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When this site was proposed there were sample questions about the meaning behind certain song lyrics. Now that we're in beta and the first question about the meaning of lyrics has received some questionable answers we should talk about what the answers to these types of questions should look like.

So what should answers to questions about the meaning of lyrics look like?

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First I think we have to realize that the meaning of lyrics may have multiple interpretations especially to different people. We should seek answers that are either:

  1. Interpretations from the person who wrote the lyrics.
  2. Commonly accepted interpretations.

The first should be preferred over the second, but lyricists sometimes don't explain their lyrics at all. In either case though a source should be required to keep the answers from just being personal interpretations which there could be infinite.

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    Agreed! But what sources would be legit? Would sites like Rap Genius or Wikipedia be allowed? Sites like Rap Genius have a wiki like format for people to annotate their lyrics. – Pobrecita Feb 25 '15 at 19:01
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    I agree in principle, but for the example given, one only has to type "dark side of the moon meaning" into any search engine, and be presented with a LOT of pages about that album. The general idea of other SE sites is that questions are answered by people that know what they are on about - not people that can use Google. I'd be more than happy to discuss lyrics, albums, meanings, until the cows come home - but I don't think this site is intended to be a discussion forum. – Carl H Feb 25 '15 at 19:09
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I would quite disagree with Dom's answer that limits it to either official word or "commonly accepted" interpretations (by the way, what's "commonly accepted" anyway?). Not because I think proper sources or established interpretations are evil, of course they aren't, but because I think there can very well be to a large degree objectively assessable value in rather unprecedented interpretations as well, if presented with reasonable arguments.

This does of course not mean that any kind of personal rambling is justified, but rather that you can very well back your own theory in a more or less objective and reasonable way, be that with proper references to the song, its artist, the cultural background of its development, ... Just favour the why over the what. Of course this won't necessarily make it the 100% correct answer, but it can very well make it a good answer and it doesn't mean that the post magically degrades into a "discussion forum". Afterall just limiting the answers to something everyone has already agreed on anyway seems rather narrow, we're not just a Wikipedia copy here and lyrics/song analysis seems to be a very engaging, interesting and perfectly fitting topic for this site, especially when the possible answers are not only an interview or Wiki quote (of course those aren't bad answers either, but shouldn't be the only ones allowed).

(This comes from someone who frequents another SE site with an IMHO similar subject and who always enjoys good analysis questions/answers if they're well-reasoned.)

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    There could be infinite reasonable interpretations of a song especially when using poetic figurative language that could be extremely open ended. How do you propose we deal with that issue? Also introducing personal interpretations will make the voting based on who likes what interpretation the best which is very subjective. – Dom Feb 27 '15 at 18:48
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    @Dom I'm not proposing entirely personal interpretations, if you can't back it reasonably enough with the song or its background, it's just not a good answer. But I don't want to limit it to just what is already written on Wikipedia either. Of course it's not always easy to draw a clear line, but such is the problem when your site topic is basically art. If people dislike interpretations not because they don't make sense but because they just don't like the end result, well that's their problem and not the answer's. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Feb 27 '15 at 18:52
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    @Dom "There could be infinite reasonable interpretations of a song" - Sure there could, but this doesn't mean there will also be infinite answers or that some answer couldn't be better or more reasonable than others. There's this SE fuss about "good subjective vs bad subjective" which I think applies very well here for such kinds of questions. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Feb 27 '15 at 18:55
  • Can you post an example of a lyric and what you'd consider a reasonably argued objecteve, yet non-commonly accepted interpretation? – DVK Apr 22 '15 at 4:13
  • @DVK No, it's something to be decided on a case by case basis. And I can't come up with an example right now. – Chris says Reinstate Monica Apr 22 '15 at 8:46
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    I agree we can have very good answers without official explanations by the artist, but with strong support and facts that complete the interpretation. – Bebs Oct 12 '17 at 18:17
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There are a lot of SE sites that rely on users personal experience (Workplace, Parenting) so they don't need to have official sources to have very good answers.

I really think that it's a shame, for a Music Fans SE site, to not allow personal interpretations... we can have very good answers that rely not on what the writer officially said about it, but with sources like the music video, the writer's life, the dance moves, the disc cover art etc. There could have a lot of good hints to support a users personal theory and it would a shame to not allow this.

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