Natasha Bedingfield — “These Words”

Released: 5.10.05

Peak: #17

How do you say “I love you” without sounding like a tool? That’s the essential problem of pop music. The essential problem with pop music, on the other hand, is that too many songwriters don’t recognize that pressing aesthetic problem. Instead, they just declaim “I love you” more loudly, or more stridently, or just more more, without realizing that in the world of make believe that we call art, such directness often renders the declaration hollow, false, and dumb.

There really is a fine line between stupid and clever. On “These Words” Natasha Bedingfield thoughtfully scrunches her cute little nose and addresses the issue of amorous self-expression head on. After a series of intellectual exercises, she jauntily concludes “Clever rhymes/ See you later” and blurts “I love you I love you I love you”–but only after earning that directness through the songwriting process. “These Words” is kind of a smarter version of the Police’s smartest song, “Da Do Do Do, Da Da Da Da,” without personifying chaos as a set of financial institutions or logic as a sex offender. (I hope the bit about setting Byron, Shelley and Keats to a hip-hop beat doesn’t give Sting any ideas.)

Granted, Bedingfield’s sound recalls a simpler-minded era when Nelly Furtado and Sugar Ray signified up-to-dateness with irrelevant turntable swooshes. And maybe less forgiving listeners could hear “These words are my own” as a dis against singers who rely on others’. But I hear Bedingfield embodying the spirit of every bright yet self-conscious girl caught between flashing her wit and baring her soul, doubly difficult in a time that was hardly ideal for girls, bright, self-conscious, or otherwise. So while I don’t begrudge her whatever licensing fees she scored, it was sad to hear her follow-up hit, “Unwritten,” a decent pep talk for nervous teens, used on The Hills, where I hesitate to wonder what sort of flashing or baring “release your inhibitions” might euphemize.

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  • Chris Molanphy  On September 8, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I’m with you that this is her best song, but I must add that I once described Bedingfield as the first pop star whose every song sounds like a shampoo commercial (reaching a nadir with the Suave-ready “Pocketful of Sunshine”). And revisiting this superior track hasn’t really changed my mind.

  • usefulnoise  On September 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Yeah, I know what you’re saying. (Too bad that shampoo isn’t Garnier Fructis — the world could use more songs like “Diamonds n Guns.”) And “Pocketful of Sunshine” really is bottom of the barrel.

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