Today’s theme is adultery and a song that has always brought the idea of cheating and adultery to my mind is “Dirty Diana” by Michael Jackson. The song is one of my favorites. I love the instrumental, specifically the edgier feel of pop to it. The lyrics though, are somewhat of a different topic. The song is about a woman who is a fan of musicians (groupie as referred to by MJ), who is looking for sex, fame, and attention from him and his band. According to the lyrics she is willing to do anything to get him into her bed while searching for the fame his celebrity has to offer her.
I love music and I believe that every aspect of a song from the music itself to the sound, tempo, and weight of the lyrics themselves, are utilized to express deeper meanings of songs. For example, singing sweet and soft to a heavy synth instrumental can express venerability in heavy/serious situations. The way a song is performed is as much a testament to its meaning as the literal meaning of the lyrics.
With all that being said, I want to discuss Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana” in comparison to “D.D” by The Weeknd. Back in 2011 The Weeknd released a cover of “Dirty Diana” with a darker, Rhythm & Blues sound to it. I love it as much if not more than the original and there are many reasons why but the main reason is that The Weeknd utilizes his voice to express a different side of the lyrics than Michael Jackson’s original version.
In MJ’s version of the song his approach to the lyrics is very outspoken and confident. When he is talking abut Diana he sings in a very strong head voice. He sings the verses very assure of what he is saying, which is very accusatory. He is calling Diana out on her intentions to seduce and sleep with him. The tone and range of his voice, to me, speak volumes about who he sees as the instigator/seducer (Diana) and who he considers to be the victim of the seduction (himself). Vocal tones, voice timber, voice intensity, range/register, and even the key a song is sung in all help in telling the story of the song.
The Weeknd’s version is extremely different when discussing the way he sings the song. First, his voice starts off very shaky and soft and it slowly builds weight and attitude; by the end of the first verse he is singing with a small growl/screech. In my opinion, he sings the first verse this way to distinguish his feelings for the lyrics and for Diana differently than Michael Jackson’s version. Instead of being assure of his feelings and of Diana’s “seductive powers” The Weeknd sings the verse this way to explore his own role in his potentially adulterous relationship with Diana; he shows nervousness with his shaky vocals to establish that even though he is accusing Diana, he knows deep inside that she is not at fault and that he is a grown man and responsible for his own actions. He even solidified this by singing the last word (hand) of the first verse in falsetto to represent the understanding he has as a musician blaming the “groupie.” Falsetto is a register that allows for vocals to be vulnerable as well as reveal desires or true feelings/faces in a situation.
The second and third verses are slightly different, they are both shaky but less confrontational than the ending of the first verse. Sometimes it is difficult to catch every syllable of every word in the second and third verses of the song. The last line of the second verse is “I’ll be your everything if you make me a star.” a quote from Diana. He starts off singing this line strong then ends it very soft and almost inaudible to represent that he knows he is using Diana even though she thinks she is using him to get fame. And he feels ashamed for knowingly doing this.
In the third verse, The Weeknd’s voice becomes very whinny and gives off a desperate feel. The lyrics in the third verse reveal that Diana is aware of the musician’s relationship and doesn’t care. MJ’s voice in the third verse is powerful which makes his lyrics sound accusatory, he sings the song this way to express his regret of getting involved with a groupie and for hurting his lover who is waiting for him at home. But he also sings the verse this way to establish that he was a victim of Diana and now that he sees that he just wants to be back with his baby and pretend like nothing happened. The Weeknd sings this verse with a whinny tone to express that he knows he has done wrong and he accepts that it is his own fault and not Diana’s, he still loves his baby and he regrets hurting her and he utilizes his voice to express that he is solely to blame. But this can also be interpreted as being a moment where The Weeknd is caught and decides to grovel in hopes of not losing his lover (the whining can be internal (he’s crying to himself) or external(he’s begging for his lover not to leave)).
When Michael Jackson sings the chorus: which is Dirty Diana repeatedly, he sings it with a powerful head voice. He sings it this way to express her power as a seductress and to place the blame on her for knowingly seducing a musician. When The Weeknd sings the chorus each one is different than the last. The first chorus is powerful and in a head voice filled with vibrato. He sings it this way to show two things, first that he is trying to put the blame on Diana for being a groupie and he adds the extra vibrato to show that he does not completely believe that she is to blame.
In the second chorus, The Weeknd sings in a warm chest voice with less vibrato than the first chorus and then on the second half of the second chorus he sings in a soft falsetto, ending the last “Dirty Diana” in a head voice belt before singing the last line, “let me be” in a sweet falsetto. He does this to establish that he is beginning to realize that Diana is not the problem but rather it is him for going out of his relationship again. The chorus changes so much in the second round because he is battling with his conscience and his ego, that wishes to cheat and not feel badly about it. He wants to use Diana and have no regrets and no apologies about it. This is important because the second chorus also introduces a background voice singing “ohs” as The Weeknd sings this chorus. The ohs act as inner voices/his conscience that he is fighting to ignore while his ego tries to blame Diana.
The final chorus changes it up completely; The Weeknd sings runs while the background “ohs” sing the chorus in a falsetto. This final chorus is meant to represent that The Weeknd has finally accepted his role in the affair and his ego has been beaten out by his conscience which feels guilty for hurting is lover and using Diana. He sings the runs/ad libs in head voice to express his remorse in using these two parties, and to show that he understands that Diana is a human with feelings and does not deserve to be treated as an object to be used by magicians on the road with no remorse.
The main reason I enjoy The Weeknd’s version so much is because he used his voice to tell a common story with nuance. Michael Jackson’s version is amazing and one of my favorites but his vocals made it clear that the lyrics were meant to be interpreted as is. The Weeknd used his voice to give an alternative meaning to the lyrics. This is why I love music; it can be interpreted and experienced in many different ways.
Check out the songs below and leave a comment on this post letting me know if you agree or disagree with any of my analysis. I always gladly welcome discussion!!!