Julia Michaels is a brilliant, notable songwriter of today. Her writing has changed the sound of current pop melodies and created a landscape for more emotionally-driven songs. Though she writes for many big artists, she released a single recently called “Love is Weird” and plays with listeners’ emotions in subtle but powerful ways.
At first listen, we might not notice all the Opposites she has included in this song. Opposites (or juxtaposing Oxymorons) are used everywhere in songwriting, and are most effective to work within balance. We can use it to create a sense of peace and balance, like in “All of Me” by John Legend:
‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginnin’
Even when I lose, I’m winnin’
This is accompanied by other elements that create balance, but the lyrics are presenting these Opposites (curves / edges, perfect / imperfect) in a clearly positive way. Legend uses Opposites to spin the connotations of these words into a way in which the characters of the song balance each other perfectly.
Opposites can also be used to create a sense of imbalance, as Michaels does in “Love is Weird.”. Take a look at the first line:
Tattoos on my arm, still scared of forever
“Love is Weird” is about the experience of being frightened or weary of vulnerability in the way that is required by relationships, especially when past experiences have been difficult. This first line really sums up the meaning of the song.
Here, she is juxtaposing “tattoos” and “scared of forever” and those two ideas directly oppose each other. She could also be playing with the idea of “wearing my heart on my sleeve” with her line “tattoos on my arm” – but either way, quite clever. She continues to play with different opposites in her Verses:
First one hit me hard, second was a feather
Playing operation tryna put me back together
People in my past, put ’em in a coffin
Laid ’em all to rest but I still think about ’em often
When it comes to her Pre-Chorus and Chorus, she is still using these opposites, but in a more direct way. She literally says what she means in the Pre-Chorus:
Closed off and exposed
Salty and I’m seared
Naked in my clothes
These Opposites are effective in contributing to the sense of imbalance. Whereas Legend’s song was able to bring the opposites together, Michaels contrasts them in a way that is stark and almost uncomfortable. It is absolutely done on purpose to show the character’s confusion, and by the time we get the Chorus, we truly understand why love is weird for her. The Opposites support the weirdness.
These juxtapositions work very well in creating an atmosphere in a subtle way. As a casual listener, we might not immediately understand why the lyrics make us feel that imbalance. This means Opposites can be a powerful tool in telling the story in a way that isn’t so in-your-face. Try using Opposites next time you write—maybe just for one line of the song—to play with balance.