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EDITOR’S NOTE: VanderVault Staff Writer, Kaedene Powell, provides us with her take on a song that Grace VanderWaal wrote, performed and produced independently using the music production software “Garage Band”. She shared it on a non-advertised account on Soundcloud and this past week revealed during an Instagram livestream that she is happy with it existing on that platform and has no desire to remove it.

Because of this statement by Grace, we are releasing Kaedene’s lyric breakdown of the song. We hope you enjoy it.

“You cannot be happier without happiness to begin with” – Grace VanderWaal

 

In Grace’s nearly two hour long Instagram last week I asked her about the release of this song, to which she responded; “it can exist on Soundcloud forever, to be honest, which is my decision. I just kind of want it to live there; forever”.

Initially, I was hoping that “Happy Songs” would be released as a single and not necessarily on Letters Vol. 2, just like Stray, but this is okay too. I’m getting a lot of ‘Stray’ vibes from this song. Both songs are about songwriting and the struggle to do so, and also both productions have the same vibe (vibe, not sound). While Stray is about wanting to write like she used to, “Happy Songs” is about the struggle of writing upbeat “feel good” bops, rather than introspective and sad songs. I’m sure Grace is okay writing “bops”, but she writes what she feels in the moment, and that is, not necessarily, I’m assuming, always cheerful, happy, lovey-dovey songs. But enough rambling. Let us get into the lyrics, shall we?

Verse 1

“I’ve been told if you let good God in
You’ll be shown what your entire path looks like written
I look back on just last year and who I was
I’m so different
Things have changed me
Responsibilities, hurt and pain
Yeah, if you hear me, I’m praying that my path is written”

I read a comment that said this song sounds like a cry for help, and I can see why this person believes so. However, I wouldn’t necessarily call it I cry for help, more like a cry of frustration. Frustration in songwriting, frustration in once again figuring out what you want, frustration in feeling what she is feeling and why, frustration, once again, for not writing how she used to (as in “Stray”) and frustration about the pressure put upon her to write “happy songs”.

We all know Grace writes what she feels, and sometimes the narrative can get exaggerated for dramatic effect, so how can she conjure up a happy song when she is clearly not feeling it at the moment? “You cannot be happier without happiness to begin with”. So, she calls on God for answers and guidance as we all probably have done at least once when we felt a little lost. She looks back to the past and thinks, ‘I’ve changed. Things have changed, things which, in turn, changed me.’ Responsibilities, hurt and pain have guaranteed some sad song inspiration for many artists including Grace herself. Therefore, happy songs clearly won’t come so easily if feeling down is something you have to get off your chest before you can move on to “feel good”/ “happy” songs.

Chorus

“And I keep trying to write happy songs
I’m screaming to the sky
Wanna hear your song
I’m losing grip on my feet
But I can’t fall
I don’t know who’ll catch me
So I keep trying to write happy songs
The big men have told me I got it all wrong
Like, what about parties?
Something that will move all of their feet
But you don’t even know
No, you don’t even know
No, you don’t even know
You don’t even know me
And I don’t even know
No, I don’t even know
No, I don’t even know
I don’t even know me”

The “screaming to the sky” is her frustration being let out. She tries to write a happy song, but fails; maybe the songs always end up down the path of being sad, no matter how hard she tried. She feels that without having this drive to write what they think people want to hear (“happy songs”), the last resort is to depend on her co-writers’ ability to push out the happy songs even without feeling them. She feels lost and confused, but she can’t lose the grip she has over her music so she tries again.

I know she has said many times that people know when you are being fake so it is best to be honest at all times about what you are feeling. Still, one cannot help but wanting to conform and remain afloat with the mainstream world and try to do as her label advises; ‘The big men have told me I’ve got it all wrong”. They encourage her by suggesting what kind of ‘happy songs’ she could start with to get her back into the mood of them, but it doesn’t work because they don’t know what she is feeling; heck, she doesn’t even know what she is feeling!
The lyrics are pretty straight forward, but, damn, Grace, you tell ‘em!

Verse 2

“The priest speaks and tells me
Walk the grass, hear the song, listen”

I’m pretty sure I heard this right, right? But what does it mean to walk the grass? Was this expression cut short to meet the rhythm of the song? Anyways, I was not sure of the meaning of this verse for a second until the first line of the chorus kicked in:

“So, I listen and try to write a happy song”.

Okay, so now I get it. So, I’m thinking the priest might be an actual priest (or someone that gives spiritual guidance), which continues the theme of needing spiritual guidance from verse one. Now, instead of praying she consults the priest for help. Maybe the grass is an image of her written path, and he’s encouraging her to go where her path leads (“walk the grass”). And then, he/she says; ‘hear the song, listen’. In the production she placed angelic sounds in this section, further implying a divine feeling. He is trying to make her feel better, so she could hear and write a “happy song”.

Chorus

“So, I listen and try to write a happy song
But I’m screaming to the sky
I must hear this wrong”

Ha. Clearly. The priest is not to be blamed. He or she gave good advice. But clearly this song, like Stray, needed to be written first.

“I’m losing grip on my feet
But I can’t fall
I don’t know who’ll catch me
So I keep trying to write happy songs
The big men have told me I got it all wrong
Like, what about parties?
Something that will move all of their…”
And here comes my favorite part:
Bridge
“La, la, la, la, la
One, two, three, four
La, la, la
La, la, la
La, la, la, la
Ooh ooh
Aah aah
Aah aah”

I interpreted the bridge two ways, the first being this is a preview of her attempting to write a happy song. Notice how the drums picked up a little, got louder to match the taunting ‘la, la, la, la, la’. She is making a mockery here as she sings the sounds that normally go with happy songs, and takes it further by giving the impression she is going to switch it up with the “one, two, three, four”, but then maintain the jibberish “la, la, la’s”.
Then she ends with oohs and aahs, again mocking what she feels are typical, and vacuous, bops.

This part reminds me of one of Harry Styles’ songs from his first album called “Woman”. In the song the chorus goes:
“Woman, woman La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la”

In this song he is telling his ex-lover something, but at the same time he is not willing to listen to her and her excuses. The “la, la’s” form the image of a child covering their ears and screaming “la, la, la, la” so as not to hear the other person talking. I think it’s the same feeling with Grace here, somewhat, with her and the advice she tried to take in.

And so, the song ends with:

“I keep trying to write happy songs
I’m screaming to the sky
Wanna hear your soul
I’m losing grip on my feet
But I can’t fall
I don’t know who’ll catch me”

Overall, this song is a true masterpiece. I only wish that this song was released like “Stray” was, as the music video would surely have been amazing as well.