By Jason Snell
May 20, 2019 4:20 PM PT
The ants are my friends, they’re blowing in the wind
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
I’m happy that Apple added lyrics listings to iTunes on the Mac and Music on iOS. Sometimes I hear (or mishear) something in a song I’m listening to, and I want to consult the written lyrics. Internet lyrics databases like Genius, largely built by fans, can be incredibly helpful—but they can also be full of misheard lyrics on a “girl with colitis goes by” scale.
Unfortunately, Apple’s built-in lyrics listings aren’t better. Over the last few months I’ve noticed some remarkably terrible lyrics transcriptions in iTunes and Music. I can’t quite figure out where Apple’s getting its lyrics—I’ve seen some song lyric errors that were mirrored in Genius, and others in Musixmatch, and still others don’t seem to show up on the web at all.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to track these errors down. Because lyrics databases on the web are editable by users, they can change from day to day. So far as I can tell, either Apple is caching lyrics on its own servers, or they’re being cached on my local devices, so they’re out of sync with what I can find on the web. (My devices are definitely out of sync with one another, as lyrics are often different on iTunes than on Music.)
Most frustrating is the fact that, somehow, there’s no official, legitimate, licensed song lyric database. Presumably such a database would not be crowdsourced, but actually use the official lyrics (where available) from musical artists. I realize that this might not be practical in all cases, and that using fans can often be the best way to fill in the gaps of an enormous catalog of content.
But fans can also really lack context, and that can lead to some whoppers when it comes to misheard lyrics. “Bad Vibes” by K. Flay is about a character who is completely terrible, right down to a new tattoo of the words “Dead on Arrival” typed out plainly.
Except in my iTunes version, where the lyric is, “You’ve got a new tattoo / Dead on arrival types outplay me.” Yes, it’s a shame when you’re outplayed by DOA types.
Or consider “Die Happy” by Dreamers, in which the behavior of an object of desire is referred to: “She’s smoking palm oils.” Now, palm oil is not great for you—it’s very high in saturated fat. But the fans of Dreamers apparently don’t have enough historical context to realize that the character is actually “chain smoking Pall Malls.” A lot less healthier than palm oil!
I’d rather have bad fan-generated lyrics than no lyrics at all, I suppose, but this feels like a place where Apple is providing an imprimatur to content that’s way beneath its standards—not to mention the standards of the music companies whose content Apple is licensing for Apple Music.
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