It's Pretty OK
Solving the paradoxes of our time since 2016

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A Pretty OK Song: "Want You Back" - HAIM

I’ve put off writing about HAIM because of vacations and other interruptions—kind of like how the Haim sisters put off recording new music for several years—but I can’t put it off any longer, because I’m absolutely hooked on their new song “Want You Back.” I’m not alone here; the track was released on May 3 and already has ove 10 million plays on Spotify.

The group's first (and only) album, 2013’s Days Are Gone, was an international hit. I first heard “Falling” while studying abroad in Australia and quickly became infatuated with the group. “Want You Back” is the lead single from their upcoming release, Something to Tell You, and I’d say it’s one of their best pieces ever.

For those of you less familiar with HAIM, they're a trio of sisters from Los Angeles who specialize in pop-rock jams. Well, after seeing them at Bonnaroo last year, I want to emphasize the rock portion. The band rocks much harder live than they do in recordings, and middle sister Danielle, the lead guitarist, can absolutely shred. If you’re already a big HAIM fan, I’d recommend looking through their Wikipedia entry and brushing up on their former musical endeavors (more on this later).

The instrumentation in “Want You Back” is pretty standard fare as far as HAIM goes—the song has a fun, poppy feel to it—but at its center, it does feel more open and bare then their previous work. I can't put my finger on it, but how the group achieves this effect is worth analyzing.

Each verse in the song starts quiet, with Danielle's vocals accentuated by reverberating guitar and the occasional bass note. As with the retelling of most emotional stories, they start soft and build to a fever pitch by adding vocals and instrumentation as the verse progresses. This prepares the listener for the chorus, where things really do feel more emotional.

Each chorus in the song differs subtly, which is important for the overall emotional effect. In the first chorus, the plucking guitar firmly builds until the funky high-pitched vocal effect (which they re-visit throughout the remainder of the song) drops. This drop ushers in a lot of extra energy.

As the chorus fades, the next verse comes in, bringing the song back to a more emotionally stable point. Again, HAIM makes use of a steady build up to their second chorus. This time the chorus jumps right into the funky high-pitched vocals and the song’s best phrase: "I'll take the fall and the fault in us / I'll give you all the love I never gave before I left you." This section is ridiculously fun to sing along to (maybe you’ve already figured that out?).

This second chorus is subtly different than the first. Instead of building up to the emotional climax, we get it instantly. It feels like Danielle is revisiting these emotions and having a more difficult time controlling her feelings. Things are louder and more in your face; there is no time to build at this point, and her frustration and longing are palpable.

By the end of the song, Danielle is practically screaming to the rafters, belting out the chorus in full force accompanied by three sisters’ worth of musical might. This is the fever pitch that the listener has been waiting for the whole time, ending the emotional plea for forgiveness and showcasing the raw emotion in this song.

The musical build-up is great, but do the lyrics support any of it? Yes! Danielle is likely singing about an ex that she moved on from and hurt in the process. Some of the opening lines clearly portray this: "I said we were opposite lovers / You kept trying to prove me wrong / And I know that I ran you down / So you ran away with your heart."

All of the verses admit wrongdoing or skepticism on Danielle's part and how badly she wants the relationship back. Normally, songs about past relationships come from the point of view of the person who’s been hurt and left behind, but “Want You Back” examines what it's like to hurt someone only to want them back in your life. Towards the end of the song, the chorus is repeated over and over, selling the idea that she is basically begging for them back.

There are some interesting parallels here with Danielle and her departure from HAIM that make me wonder if there’s some intentional underlying symbolism. When the band was still in its early stages, Danielle left the group to pursue a (fairly successful) solo career, leaving her sisters behind. It wasn't until the 2010s that she rejoined the group in earnest and they started making new music. I could be wrong, but it’s always fun to speculate about these things.

Alternate meaning or no, this song is infectious. It’s highly emotional, but in classic HAIM fashion, it remains fun. It's a great song to sing along to, clap your hands with the beat, and stomp your feet, and it’s perfect driving music. I hope everyone is experiencing some great summer weather because I plan to blast this song with the windows down until next week rolls around and I've got a new jam to bump.

Until next week.

-Ian Wood