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The Uses and Misuses Of ‘We’

‘We’ is a pronoun that pops up a lot in songs.

If you’re singing to, about, or with someone else, a specific person or persons, the use of ‘we’ is common and perfect – ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’, ‘We Belong Together’, ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, ‘We Belong To The Night’, etc. There are many thousands of songs, usually love songs of one sort or the other, where ‘We’ plays this kind of role.

But too often ‘We’ is used  to avoid using ‘I’. And, for example, “I’m so weak sometimes” is a much stronger statement than “We’re so weak sometimes”.

Even though both may be true, with the former (‘I’), the listener can identify with the singer. The latter (‘We’) turns away from the personal to something vague and non-specific. It can be well-meant, but usually it results in distancing the listener from the emotion.

This can also come from a problem for the writer. He or she may be having trouble coming out with, say, “I do this/I feel that”. Even though the lyric may not be autobiographical, it may feel that way, and the songwriter may be afraid to take that stance in the song, to have the listener possibly identify them with that emotion or action.

It can take courage to sing, from the ‘I’ perspective, words that are either extremely personal or – the opposite – that come from a song narrator who may be utterly different from the writer… and even would be contemptible to him or her (in real life).

So sometimes the writer turns to ‘We’ to bail themselves out: “We do this/We feel that”. A general statement about humanity. That may feel a lot more important than little old ‘I’, but in fact ‘I’ is usually the strongest position to be singing from. Although there are many exceptions, that’s why most songs are sung from that ‘I’ perspective.

‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is a great Title and a great song. If U2 had tried to generalize for all mankind, ‘We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For’, while true, would be comparatively quite weak; not nearly as powerful and easy to connect with as ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’.

The ‘We’ exceptions are protest songs and anthems, meant to be sung by groups of people – ‘We Shall Overcome’, ‘We Are The Champions’, ’We Are The World’, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, ‘Yellow Submarine’, even ‘Royals’. In this kind of song – singalongs – you can’t beat ‘We’.

There’s obviously no replacement for ‘We’ in songs like this, nor should there be. But I’m very careful about weakening my ideas (and not just in Titles) with the ineffective use of the pronoun ’We’.

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