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Can Noah Kahan’s Songwriting Genius Be Used For Blog Posts?
It feels a bit unethical to use songs for a writing lesson.
Before we had words words, we had music. We had rhythm. We danced. Music’s magic is not bound to our language. It’s a unique miracle.
If you claimed Freebird works only because it uses the rhetorical device of repetition (the word “bird” in the chorus), you’d deserve to have cold Strawberry Jello dumped down your briefs.
Words are part of modern music. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular song that didn’t leverage lyrics to their hilt.
Especially if that song is written by Noah Kahan.
Noah’s breakout hit, Stick Season, has been dissected, copied, covered, and analyzed for why it stormed TikTok last summer. But I haven’t seen one article point out what I think Kahan does best.
We’ll get to that in a minute.
To see why Kahan’s writing is special, though, you need to first compare lyrics from two other very popular songs in the same genre.
Here’s the chorus of Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons.
And it was not your fault but mine.
And it was your heart on the line.
I really fucked it up this time.
Didn’t I my dear?
Solid lyrics. Catchy. The repeated “and” gives your brain a place to land. They almost use Kahan’s technique, but not quite.
Again from the folk genre, consider Ho Hey by the Lumineers.
I belong with you
You belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
Again, there is nothing wrong with these lyrics. They’re solid. A chiasmus (flipping the words around in consecutive sentences) anchors the lines, seating them both in logic and sentiment.
Then, you have Noah Kahan.
Let’s not do Stick Season yet. Let’s begin with the opening lines of two other album songs: Paul Revere and You’re Gonna Go Far.
Paul Revere opens like this:
County lines, I’m counting down
Mailboxes until my house
There’s a repetition of “count,” which is both an alliteration (repeated consonant sounds) and assonance (repeated vowel sounds).
Catchy, but it’s not the technique I’m talking about here.
Did you get it yet?
Let’s do You’re Gonna Go Far.
The only time I got to praying for a red light
was when I saw your destination as a deadline
Again, the alliteration of “destination” and “deadline” grabs the ear, but that’s still not the technique in question.
Any final guesses? Last chance before we get into the most obvious example…
Ladies and gentlemen, the chorus of Stick Season — stripped of all the juicy folk song bits, wiped off Noah’s soothing voice — with the full genius of rhetoric on display.
I love Vermont, but it's the season of the sticks, And I
saw your mom, she forgot that I existed, and it’s
half my fault, but I just like to play the victim; I'll drink
alcohol 'til my friends come home for Christmas, and I'll
dream each night of some version of you that I
might not have, but I did not lose, and now you’re
tire tracks and one pair of shoes And I’m
split in half, but that'll have to do
This, my friends, is what Noah does best.
He leaves lines unfinished.
Your blessed little brain keeps listening and listening, waiting for a resolution… not to the guitar chords, but to the words. “And I what?” you think. “I’ll drink what?” you wonder.
Paul Revere, You’re Gonna Go Far, and Stick Season all keep you pinned in this way.
So, how do you use Kahan’s trick in nonfiction writing?
More of the same.
But with fewer guitars.
The most obvious example is Rudy Kipling’s poem, “If”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…
Kipling goes on like this for approximately one eternity before revealing that IF you can follow ALL these proverbs, “you will be a man, my son!”
Gimmicky? Perhaps. But Kipling’s poem is on the wall at my local Jimmy John’s. If that’s not literary immortality, I don’t know what is.
For a modern example, take a look at modern copywriting.
Here’s a line from Aussie copywriter Daniel Throssel’s email “How to Price Anchor Like a Baws”
And I was JUST about to proceed to launch at that price…
When a thought struck me:
What if I did something…
4 lines to say what could have been said in 1.
The counterintuitive fundamental here is clear: make the reader wait for the punchline.
Those of you who still think (wrongly) that we humans have the attention spans of goldfish will hate this. You’ll argue we’re too impatient to learn.
But hey, it worked out well for Noah. Stick Season went platinum in the US by 2023, and earned him duets with Post Malone, Kasey Musgraves, and Hozier.
Not bad for a former valet from Vermont, who only wanted to have a blue check on Instagram.
His writing got him much further.
P.S. My friendand I have opened registration for our January Write 4/28 Challenge.
If you can’t stick to a daily writing habit…
or if you struggle to write “short form” content that actually works…