The sound of nonsense - on the function of nonsense words in pop songs

Lea Wierød Borčak


Nonsense words in songs challenge the common assumption that song meaning resides in song texts. Songs containing verbal nonsense thus make evident that meaning cannot be deduced from one element (e.g. text), but rather emerges as a constant negotiation between the different medialities involved: music, text, the visual, the aural etc. It has been pointed out by several musicologists that content analysis of texts, despite having had a long historical tradition, is nonetheless insufficient or even downright misleading as a methodological approach to interpreting songs. The extensive use of nonsense words in pop songs affirms this stance, as verbal sense is simply stripped away, forcing the analyst to look for other kinds of sense. Researchers from various fields have dealt with nonsense, and quite a few of their insights are very similar – although this theoretical convergence is often not explicated, probably due to disciplinary borders. This article juxtaposes different observations about nonsense for the purpose of illuminating their mutual concordance and contributing to a systematic and comprehensible framework for understanding types and functions of verbal nonsense in songs.

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ISSN: 1904-500X

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