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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

On "Cranes in the Sky" and attempting to break free from a cycle of distractions

In trying to be productive post-heartbreak, Solange captures the difficulty in resolving to face our most pressing problems.

Upon returning to Berkeley from a weekend at home yesterday, I felt strangely liberated, despite knowing I had even more work ahead of me than I did before.

Part of that likely came from the way I left the Peninsula: my father drove me back across the Bay in the midst of a significant power outage, then I got very emotional talking about my future plans (or lack thereof) on the drive over. Upon coming up with a plan of action and getting the ball rolling over the last 24 hours, I've felt a decent amount of weight come off me — simply from getting out of my own head and truly starting toward a new chapter, and by pushing my negative thoughts and fears away in favor of focusing on opportunities.

While I could have talked about a lot of songs that related to the more thankful aspect of my current state of mind, I wanted to focus more on the long, circuitous path it took for me to get to this point where I now really want to take initiative. After a bit of searching various eras and genres, I remembered Solange's breakthrough song "Cranes in the Sky" (2016), which similarly discusses working through negative emotions and attempting to push them away.

Solange, Beyoncé's younger sister by five years, shines on "Cranes in the Sky" as she discusses the ways in which she attempted to break free of her multifaceted pain. Her verses describe the various ways in which she attempted to do so, including drinking, smoking, splurging on herself, and keeping herself busy. I can especially connect with the last of those — when I want to avoid my problems, I tend to distract myself by diving into other things. The issue then becomes avoiding being totally consumed by those other things, as I very much have over the past couple years.

Notably, during the second verse, Solange eschews the words "tried to" when singing, "I slept it away / I sexed it away / I ran it away," implying that she was at least temporarily successful at making herself happier using those methods. Though, this happiness seems to be temporary, as she returns to "I tried to" in the following verses, the fact that she was able to feel better even for a brief amount of time implies that these distractions aren't all necessarily a bad thing. One can't just dedicate all their waking time toward working and moving toward their career and life goals; they still need time to step back and enjoy oneself. The key, then, is ensuring that these pleasures remain secondary and don't eat away too much at one's productivity.

Of course, that's a task easier said than done, as implied by the song's title and chorus. The titular "cranes in the sky" are eyesores which Solange spotted all over Miami in the time she lived there. In the song named after them, she conflates the cranes and the "metal clouds" they make to the aforementioned distractions. In focusing on building up from the ground, we lose sight of the ground itself; in distracting ourselves with life's pleasures, we forget what problems we have on the ground level. In the repetition of "away" over producer Raphael Saadiq's sparse backing — a constant funk-like drumbeat, steady strings, a dancing bass line, and occasional piano — one gets the sense that Solange is attempting to float away and get above the cranes, only for her to fall back down when the verses resume as she sings about why those attempts didn't work.

It's only at the end of the song where we get the sense that Solange is moving on and getting away from her personal dark patch. Her fifth and final verse connects her pain to heartbreak over her divorce from her high school sweetheart, with whom she had her first child. She eventually found her outlet in writing, which evidently worked well to not only get her out of her emotional funk, but also grant her career success. It's particularly poignant that a song with a story behind it like "Cranes in the Sky" became her first Grammy-winning output — it undoubtedly makes it feel like all she's gone through to get to where she is now worth it. As the song ends, the last chorus and repeated "away"s feel like an affirmation that she's able to look past the ugliness of the 'cranes' by finding a way to confront her ground-level emotions: channeling them into a form of art which is now propelling her career and life forward.

Sometimes intense pain and emotion proves to bring out our most ardent and creative work. Such seems to be the case for Solange, who poured her heart into "Cranes in the Sky" and saw it bear her greatest success once she was inspired to release it. Though she wrote the song in 2008, it took until 2016 for her to be inspired by the American sociopolitical climate to release it. Despite being a very introspective number, "Cranes" also resonates on a larger scale because of its universally applicable message of resolving to stare down and act upon the wrongs and troubles present both in ourselves and our world, rather than escaping from it all through fantasy or neglect.

Personally, I connect to "Cranes in the Sky" on both the greater and smaller levels, particularly the latter at this time. It took a lot for me to finally address the elephant in my own room and get to work towards life beyond these next few months of my senior year, but now that I've started on the path toward a more promising future for myself, I'm compelled to keep making progress down that avenue.


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