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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"People, I've been sad" perfectly captures how the world has been as of late...

Last year, Christine and the Queens delivered a song which became increasingly poignant in the months following its release.

It's undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has markedly changed music along with the rest of life. The closing off of the world it caused led to some noticeably shifted thematics in the pop sphere. Gone were the party anthems in favor of more mellow tracks. Some about being grateful for what we have, while others were sadder numbers about missing people or missing out in general. Before long, I began to call both types of songs "COVID anthems."

Usually, these so-called COVID anthems were written in response to the restrictions imposed to curb the virus' spread (see Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber's "Stuck with U," or Luke Combs' "Six Feet Apart"). However, some songs became these sorts of anthems despite being released before the pandemic began, whether they were decades or mere weeks old. Today, I'm looking at a definite COVID anthem which was written just before the world went to [censored]: "People, I've been sad" by Christine and the Queens. It's almost eerie how well this song has come to fit the year and a half since it unveiling on February 5, 2020. Above that, though, it's just a stunning track by one of the world's greatest pop artists (despite the name, she's just one singer — the second part of her name is a tribute to drag queens who have inspired her), who's finally been starting to get the attention she deserves here in the U.S. in the past few years.

I first came to know of Christine and the Queens through "Gone," her 2019 collaboration with Charli XCX — another artist I'll definitely have on my Senior Year Soundtrack at some point. Through that track and her other work, I thought of Christine first and foremost by her powerful vocal delivery. She's such a vibrant performer, and that really tends to come through in her singing... but "People, I've been sad" called for a quite different approach, which she likewise mastered. In a song expressing a sort of bored disappointment with her life and the world, Christine's vocals capture a fitting ennui that stays constant throughout the track. Rather than her delivery building throughout, the song gets its increase in energy from the instrumental backing. The gradual addition and crescendo of strings, sub bass, and a gentle synth allows the track to grow in back of the lyrics. Somewhat strangely, the backing vocals in the chorus — just repeating fragments of Christine's main line — help the song reach its climax the most. They're wide without being overpowering, and the shortness of their gestures helps the track avoid feeling bogged down.

Christine's bilingual lyrics are simple and plaintive, going hand-in-hand with the instrumental:

It's true that, people, I've been sad (People, I've been sad)
It's true that, people, I've been gone (People, I've been gone)
It's true that, people, I've been missing out (I've been missing out)
Missing out for way too long (People, I've been gone)

I mean, it's harder to say that any more succinctly than it's already being said. While yesterday I talked about the power of metaphor, today's some serves as a reminder that flowing prose isn't always the solution to the most compelling narrative. How figurative lyrics should be is a question that can only be answered on a track-by-track or even a verse-by-verse basis. In the opening verse and chorus, the more basic expressions are perfect for the song's mood and pacing, helping Christine's vocals anchor the slow-burning tune. Her French lyrics in the second verse and bridge are more abstract, as she sings of how she's been hurt and how it ties back to a statement on her adolescence. That statement in turn comes back to loneliness at the end of the bridge, bringing the theme full circle.

It's a shame that I hear "People, I've been sad" as a COVID anthem, but it's hard not to with its themes of missing out and its clear expressions of loneliness and boredom, especially as the song concludes with just Christine's voice. I guess that me hearing the song in such a way reflects the power of music to evoke memories and emotions on a level beyond its literal meaning, and even beyond the immediate backdrop of its release. After all, the track came out a month before the virus-related lockdowns and measures began in France and the rest of the Western world. *sigh* Well, out of the COVID anthems I've heard, it's probably the best of them. Sure, it doesn't express the 'unity in separation' that a lot of them do, but by being more personal and introspective it comes off as more sincere. I'd have much rather heard various celebrity covers of this song than "Imagine," that's for sure. ...I mean, I'd have rather heard any song than that one, but "People, I've been sad" would definitely have been one of my leading candidates had I had any say in the matter.


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