cliched crap.

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I was once told that there are only 7 different stories in the world.here. If that is true for stories, it is true for songs as well.

But the emotions experienced by the characters in the story differ.

Here is a list of emotions, 100 of them.

list of emotions

If you were writing the story and chose just 4 emotions the character would experience you would have 75.2 million possibilities. Let's say you did this for each story type, you have over 527 million stories.

Mind you, that's just having one character express 4 emotions, you are most likely going to have more than one character, and well, the number only gets bigger. Then the all the other factors that make a story a story, though the number could be defined, you are basically flirting with infinite possibilities.

To think all the stories have been told and all the songs have been written is kind of absurd. Heck, the best ones probably haven't been written yet.

Cliches were once a part of this seemingly bottomless well that creators try to tap from. They didn't appear out of thin air.

Cliche = easy button, but don't expect to be called brilliant or original.

Think your list of emotions can be broken down into 6 primary emotions

love

joy - happiness

surprise

anger

fear

Sadness

Yes, it is an oversimplification, but to say that you can write every song completely original in thought and sound is absurd. If you were able to, you probably would not connect with very many listeners. How many songs do you know that don’t focus on at least one of the basic emotions listed above?

In my opinion, one of my best songs came to me one morning as I awoke and before the end of the day I had it recorded and I loved it. It is called Walk With You. I just did a quick search on SoundCloud and over 500 songs came up with the words walk with you in the title alone. I thought my song was original I still think it is original. Just because I used words that have been used before does not make me lazy. I spend hours and hours sometimes days or months working on a song and when it sounds right to me then I am satisfied. If I use a phrase that you think is cliché, it shouldn't matter if it makes the song sound better. It is not lazy. I think you are dismissing the fact that people pour their heart into their songs. I guarantee that every one of those 500 songs sound completely different. It is not just words that make a song.

I grow a garden and this year I had way too many jalapenos. I was looking for something new to do with them. So I candied them and added them to a cheese cake. It came out great. I thought I had come up with a new dessert. A Google search proved that to be wrong. But to me and the people around me it was new and great. And my version was slightly different then the other recipes. My point is certain ingredients taste good together and so cooks use those ingredients even when they try to use them in new ways they still use the ingredients they know to be good. It was still a cheese cake I just added jalapenos to make it different. I think the same thing applies to music there are certain ingredients that sound good and we try to add a new ingredient to make it sound a little better or different. That’s what most artists do, build on what they know, Try to add something new. But we all start with something already know.

You bring "sound" into the equation then you just made the number of songs to be written raise exponentially. How may genres are there? they are distinctly different in "sound" for the most part and they exist because they connected with listeners. new genres are being created all the time. They stray from the beaten path and still connect. Why's that?

To say there are six basic emotions is like saying there are 3 basic colors. By combining them what happens. you get an extremely large color pallet that you can use to distinguish yourself from the others or you can just use red blue and yellow.

I think you are confusing generic phrasing with cliche.

Cliche- A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

Walk in the park is generic.

If something was described as being "like a walk in the park" or "it wasn't a walk in the park", then that is cliche.

You're jalapeno story is a bit interesting.

"I thought I had come up with a new dessert. A Google search proved that to be wrong. But to me and the people around me it was new and great."

The fact that someone else has done it doesn't make it cliche. You illustrate this very well well with the latter statement.

If you made cheese cake and put cherries on top they would have been less impressed I'm sure. Why? Because that's how it is often served. Still may taste good but there is nothing really new about the experience. After having the jalapeno cheesecake enough it will also lose it's luster. If it would become the new fad then it would risk becoming "cliche" so to speak.

Peace

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You bring "sound" into the equation then you just made the number of songs to be written raise exponentially. How may genres are there? they are distinctly different in "sound" for the most part and they exist because they connected with listeners. new genres are being created all the time. They stray from the beaten path and still connect. Why's that?

To say there are six basic emotions is like saying there are 3 basic colors. By combining them what happens. you get an extremely large color pallet that you can use to distinguish yourself from the others or you can just use red blue and yellow.

I think you are confusing generic phrasing with cliche.

Cliche- A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

Walk in the park is generic.

If something was described as being "like a walk in the park" or "it wasn't a walk in the park", then that is cliche.

You're jalapeno story is a bit interesting.

"I thought I had come up with a new dessert. A Google search proved that to be wrong. But to me and the people around me it was new and great."

The fact that someone else has done it doesn't make it cliche. You illustrate this very well well with the latter statement.

If you made cheese cake and put cherries on top they would have been less impressed I'm sure. Why? Because that's how it is often served. Still may taste good but there is nothing really new about the experience. After having the jalapeno cheesecake enough it will also lose it's luster. If it would become the new fad then it would risk becoming "cliche" so to speak.

Peace

OK lets say generic phrasing then, once a generic phrase becomes overused in the mind of the listener does it not then become cliche?

My point with the cheesecake was only this; It was still cheesecake. I used a tried and true dessert that has been around for years. I looked at my jalapenos and thought cream cheese goes well with jalapenos and there is cream cheese in cheesecake. I wonder if they will go well together? So, I gave it a try. We do the same thing with our songs. We know certain things sound good together because we listen to them over and over again. Then we use those things in our songs and try to add that element that make it sound unique to us. But it is still cheesecake and in being cheesecake people will say things like "Oh this taste like cheesecake" even if it is a little different. Given that it has that cheesecake flavor, some will call it cliche. The point I was trying to make is, if your cheesecake taste good to you and you feel that you added your own flavor to it then don't worry so much about the critics. You will never please everyone. people have different taste and someone will always find something that they would have done different to advise you on.

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If all you do is feed people cheesecake, they will get tired of it no matter how you dress it up.

Peace

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Cheesecake doesn't remind me of a cliche so much as it brings to mind a hugely popular song that you just need to stop hearing for awhile. It doesn't need to be retired, but just eased off the radio til you've had a chance to forget some of the lyrics. Once you haven't been Hallelujaed in some years, then somebody can come out with another rendition, maybe featuring some of the more obscure verses or in some other way making it seem fresh again. Sure, jalapeños, that actually sounds amazing.

Every night is way too often for even the best cheesecake, but it'll always have a place in the rotation. But I don't think a cliche has any place in first-rate writing. I think once a phrase goes stale, there's no bringing it back except in an ironic twisty way. An otherwise-great song can succeed despite a clunker phrase or two, but the song would have been better without. I'm a big fan of that Jennifer Nettles song "

," but I think its phrase "with my heart on my sleeve" should never have made it past the first draft. Funny how the worst cliches nearly always seem to be rhyme lines.

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Yikes! I wrote a song called 'Heart on his Sleeve' last year, but it didn't make the cut for either my last or the forthcoming albums!

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Yikes! I wrote a song called 'Heart on his Sleeve' last year, but it didn't make the cut for either my last or the forthcoming albums!

I might be in the minority on this one, and now I wish I'd picked a different example. If it were you, me and Jennifer Nettles voting, I'd be outnumbered for sure. -_- And you'd be the one with the Grammy winner in your corner.

People will disagree on whether any specific figure of speech is a colorful idiom or an annoying cliche. There are some websites out there (like this one) that list sayings that are commonly considered to be cliche. Reading down the list, I spotted quite a few phrases that didn't seem at all stale to me. There were also some I’d never even seen or heard before. “Box of fluffy ducks”? Maybe it was used in some movie that I never saw. Or maybe it's a Britishism.

It’s a challenge to stay current on which sayings are commonly considered passe, and harder yet if English isn't your native language, so an objective source like a web list might be helpful.

One valid use of a cliche is to twist it around or turn it upside down by changing one little thing about it. "Better Love Next Time" and "She Can't Say I Didn't Cry" were commercial country hits obtained by changing a worn-out phrase into something else. Looking over a list on a cliche website like the one I linked to might spark some wordplay ideas that could yield a nice hook line.

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A cliche is meant to be an attention getter...well...most genre's of music it is. Metaphors in general are the usual suspects used for this. Groups like the Posies and Mitch Easter are great at using cliche's in a far different clever way than your run of the mill ways of expression. So, yeah, cliche's can be "simple" and yet "complex" depending on the genre of music.

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Hi all, for what its worth simple v cliche, I dont mind either, just try to avoid predictable when I can. Lyrics that rhyme directly and predictably with the same exact meter always seem an issue in my way of thinking. Simple can also present a challenge of conveying often complex meaning in just a few words so metaphor and similies are important tools in the economy of the message, and giving it multiple interpretation. Not sure I achieve this every time but its food for thought. and at times a cliche has its place. I like blues and that is one genre riddled with cliches. In many cases you are just trying to capture raw essence, not a produce sonnet.

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On 11/17/2016 at 2:01 PM, Joan said:

I might be in the minority on this one, and now I wish I'd picked a different example. If it were you, me and Jennifer Nettles voting, I'd be outnumbered for sure. -_- And you'd be the one with the Grammy winner in your corner.

People will disagree on whether any specific figure of speech is a colorful idiom or an annoying cliche. There are some websites out there (like this one) that list sayings that are commonly considered to be cliche. Reading down the list, I spotted quite a few phrases that didn't seem at all stale to me. There were also some I’d never even seen or heard before. “Box of fluffy ducks”? Maybe it was used in some movie that I never saw. Or maybe it's a Britishism.

It’s a challenge to stay current on which sayings are commonly considered passe, and harder yet if English isn't your native language, so an objective source like a web list might be helpful.

One valid use of a cliche is to twist it around or turn it upside down by changing one little thing about it. "Better Love Next Time" and "She Can't Say I Didn't Cry" were commercial country hits obtained by changing a worn-out phrase into something else. Looking over a list on a cliche website like the one I linked to might spark some wordplay ideas that could yield a nice hook line.


I just started reading a little of the list on that web site. I gotta say I am glad foreigner (Cold as Ice) and Bryan Adams (Cuts Like a Knife) weren't worried about cliche. :D I kept running across loads of good songs I have heard over the years and I've only made it through the C's. I will agree with you that the site may well be a good place to go for ideas when your stuck. While changing things up a bit may add little something extra some of these may be quite powerful used as is in the right context. (as evidenced in the many well known song titles the list contains)

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On February 18, 2017 at 9:29 AM, The Nameless Untold said:


I just started reading a little of the list on that web site. I gotta say I am glad foreigner (Cold as Ice) and Bryan Adams (Cuts Like a Knife) weren't worried about cliche. :D I kept running across loads of good songs I have heard over the years and I've only made it through the C's. I will agree with you that the site may well be a good place to go for ideas when your stuck. While changing things up a bit may add little something extra some of these may be quite powerful used as is in the right context. (as evidenced in the many well known song titles the list contains)

 

Yes. Two people might well disagree on whether any given figure of speech makes your lyric more interesting, or is pretty much tapped out and boring. If you find your own lyric boring and listless, then and only then will you feel moved to revise it. Maybe for some there's a difference between what a writer likes in a lyric and what the writer thinks the audience will like, but I have to think we don't write to bore ourselves.

 

Your "Cold as Ice" Foreigner reference reminded me of the songwriter Eric Taylor. If he's known at all outside Texas, he's probably known more as a writer's writer. One of my favorite lines of his was "she's as cold as a hometown jail." When I first heard that it put me in mind of being in this small town where everyone's known you since you were a baby, so they know your history and they get why you might go off the rails sometimes, and that you're pretty much harmless, and why you're not always in total control of what you do. And the bastards toss you in jail anyway.

He had another song where the speaker's girlfriend seems to be going off him. He wrote, "Used to burn like Atlanta, used to burn like the lonesome in a young girl's eyes." Some writers really like to push similes to more evocative places than other writers do, and maybe for some listeners that isn't evocative at all. To some people's ears, a writer like Eric Taylor might distract and annoy them by calling attention to his writerly ways, but I would listen to a song of his so many more times than I'd listen to a song by Foreigner. Whom other people admire just as much, and for reasons I accept as just as valid. Those guys know how to work a hook, even if I think the hook is pretty weak.  

 

 

Edited by Joan
clarification

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It's not how good your cliche is, it's what you do with it.     If you grab something easy because it rhymes or scans, it will sound lazy and unimaginative.   

 

Look at "Cold as Ice" which is a stone cold cliche.    They *start* the song (and the chorus) with it.   It's not the payoff line.     They get the cliche done right away, very emphatically ("You're as *Cold* as *ICE*...." ) and the music makes your ear know that there's another line coming, which you feel sure is going to rhyme with "ice" and the use of "sacrifice" is surprising to the ear.    Not only that, but there's that little hang, followed by "..our love"      

 

*Then* the chorus goes on to rhyme with "ice" two more times (advice, price).      So the lyric does play with your expectations (and the music helps, for sure).    

 

Once you make that statement up front (you're as cold as ice), the song goes to explain *why* and that is where you have the opportunity to be original.    The first line is a cliche, but the rest of the song might not be.   (You can argue among yourselves whether the Foreigner song gets more interesting).

 

You can imagine a chorus *ending* on You're as cold as ice" -- if that was the line you were building up to, it would feel disappointing.

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I think most of us are just trying to have fun with a hobby - in which anything goes and we all have fun. Maybe some of us aspire to be artists, maybe not - its a hobby either way!

 

That said. Here is my pretentious take on it

 

In art, I believe the greatest artist creates something beautiful and transcendent - something which rises above daily life while still captures some of its essence.

 

Vivaldi, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, the great cathedral builders (who's names may now be lost)  - they all lived in rough circumstances, with lives that we probably wouldn't  enjoy (disease, dirt, boredom, poverty)  - yet they created these things of extraordinary elegance which represent something elevated from their daily lives - to the extent we still see it all these years later as somehow being above our wonderful 21st century existence. How did they bottle this magic? I dont know but it is fascinating to me.

 

But when we think of cliches like "baby baby" - they certainly can contribute to a really enjoyable song.... but can you create great for-the-ages "art" with those building blocks as your starting point? 

 

 

 

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Who ever said that Baby is a cliche, anyway? It's familiar, but it's a term of warm affection between lovers. That's almost like saying "I love you" is a cliche. We see it a lot, but it's always good to hear when someone seems to mean it. I remember reading an article that said there are certain words that come up more than their share in songs that succeed. Baby was one of them, girl was another. As in, a lyric would be statistically more likely to hit its mark if you found a way to put those words into it. There were also words that had the opposite effect, that seemed to drag a lyric down. Children was one of them, and I swear I'm not making this up. I'll post a link if I'm able to find the article again. These days I'm hearing the phrase baby girl more and more often in love songs and drama dialog. Hmm, I wonder why.

 

This isn't the article I remember, but it seems to be using research from the same study.

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1 hour ago, Joan said:

Who ever said that Baby is a cliche, anyway?

 

Nexilius did, in his original post...

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3 hours ago, fabkebab said:

 

Nexilius did, in his original post...

And you agreeing with that?

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1 hour ago, Joan said:

 

 

And you agreeing with that?

 

I think as a lyric it is a cliche,

 

I believe it is used in songs because it sings very well - kind of like "la la la" but an actial word.

Moon/June is also popular because they a words which sound good together whilst also conveying some meaning

 

I am not sure anyone is going to carve the musical equivalent of the statue of David using baby, moon and June

 

but you know what? I don't have the answers and I could be wrong

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13 hours ago, fabkebab said:

 

Moon/June is also popular because they a words which sound good together whilst also conveying some meaning

 

I am not sure anyone is going to carve the musical equivalent of the statue of David using baby, moon and June

 

but you know what? I don't have the answers and I could be wrong

 It's a challenging discussion to have, partly because we all know that a strong song can easily survive a weak line. There's a huge bank of successful lyrics out there, and it's never hard to find one doing the thing someone says shouldn't be done.  When I was in college taking a fiction writing class, and the professor would use some "don't do this," someone would come back to say, "But look right here where [for example] Hemingway did that." The teacher would always fall back on something like, "That is not an example of what is good about Hemingway's writing." He didn't have all the answers either, but I think every guideline he gave us was valuable to learn about, if not to comply with 100 percent of the time. As Z.mulls wrote, it's also what you do with a phrase. It's not just about what the words say, but how the words sound. It's partly about whether the words convey exactly what you want them to, and partly about whether they work with or against the meter you've established and whether the vowels and consonants in those syllables work with the emotion and sound you're going for. But when we're talking about whether a figure of speech is hackneyed and trite and all played out, it's pretty much all about what those words mean. Whether that phrase is an asset or a hindrance in what you're trying to communicate, whether it's better to call the song done, or to hold out for something more effective there.


Speaking of cliches and straining for rhymes, if we were talking about not resorting to YodaSpeak (inversions), I could show you examples of William Butler Yeats using them. The rest of the truth is that eventually T.S. Eliot convinced him to stop.

 

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