I did a “behind the song” blog series for both of my last two albums, and some people seemed to like them, so I thought I would do it again. “Better” is the first & title track from my latest release. For convenience, the lyrics and YouTube & Spotify streams for the song are at the bottom of this post.
This is a song that started out as a dummy lyric (when you have an idea for a melody line, but aren’t sure what you want the lyric to be): “We’re the horrible.” It was definitely not the final line, but I had an image in my head of what I wanted it to mean: that good people can make mistakes, but what makes you good is that you make up for them and keep trying your best to improve. My inspiration was that I tend to surround myself with very good, kind people, and they’re the ones who most question whether they are really “good” or trying hard enough – even though they know they are trying their best. The truly selfish never even think about that.
2020 was my first year trying out February Album Writing Month (“FAWM” — where you try to write 14 songs during the month of February, which I achieved). I always have piles and piles of song ideas and half-finished songs spread across many different notebooks and electronic devices, so I decided to use the month as an opportunity to get some of those songs finished. Not only would it bring to light some ideas I had been excited about at some point, and help me reduce some idea clutter, but I also thought it would be easier to finish ideas I already had than to write from scratch. (It turns out that’s not true for me, ha. It’s often easier to start with a fresh idea and hammer it out quickly than to grapple with a big mess of ideas I might have been accumulating for one song for several years, which is something I do.)
I had a whole mess of ideas for the “we’re the horrible” song, but I ended up keeping little. The main thing was the melody for that line, which was changed from “We’re the horrible, we’re the horrible” to “You’ve terrible, you’ve been horrible.” I considered “we,” “I,” and “you” for point of view and decided on the latter because it felt like the purest form of what I wanted the message to be. I wasn’t telling a story about myself. I wanted to send a message to the wonderful people in my life (and others like them) not to be so hard on themselves when they make mistakes, and that’s why it was best suited to the second person.
I believe I finished the chorus first. I knew what I wanted the message to be, so I just took the time to flesh it out a little bit. Basically, you made a mistake, you hurt someone’s feelings, you feel bad, but if you do your best to make things right and keep trying to make yourself a better person, it will all be okay.
Then the last two bits at the end of the song were actually two separate snippets I had waiting. The first was just a lyrical idea: “Every move you make is a chance to fuck up, but every day’s another chance to get better.” The second was, “You’re gonna be just fine,” which had already come to me with a melody. I added music to the first one and decided to see what happened if I just tacked both of those onto the end of the song. I ended up loving how it felt, so I kept them.
So, as sometimes happens with me, I wrote the verses last, just finishing up the song. As a beginner I always wanted to write the verses first, so that’s something I’ve learned over time – you might come up with a better song if you save them for last. I went in knowing that their purpose was to give a little bit more detail to the message I was giving.
I made the first verse about a specific situation that might make someone feel guilty: snapping at someone when hangry — something I’ve unfortunately done a few times, but I DO think I’ve gotten better about it over time; see how that works? It’s not that it’s perfectly fine to snap at someone just because you’re in a bad mood — otherwise, we would all just cause a chain of bad moods in each other every day — but simply that if you apologize, and take some steps to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again (like eating more regularly or taking a breath before dealing with something irritating on an empty stomach), you don’t have to feel bad about it forever.
The second verse was more general, going more into the mindset of the person the song is meant for. Like I said, these are good, kind people, so they feel a lot of empathy and feel really bad every time they hurt someone, even if it was unintentional. And these people often treat every little mistake as a reflection on their character: if I hurt someone’s feelings, I’m a bad person. But it isn’t true. Being a good person is not defined (in my opinion) as never hurting anyone in any way for your entire life. Would there even be “good” people in the world if that were true? Probably not. For me, being a good person means: having good intentions, accepting when you’ve made a mistake and apologizing/making it right, and then taking steps to work on yourself so you don’t continue hurting people.
This is probably the first year where some of my songs have veered a bit more into “message” territory rather than just telling my own stories and hoping they mean something to someone else. I’ve had at least one person criticize me in the past for trying to “have a message,” telling me I’m better off sticking to my personal stories and hoping they’re relatable. I completely disagree. Just like in a social media post or standing in front of a group of people, sometimes in a song you want to talk about your life, but other times you might want to discuss something bigger, and I see no reason to censor that. Sure, my (or anyone’s) thoughts aren’t the end-all, be-all, and probably can’t change the world, but they’re valid and maybe they will be useful to someone or even change a person’s life. Just like other “message” songs have done for me in the past. And for me, if it’s inside me, that makes it worth putting out there.
You snapped at someone yesterday
When you were going through some shit
And though they were moving slow and you were hangry
Still they didn’t deserve it
You’re not a saint, you’re not perfect
But you and I are, we’re worth it
‘Cause you’ve been terrible, you’ve been horrible
And it’s got you feeling so bad
You got the point across but all is never lost
There’s always better days to be had
If you always look to make yourself better
You care so much about other people
And you feel so much empathy
That you beat yourself up every time you hurt them
Even when you didn’t mean it
It’s like you’re only, only as worthy
As your worst excuse for being hurtful
Every move you make is a chance to fuck up
But every day’s another chance to get better
You’re gonna be just fine