"Sorry, Taylor can't come to the phone right now." With that line in her new song "Look What You Made Me Do," Taylor Swift has joined the ranks of musicians who found inspiration from their own voicemail messages. And there's a lot of them. The fact that millennials really hate voicemails (myself included — Dad, I'm not listening to your messages) doesn't stop this quirk from popping up time after time in popular music.
Voicemails and answering machines were particularly en vogue in the '90s hip-hop world. Pitchfork wrote this excellent guide to voicemail templates in hip-hop, but we're going to look at songs from all genres in order to demonstrate its cross-cultural novelty appeal. While having to listen to voicemails make us cringe, these songs harness them into innovation. Please leave a message after the jams.
Obviously, we must begin with "Telephone" by Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé. The entire point of the song is about not wanting to deal with your phone on a night out. While we understand the creative decision for calling the song "Telephone," it's probably more appropriate to call it "Mobile Phone", considering that even when the song was released in 2009, no one under the age of 35 had a landline.
Bet you forgot that "Lucky" is on Oops!...I Did It Again, because I totally thought it was on Baby One More Time. The semi-autobiographical song about a girl named Lucky who cries from her loneliness features a pre-recorded announcer waiting for the pop star outside an arena.
"All The Love" by Kate Bush is from her most avant-garde album The Dreaming. The last part of the song is features a voicemail over soft pianos that feel distant and foggy. The Fairlight CMI-composed record is full of pop songs that veer from cheesy to head-scratching to straight-up terrifying, but once this album clicks, it stays in your consciousness forever.
Biggie Smalls used the voicemail trope a few times, and my personal favorite is from "Going Back To Cali." The song opens up with Puff Daddy ringing up the Notorious B.I.G. with a wake-up call. He's got a 7:30am flight to LAX from Kennedy, and Puff Daddy is not letting him sleep in. It's too bad we don't all have an alarm clock of Puff's voice.
The song that brought the term "stan" into our cultural lexicon opens with a phone recording of Dido's "Thank You." The song is a violent commentary on his fans who committed heinous acts in Eminem's name, and a criticism of the media for encouraging the crimes.
"Be Yourself" by Frank Ocean from 2016's Blonde is essentially one long voicemail from his friend's mother Rosie Watson. In the message, she urges Frank to avoid weed, saying that it causes users to become "lazy, stupid, and unconcerned." According to Genius, Ms. Watson is known to leave stern but loving voicemails of life guidance.
Country crooner and The Voice host Blake Shelton wrote this mournful tune about his girl who left for the Big Star state. In the song he describes a voicemail he leaves for his lost love, which promptly makes it rain all over my face.
Yes, we all know that Drake is attached at the hip to his cell phone, and "Marvin's Room" opens up with a voicemail message from Ericka Lee, one of his ex-girlfriends. Interspered throught the song is her voice asking him "are you drunk right now?" She later sued Aubrey Graham for using this message without her consent, seeking royalties and co-writing credit.
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