Saturday, January 24, 2009

#12 David Archuleta, "Crush"

Why do I keep runnin' from the truth?
All I ever think about is you

I liked little David A. on American Idol, but never as a love interest. It's pretty remarkable, then, that as his first single, a produced mid-tempo ballad playing on a piano riff for emotion and with a chorus that takes one step towards blowout but goes no further, he released a song so utterly capable of pushing me into swooning mode.

Many the ballad, great or not but especially male sung, has succeeded by getting its listeners to fall in love with its narrator, at least for three and a half minutes. Sure, you may hear Enrique Iglesias's "Hero" and feel a special connection to it because of a relationship you've got or want in the real world, but I'd argue that even then Enrique is working as a sort of transitive love interest--you get to the person you actually like only by going through the song's narrator, only by connecting the narrator and the "real person."

To say that David doesn't work for me in that way is neither a condemnation of the song's ability to transport you emotionally or a claim that the song doesn't rely heavily on having David as the narrator. In fact, the reverse is strongly true in both cases--the fact that "Crush" works despite not making me fall in love with the narrator himself shows me just how strong it is and few people, if anyone, could have pulled off this song like David Archuleta does.

In regards to the former, "Crush" may still find emotional success because you identify with the narrator, as opposed to wanting to be who he is singing to. That hardly makes the song unique, as otherwise we'd only love ballads sung by people of the same sex as those we're attracted to; more than that, it's quite possible for identifying with both the subject and object to occur in one song and it's true that for some people this song probably works on both those levels. You don't have to be in love with David, though, to hear his voice capture the same doubt and hope your heart has been beating out each time you think of someone. It's here where it becomes so key that it's David singing "Crush." Let's pretend that the song, instead of being performed by him, had gone to Nick Lachey, who relaunched his solo career on the back of a song written by the main songwriter of "Crush," Emanuel Kirakou. Would we buy from Nick, a man of (closer to) middle years and with (as he's constantly reminding us) heartbreak in his background, the same lyrics? I don't think so, or at least, not as much.

Despite that theoretical singer limitation, "Crush," much as it works perfectly as an encapsulation of youthful infatuation, isn't limited in its appeal or subject matter to just the kids we associate puppy love with or to only those whose hearts have never been broken--sure, its complete lack of cynicism is easier to achieve before you leave your teenage years, but those butterflies in your stomache don't die out once the first digit of your age ticks past "1," even if you might want them to. Hope and nervousness never stop being linked, and its by situating itself in the uncertainty they both share but leaning just enough towards hope to take your feet off the ground that "Crush" succeeds. Give the song to someone other than young David and not only would you lose his lovely voice--which, to be fair, is really more important than any of this narrator background I'm talking about--you'd lose the wide-eyed innocence necessary or at least extremely helpful in selling the song's story.

David's crush, which he originally leaves open the option of being "just another crush"--a short-burning flame, a temporary infatuation--becomes, by the end of each chorus, actually the tip of the iceberg of feelings that "ain't goin' away." He can't get rid of it, just as we can't cure ourselves of crushes, can't prevent the adrenaline rushes when that someone talks to us, and can't stop praying that they catch their breath when we look at them. That's life--and that's a crush.

(I'm still avoiding watching the music video, though.)

Find it on: David Archuleta

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