I’ve recently become obsessed with collecting songs that feature birds in the lyrics-either literal birds or metaphorical. Through this ongoing search for birdy songs, I have found renewed appreciation for songs I already knew, discovered new songs from artists I was already familiar with-including some artists I had dismissed!-and introduced myself to the music of many artists I may not have otherwise encountered. It is a fun adventure, so why keep it to myself?
In honor of the fact that much of the country is buried by snow, I’m going to kick off my series of posts on bird-themed songs by featuring two of my favorite songs about penguins!
Ok, neither song is technically about penguins… But, unquestionably, penguins provide striking imagery. The clean black and white of their plumage invokes thoughts of tuxedos. Their lives in the stark eternal winter of the one continent not naturally inhabitable for humans feels shiveringly exotic. Their charismatic personas have been brought to life by movies such as Happy Feet and Penguins of Madagascar, and are known first hand by anyone who has sat, enraptured, in front of a zoo’s penguin exhibit. Plus, penguin is simply a fun word to say, and that’s bound to be important in song writing, no?
The first song Penguin, by Christina Perri, is a haunting love song that highlights her voice beautifully. Lyrically, Perri uses the romanticized notion that many penguin species are monogamous and mate for life* as an analogy for soul mate. So, next time you’re uncertain about a date, you can ask “are you my penguin?” If you’re met with an odd stare or—worse—they run for the door, then you clearly have your answer!
*(In actuality, monogamy in the animal world is a complicated subject! But, to stick with “romantic” stories, a pair of Magellanic penguins have been paired for 16 years!)
This video is a lyric video, so there are no shots of Christina, and certainly none of penguins (although pigeons are shown in couple of shots). Nonetheless, the video is captivating: ethereal shots featuring bright light and extremely creatively displayed lyrics—embroidered onto framed cloths; carved into wooden blinds, and cut out of cardboard, tied to balloon strings, and pulled up stairs. It’s lyrics, but it’s dynamic and tells a visual story.
Penguins, by Lyle Lovett, is a favorite of mine that was introduced to me by a bird-loving friend and fellow scientist. It’s upbeat, and catchy, with lyrics that will absolutely get stuck in your head (and may have you scratching your head…). While Perri’s use of penguins as a metaphor makes biological sense (even if it oversimplifies and idealizes penguin mating systems), Lovett’s use of penguins is much less intuitive …Regardless , it’s a fun guilty pleasure song for rocking out to in private, or giggling along to with friends. I love it.
Before I give anything away, though, watch the video! But, I must say, without a doubt, that you will never think of penguins the same way again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉