The key limitation of writing songs solely from lived experiences is that there are only so many experiences one can have in life
Despite its title, British electronic group Clean Bandit's 2016 catchy single "Rockabye" is not exactly a lullaby. It is an ode to single moms.
It was a smash hit, topping the chart in the UK and many other countries.
Watch "Rockabye" here
Besides the rollicking beats, Rockabye has an emotion-charged lyric. It tells the story of how a single mother toils to ensure a better life for her child.
The track has pierced the hearts of legions of listeners, primarily because of its powerful emotional message.
A reflection of real life
Rockabye was inspired by real experience. Clean Bandit's Jack Patterson co-wrote the song with Norwegian singer-songwriter Ina Wroldsen.
"When we wrote it, she [Ina] put herself, I think in the place of a mother, with her real experience," Jack told ABC News Radio.
"She has got a little boy, and I think she used her own emotional connection with her son to put herself in the right kind of emotional mindset."
But Ina is not a single mom, Jack clarified.
"Her husband is a joker, but he is still there!"
Ina is married to Mark Ellwood, a Londoner who also works in music.
Imagination pairs up with real experience
Jack and Ina combined imagination and lived experiences to create a song that earned a broad appeal. The latter has a child. That gives her a first-hand experience of the love a mother feels for her children.
In fact, any mother will feel this love. But if she is still with her man who plays the conventional role of being the protector and provider for the family, she will not experience a single mom's pain of raising the child alone.
Neither Ina nor Jack actually experiences the day-to-day struggle of a single mom. But they used imagination to craft the lyric, which struck a chord with listeners.
Why imagination is important in songwriting
It is often said that a song should reflect only the lived experiences of its creator because that is the only way s/he can offer a unique perspective to leave a powerful impression on listeners. But one of the key limitations of this argument is that a person can never have a wide range of experiences even if s/he wants to.
If someone wants to write a song about ascending mountains but then thinks he should not do it because he has never scaled a mountain, that song will never see the light of the day. If he wrote it, it could have been a chart-topper. Who knows?
Imagination therefore can remove the limit to how creative songwriters can get. A song written from either lived experiences or imagination will enjoy a mass appeal if it can evoke powerful emotional responses in listeners. The same is true for a song penned from a combination of imagination and real-life experiences, as has been the case with Rockabye.
Clean Bandit cellist Grace Chatto told Billboard magazine her interest in alternative family structures was behind the song's subject matter.
"Obviously, being a single mom is a very common structure. I am actually kind of studying that kind of world the moment, because I think we grow up being taught to assume that there is one kind of family idea, but there are so many different ways you can do it," she added.
Her last words prove how imagination can produce impactful art.