How can you see into my eyes…
Amy Lee hated the “Bring Me To Life” that you heard on the radio.
OK, maybe “hated” is too strong, but it’s hard to imagine she was pleased with the final product given revelations that Paul McCoy, the song’s uncredited co-singer, was foisted onto the band and the song by label Wind-Up Records. Listen closely and you can Lee’s eyes rolling throughout this quote:
God bless the rap, it’s part of what got us on the radio I guess. At least according to all the rules of radio that I don’t agree with or understand. The rap wasn’t part of our original idea or sound, it was a compromise in many ways.
On 2017’s Synthesis, Lee got to release a version of the song stripped off its studio-mandated genre-mistake trappings, and while that’s great for her artistic vision (truly!) it’s not what we’re here to discuss. So let’s get into the music!
Even before McCoy burps his way into the chorus, this song has a slightly different vibe from “Going Under” — it takes a lot longer to build and really nestles into the drama. And the soaring really soars here — probably the result of the somewhat flat sounding string backing, which lurks in the background, then trills like the villain’s score from a Disney movie any time we’re in a chorus or bridge. Ultimately “Bring…” lands in a similar place as the chunkier Fallen songs instrumentally, a lot of power chords and tempo-stuck drumlines anchoring those floaty strings. Until you get to the singing, only a few odd post-production effects belie this song’s deliberate attempt to court the Linkin Park crowd. This is 80% stock Evanescence “moody teenage guitar riffs” and I am here for it. (I particularly love, love the “frozen inside without your love” bridge, from the string build to that first held syllable to the off-center harmonized vocals and the skrillex-worthy beat drop at the end.)
Except, oh lord, Paul McCoy. This is already the most melodramatic song on the album (a good argument by itself for making it the hit single), but McCoy’s stunting and snarling and cartoonish delivery completely destroy the earnestness. Plus, (and we’ll get into how bizarre and superfluous his actual lyrics are in a moment, but I want to focus on the sound right now) the editing and pacing betray the degree to which McCoy isn’t supposed to be part of the song — all of his lines divebomb in like a heckler in a courtroom, throwing off the sequence and demanding that you pay outsized attention.
This, of course, is exactly what Wind Up Records seems to have wanted: A comfortingly masculine, hip-for-the-time presence to warm people over to the idea of a lady rock singer on their precious radio dial. It worked well enough, but it also instantly marked this song for mockery and death; it’s easily the most dated, awkward thing on an otherwise tonally consistent record. Two “SAVE ME”s out of five.
“Comfortingly masculine” is sort of a weird term to throw out there these days, isn’t it? I think it’d be better rephrased as “defensively masculine,” i.e. masculinity as desperate reinforcement of a deteriorating status quo in which masculinity is comforting and desired. (Think white fragility as confined to the gender axis of intersectionality.) There are any number of comedians, musicians, politicians, Twitter and YouTube personalities, New York Times columnists, and so on who aggressively perpetuate and demand reversion to that world, where “men can be men” and that phrase has coherent meaning beyond tautology.
That’s a bit different from what we have in the lyrics here, though. Check out the chorus, with McCoy’s lyrics in brackets:
[WAKE ME UP] Wake me up inside
[I CAN’T WAKE UP] Wake me up inside
[SAVE ME] Call my name and save me from the dark
[WAKE ME UP] Bid my blood to run
[I CAN’T WAKE UP] Before I come undone
[SAVE ME] Save me from the nothing I’ve become
In six lines, McCoy says the same thing four times; every single line is either repeating something Lee just said, slightly rephrasing it with the same meaning, or saying something Lee’s about to say.
Surely from a songwriting standpoint, this was Lee’s nod-with-an-eyeroll way of integrating McCoy into her song without doing too much damage to the lyrical content. But it creates an interesting, weird dissonance absent anywhere else in Fallen.
With this in mind, here is my hot “Bring Me To Life” thesis: This song is about being a bad feminist ally. The chorus is a man shouting “ooh ooh I know this one!” as a woman tries to explain her worldview; it is a man aggressively interjecting in a discussion of rape culture to say “I agree”, a little too eagerly, just to make sure his voice is heard a little louder than the women who had something real to say.
I throw this out there knowing full well the mild irony in describing this phenomenon while being a cisgendered, heterosexual white male writing about a woman-led band from 2003 and feminist theory all under the lens of his own personal experience, which has little if anything to do with the perspective from which said band and/or said theories were written. And: Fair enough!
But I’m not pretending these are words that haven’t been said, better, by many others than me; in fact, this kind of lyrical analysis (as with any analytical or academically bent media criticism) comes with a sort of built-in caveat that I am performing analysis by way of tethering together two things that others created to note their harmonies. That is to say: I didn’t invent anything you’re reading here. I’m just noticing the intersections and, hopefully, opening them up for further discussion.
That’s different from what you get in the “real world” of popular culture and conversations around feminism and allyship. What you get there are people like Louis C.K., who I am really tired of hearing about, much less writing about, but who is a useful example here. In his special “Oh My God,” while discussing dating, Louis makes this observation:
I don’t know how women still go out with guys when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men!
Louis got a lot of mileage in his career (I will speak of it in the past tense no matter how persistently he tries to crawl out of the gutter) out of exactly this sort of observation, which spoke to his apparent awareness of and appreciation for patriarchal systems and the danger and unfairness of the patriarchal space to women. Of course, the whole bit is a rambling extension of a much better, more pointed quote from the immortal Margaret Atwood:
“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine …
“They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.”
Then I asked some women… “Why do women feel threatened by men?”
“They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.
My point isn’t that Atwood said it better so much that Atwood said it in 1982, and was not the first woman to ever express such sentiments, but twenty-some years later Louis C.K. can throw it into a (somewhat messy — there’s an unnerving implication of victim-blaming in that bit that only feels grosser with his conduct revealed) joke that earns him applause and adulation and, crucially, credit for being “woke” for successfully repurposing words he’d surely heard before spoken by people for whom the fear wasn’t funny, wasn’t part of the crux of a massively successful career, wasn’t earning them money hand over fist.
OK, back to Evanescence! Let’s abstract away from Paul McCoy, since I don’t know him from the dude from Creed and have no thoughts on his personal relationship to the lyrics (for all I know, he hated his cameo as much as Lee hated having it grafted onto her song). Let’s just talk about what the male voice brings to this song.
First we take a step back to look at the lyrics overall, i.e. the woman’s narrative. The running metaphor here is kind of a Sleeping Beauty scenario mixed with co-dependence, where the magical slumber of the fairy tale is given shades of clinical depression or perhaps just adolescent moody sadness (“Leading you down, into my core / Where I’ve become so numb”, or “Save me from the nothing I’ve become”).
Our protagonist is calling for someone to save her from her entombment — anyone, really, despite a few true-love lines thrown in at the “frozen inside” bridge. The value the man’s bringing here is in making her realize that she’s asleep (metaphorically or otherwise); “Now that I know what I’m without” seems to refer not to the man she wants but to her own wakefulness, her own escape, and so the man exists as a useful catalyst (“you can’t just leave me”).
That’s about it, surface-level: A story about a woman locked in a metaphorical or literal emotional coma, using some combination of love or lust (notable that “touch” is one of the few attributes of the man she gives credit for her burgeoning rise) to attempt an escape.
With that in mind let’s read the notorious rap break — again, male voice in brackets:
[All this time, I can’t believe I couldn’t see
Kept in the dark, but you were there in front of me]
I’ve been sleeping a thousand years it seems
Got to open my eyes to everything
[Without a thought, without a voice, without a soul]
Don’t let me die here
[There must be something more]
Bring, me, to, life
You might think — I certainly did, for many years of not thinking that hard about this song — that the male voice here is playing the part of the hero, rushing in to save Sleeping Beauty. You’d be wrong. Not only is he not doing that, all he does seem to be doing is describing her situation as though it were his own. As in the chorus, he’s not a counterpart but an echo (an awkward, choppy one at that).
And what value does this echo bring to our narrator? Not much in particular — we come to the end with her still trapped, still frozen in slumber, still pleading to be brought to life. A fun way to read this is a dialogue that went something like this:
- Girl: “Hey, you! I’m trapped over here!”
- Guy: “Hey there — whoa, you’re totally trapped!”
- Girl: “Yes, I know, could you help me out, it’s really cold — “
- Guy: “I can’t believe you’re trapped! I know just what that’s like!”
- Girl: “…that’s great, cool, but could you please get me out of — “
- Guy: “Hey everyone! There’s this girl here who’s trapped, and my empathy for her has really made me think a lot about my own situation!”
- Girl: “oh my god come on please”
- Guy (increasingly distant): “I’m basically trapped, too!”
- Girl: “dang it”
I brought up Louis C.K. earlier, and comedians in general, because comedy is a place where appropriating others’ voices and integrating them into your own is part of the process. Observational comedy requires observation, which means you’re looking at people who didn’t consent to your gaze and making what you see into jokes; the participants in that joke rarely get to function outside of being prisms for your perspective. Good observational quality accounts for this; the best jokes (Louis C.K.’s included, which is a whole other conversation about how pernicious and harmful comedy can be in this sort of sphere) incorporate self-awareness, observer as observed and recognition of observation as a directed act.
Analogize this to everyday life as someone in a position of power: Every day you are in a position to hear or observe the stories of others, people in marginalized spaces with less privilege who experience the world at a fundamentally different level. You can be responsible to that position and listen, thoughtfully and patiently; or you can interject, insist that your voiced opinion must have value in those spaces.
Louis C.K. had plenty of material about his own life, much of it great and incisive and self-revealing in ways that spoke to his ability to understand himself and his position in the social hierarchy better than most men. That he chose to speak on behalf of women, and sound shocked and revelatory while saying things women had been saying for decades before him, should have said plenty about the kind of ally he really was, well before he revealed himself to be an abuser and predator. He used his knowledge of feminism and privilege to improve his position, exploiting it just like he exploited his power and fame to harm women, use them, and ruin their careers.
“Bring Me To Life” isn’t a man’s story, but a man sits in the middle of it and shouts over and over again that he could tell it better, if you just let him, because he really understands. In the shouting he proves his inability to actually do so, but mere incompetence never stopped the average man from being convinced he’s the best in the room, even if everyone in the room is talking about women.
Read it that way, and it’s no surprise Lee might have reservations about this song, even given all the success it brought to her band.
Next time: I try harder to keep it under 2,000 words as we discuss the beauty myth via “Everybody’s Fool.”