Are Song Lyrics Considered Literature? 

Song lyrics are primarily a form of literature. 

Certain questions do not have to become hot debates among us, and yes, this is one of those questions. With a proper premiss, we can get to see the underlying fact on whether song lyrics may be considered literature. But before getting to evaluate the premiss yourself, you may need to be told that the answer to this question is largely Yes. But could sometimes be No. 

If we say Yes, song lyrics can actually be considered a form of literature and there is every reason for this. Recently, research has shown that both works of art share a lot in common and may later be officially taught together in institutions.  

It is no longer uncommon to hear literature teachers at various levels of learning talk of the close relation between music and literature and how they think it should be included as part of literature in their syllabi. 

One educator on the internet, for instance, gave an account of how he argued with a class of students that song lyrics should be considered literature too, a day before the Norwegian committee honored Bob Dylan with the Nobel Prize award in literature. That was pure coincidence, but some people were already having this understanding earlier than others. 

Bob Dylan is more of a singer than a writer of songs, and in fact if you ask people, many will tell you about him speaking on his career to be the former. First, what do you think about this? Norwegian taking literature beyond the shores we have always known, by awarding a singer the Nobel Prize award! 

Well, it was interesting and it sparked a lot of mixed reactions among literature scholars. And ever since, the quest to get an answer to this question has been on the rise. 

While some people do not think song lyrics could be considered literature and others thought otherwise, Bob Dylan himself gave a speech about the argument, but he sat on the fence. We may think that music shares most features with literature but Bob thought music both are and are not literature because they’re not meant to be read but sung. They’re written, though. 

So, with this, we found the first difference between music and literature from a reliable source. 

We have previously written on What is Music as Literature? 

That is on the one hand. If we say No, on the other hand, we would be looking at the fact that some scholars are already against the concept of oral literature. They believe that going by the original nature of the word literature, whatever art form that’s oral should not be considered part of it. 

Recall that looking back at the origin, literature is supposed to describe literally the use of words. That’s broad. In some other words, it is any written material designed to communicate ideas or impact lives. In any case, it is not supposed to be spoken, according to this group of scholars. 

Going by this view, our first mistake is probably an inability to use language properly. Perhaps, the question should have been: Are Song Lyrics Considered Orature? But in the original form of the question, the word Literature is already enough to tell us the answer to our question. So, it is simple. Under this perspective, literature is written while Orature is the spoken form of literature, you’ve seen the answer yourself. 

But, for me, these people too have mixed things up. Songs are not song lyrics! Lyrics are written while songs may never get written. Song Lyrics should be considered a form of literature because first, they’re in written form. 

Second, lyrics are a form of poetry. So, since when has this stopped being the case? 

Why Are Song Lyrics Considered Literature? 

In the realm of artistic expression, literature has long been celebrated for its ability to convey complex emotions, stories, and messages through written language. But there exists another medium that accomplishes this with equal prowess: song lyrics. While some may debate the classification, the following are certain compelling reasons why song lyrics should be recognized as a form of literature: 

Are Song Lyrics Considered Literature? 
  • Poetic Devices and Literary Techniques

Songwriters employ a wide spectrum of poetic devices like rhyme, meter, metaphor, simile, and symbolism to craft their lyrics. These techniques make the very backbone of poetry, a cornerstone of literary expression.

Similarly, many song lyrics tell stories, often with vivid characters, plotlines, and conflicts. These narratives parallel the narratives found in novels and short stories, showcasing the capacity of song lyrics to serve as a literary medium.

  • Emotional Resonance

Lyrics are designed to evoke emotions in the listener, similar to how literature aims to engage the reader’s emotions. The power of lyrics lies in their ability to convey complex feelings in a concise and evocative manner, so that listeners are easily able to resonate with them. 

  • Social Commentary and Themes

Like literature, song lyrics often explore societal issues, personal struggles, and philosophical themes. They can be a powerful vehicle for social commentary, provoking thought and reflection.

  • Cultural Significance

Certain song lyrics become iconic and deeply ingrained in a culture’s collective consciousness. They shape and reflect the values, concerns, and aspirations of a society, much like classic works of literature— knowingly well that we are not unfamiliar with poetry works that praise our legends and record impressionable events. In poetry, for instance, ballad and eulogy could do this for us. 

  • Historical Documentation

Lyrics can serve as a time capsule, providing insights into the cultural, political, and social climate of the era in which they were written. They capture the spirit and essence of their time, much like historical literature does.

  • Interpretation and Analysis

Just as with literature, song lyrics invite interpretation and analysis. Scholars and enthusiasts delve into the meaning behind the words, dissecting the nuances and symbolism embedded in the lyrics.

Final Thought 

Through their use of poetic devices, storytelling adroitness, and exploration of universal themes, song lyrics and literature stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other forms of literary expression. Therefore, acknowledging song lyrics as actually being part of literature is not only a nod to their artistic merit but also a recognition of their profound impact on society.

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