Lyric Lens: “I Don’t Wanna Lie” by Alexander Sage Oyen
A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine invited me to join her for lunch with two friends of hers I didn’t yet know. “They’re great. They’re musical theater people, too,” she said. “You’ll like them.” When I showed up at the restaurant, I discovered that one of the mysterious musical theater people was the very cool and talented Alexander Sage Oyen, whom I actually already knew. “I can’t believe this!” exclaimed the friend who’d thought she was about to introduce us. “The world is so small.”
And so, in celebration of that “small world” moment, I thought I’d turn the Lyric Lens on something of Alex’s this time around. The Alex Oyen song that most often gets stuck in my head (not that I mind—it’s a good song!) is “I Don’t Wanna Lie” from Moment by Moment. Moment by Moment is getting a cast recording soon (excitement! And you can help!), but in the meantime, here’s some belty goodness from Emma Hunton to tide you over:
Okay, here we go. First few lines:
What do they see?
These countless boys who try,
Who think that they’re the right guy?
They think they’re in love.
They want to try their hand.
I just don’t understand.
This lyric grabs me right off the bat by starting out with a question. It makes me listen because I want to hear an answer, or at least to hear how this character is going to work her way towards one. As the verse goes on, I learn more about this character’s immediate frustration—the situation happening right now that makes her sing this song—and I come to the end of these lines ready for a little backstory. Which, conveniently, is exactly what I get next:
Growing up, people thought me strange,
Said I needed to change my disposition.
I thought love was a silly game,
Nothing more than a dumb tradition.
I really like the rhymes in this section. “Disposition/tradition” does a great job of laying out the “me vs. them” dynamic of the verse, and the little internal rhyme “strange/change” is a nice bit of added flair. I also like that this character’s little kid self comes through in the use of the words “silly” and “dumb” one right after the other—I can hear her elementary school-aged self saying just what she remembers thinking in the song.
I don’t want roses; roses only die.
I’m not waiting on the picture perfect guy.
I don’t want you to send letters and wait for my reply.
I’ll never say “I love you,” ’cause I don’t wanna lie.
I love this lyric hook so much! It’s great because it’s totally not what I expect. Even through the first three-quarters of the chorus, I’ve been thinking that the thesis statement of this song would be something about how this girl has no interest in love, how romance is beneath her. But what the hook actually reveals is something much deeper and more interesting. This chorus makes me think this character actually does want to find love, whether she knows it or not. But she is true to her convictions, one of which is not to tell a lie, and something in her life has caused her to believe that she will never be able to truthfully say she loves another person.
I know I don’t need to talk anymore about how there’s more to appreciate in any given lyric than I could ever fit in one blog post. (Remember the time when I did an entire post on one verse of a song?) Suffice it to say that there’s a lot going on in the second verse and chorus that I’m going to skip over and let you dissect on your own. The highlight of verse 2, for me, is when it becomes pretty clear that this character’s life experiences have directly affected her outlook:
But no matter the passing years,
One thing’s clear
It’s not happening to me.
The second chorus takes the song into the bridge, which starts off continuing in the strong and defiant vein of the chorus:
You may call me a cynic,
Say my outlook on the world is just not right.
But one thing here is certain:
You’re never gonna win this fight.
But then the mood of the song shifts dramatically, and things get much quieter and more introspective. I see a side of this character that I haven’t seen yet, and it propels the song into a subtly but impactfully altered final chorus:
I never let any of my affection be displayed.
Or maybe it’s because I’m afraid
That maybe I want roses, even if they die.
Maybe I’ve been scared he’s not the picture perfect guy.
And if he would send letters, then maybe I’d reply
With one small “I love you,” but I wouldn’t wanna lie.
I love this ending for a bunch of reasons. First and foremost, this character comes to realize something about herself that I’ve sensed about her since the beginning of the song. That’s a great choice of a song moment, and an amazing execution of it—letting the audience in on a secret just before the character. Another thing that strikes me is the contrast between the first verse, when she mentions “countless boys,” and the end of the song, when she says, “if he would send letters, then maybe I’d reply,” suggesting that there aren’t any actual letters for her to refuse to answer. It tells me a lot about this character that she puts up a façade by claiming she has more attention than she wants, when in reality, she’s pretty lonely.
But the thing I love most of all is that the very quality that earlier in the song seemed to be at the heart of her frustration—her determination not to tell a lie—is now the thing that gives the end of the song a hint of hope. She may think it’s unlikely that she’ll fall in love, but she admits that, if she does, she won’t deny it. That twist is what makes the song for me. Because that way, it’s not a song about a damsel in distress, a girl who’s broken because she’s unlucky in love. It’s a song about a person who, for better or worse, stands by her beliefs and philosophies.
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