‘Hello?’ Why pop can’t hang up the phone

You used to message me on WhatsApp/Late night when you need my love …”

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? Despite the increasing advancements when it comes to technology and communications, nothing quite makes the hook of the song like an illicit telephone call.

Adele recently returned to the scene with Hello, her first song in four years, featuring the singer leaving a series of voicemails for an estranged ex. Even the video, all sepia-toned and nostalgic, prominently features the flip phone previously used in the video for Make You Feel My Love.

In the age of the internet and 140 characters, a phone call provides the same purpose as a good love song – direct communication solely between two people.

Another artist particularly fond of this style of song-writing is Drake. His 2011 single, Marvins Room, is essentially a phone call he makes to an unidentified ex-girlfriend while under the influence.

Are you drunk right now?” she says, exasperated, before he retorts, “I’m just saying you could do better.”

Lee went on to sue the rapper, for excluding her from sharing co-writer royalties, which suggests it’s probably best to keep those private phone calls, private.

Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner is prone to making questionable phone calls too – Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? documents his frantic – and failed – attempts to convince a female friend to stay over in the wee hours of the night.

Neither Drake or Alex Turner coined the ’emotional-phone call’ lyric method. Jason Mraz’s track, Details In The Fabric, from his third album, ‘We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things’, begins and ends with voicemails from his best friend following a bad break-up. In the first voicemail, he is despairing, “It’s just one of those days. I fucking lost it … fuck it, I don’t know.” Bridged with Mraz’s reassuring lyrics, the song concludes, “We just deal with it how it comes, deal with the humps, take the jumps… I feel like… you’re an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea. And I love you buddy. Okay… bye.”

At its best, it is honest, brutal and emotionally charged. At its worst, it’s a paradise for memes and piss-taking.

Let’s refer back to rap’s resident pansy, Drake. New single Hotline Bling sees him mourn the days of another ex-girlfriend’s drunk dials. With their seemingly only line of communication closed, Drake finds himself at a loss, “Ever since I left the city you/Got a reputation for yourself now/Everybody knows and I feel left out.” Despite being Drake’s highest charting track in the US to date, and the 1-800-HOTLINGBLING number now instantly recognisable, the video – and its questionable choreography – now overshadow the underlying theme.

It’s not all tears on a screen and drunken pleas, mind. Is there anything as empowering as hitting that ‘declined’ button? Not according to Lady GaGa’s Telephone. Maybe Carly Rae Jepsen had the right idea when she wrote Call Me Maybe – give a stranger your number, and then write a song about it. Life’s too short, right?

Since companies cut the chord on telephones (literally), conversations grew intimate – no longer tethered to the one point. Not only that – artists are waxing lyrical about the ways cell phones have opened up the avenues of, eh, intimacy. Phone sex? Nah, that’s so noughties. The Weeknd only does booty calls at half 5, according to The Hills, and Taio Cruz needs nudes if he’s to remember what you look like – so he says on Dirty Picture, anyway.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, one can safely assume he never anticipated artists using the apparatus to premiere new music. Fast foward 150 years later, Lana Del Rey is using a phone service to connect to fans and promote new album, ‘Honeymoon’. Fans called the number featured on the album cover, and were able to listening to songs from the LP, a TED talk by Elon Musk and “a lecture on the origins of the universe”. Pop’s favourite upstart Justin Bieber even debuted his own cover of the previously mentioned Hotline Bling on – wait for it – his own hotline. Meta, or what?

Love, lust, whatever lies in between, will never be felt in 140 characters. The phone represents something in music that helps paint a bigger picture: intimacy, heart and genuine feelings that necessitate a private moment between the caller and recipient. Stay hung up, heartbreakers.


Fionnuala Jones

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