Elevators in Popular Music

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 Elevators have made their way into the popular imagination as an apt metaphor for the ups and downs of life. Pop music has turned to this metaphor to illustrate the emptiness of success, stormy relationships and the social dynamics imposed on people in the same small, moving box. This post explores 14 songs that fall into one of these three categories. If you know of any other relevant songs, please let us know in the comment section.

This is Success?

The elevator’s upward ascent has been used as an illustration for success. Not everyone can fit on the elevator at once. If you do happen to be on it, and if the elevator goes fast, it can be a heady experience. You step off a little dizzy; you’re alone, and your friends are at the bottom. Eminem, Group 1 Crew and Outkast have done this well. In 1996, Outkast gave voice to the alienation from old acquaintances that success brings in Elevators (Me and You): “We moving on up in the world like elevators.” They can’t help it. Group 1 Crew also feel this guilt in a recent song, Elevator Doors. The elevator doors open to another level for him, but they seem to close in on his heart.

Of the three artists, Eminem treated this subject the most extensively in his 2009 Elevator:
“There once was a saying that I used to say
Back in the day when I met Dre
I used to sit and goof on the phone with, my friend Proof
That if I went gold, I’d go right through the roof
He said what If you went platinum, I’d just laugh at him
That’s not happening, that I can’t fathom
Eighty something million records worldwide later,

I’m living in a house with a f***in’ elevator.”

All his dreams came true. His past self would have told him that he should be happy at this point, but he isn’t. He even thinks “about an escalator now, steps I hate ’em,” but it probably won’t help much either. His residential elevator is there as a symbol of his wealth yes, but more poignantly, as a silent reminder of his unhappiness.

You and Me: Relationships

Elevators feature most predominantly in love songs. These songs use them as images for sex, insecurity, loneliness and comforting anonymity.

Sex

A couple of elevator love songs, for good or for bad, are simply about nothing else other than sexual intercourse. There is no other way around it. Aerosmith’s 1989 Love in an Elevator is simply that:
“Love in an elevator
Livin’ it up when I’m goin’ down
Love in an elevator

Lovin’ it up till I hit the ground.”

Flo Rida’s 2008 Elevator is even more explicit. On www.songmeanings.com, one commentator argues that it is all about “the tragic state of disrepair that the elevator industry finds itself in at the turn of the century.” They argue that the line, “One night, one time broke her off 10 grand/Project all the way gutta all day” refers to an elevator that broke down in Flo Rida’s building. It cost him US$10,000 to fix, and it was a challenge, because, “seeing as the elevator repair union was on strike and in order to fix the elevator, they had to get volunteers from Flo’s building to get it going again. Flo borrowed the 10 grand from his big-faced gold digger honey (“My first flo step want a gold digging woman”) who also lives in his building.” Perhaps in that case, he is using the repair analogy to illustrate the cost or toll that this is all taking on him.

Ups and Downs of Love

Guy Sebastian’s 2006 Elevator Love is a charming song about the ups and downs of courtship and dating. ‘She loves me, she loves me not.’ At the end of the video, he finds his answer. David Archuleta also speaks to the insecurity the lover feels in his 2010 Elevator. He has a dream that he is on an elevator. The doors open on various floors but he can’t find his love. The dream ends on a very ominous note:
“The doors they finally shut and I was there, somewhere
Alone in my reality inside an empty box
That’s filled with air

But I don’t care, no.”

He resolves to try again tomorrow and “just go with the flow/Until your feet are back on the ground,” while acknowledging that “it’s the butterflies/That keep you feeling so alive, so alive/You gotta get back that high.”

The Pussycat Dolls’ 2008 Elevator is an intimate and honest look at the volatility of the singers’ relationship and the longing for stability and steadfastness:
“Like an elevator, we go up, and we go down
Down, down, like an elevator
We touch the sky and touch the ground
Ground, ground like an elevator
You’re stuck on one while I’m pressing three
Then we end up on the fourth floor
And then we disagree

Then you keep on blamin’ me.”

The chorus ends with a beautiful plea to acknowledge the purpose of a healthy relationship — the transformative power of love:
“But I wish that you would see that
I’m just trying to elevate you

Like an elevator.”

Being Alone

While Western culture is very open in the media, social or otherwise, modern Western people are more reserved in public. The elevator imposes a kind of social awkwardness that people must endure for the few seconds or minutes they are alone together in a confined space. While most Western people appreciate this, it drives the lover in Incubus’ 2010 Crowded Elevator crazy. He desperately wants to tell his significant other how he feels, but it would be taboo to express his feelings in an elevator, let alone talk. He has weighty, passionate things on his mind while the people on the elevator are simply occupied with “the little red numbers passing by.”

While Incubus’ lover sees the elevator as a place to escape, Stars and P!nk’s lovers see it as a place of refuge. Stars’ 2006 Elevator Love Letter is a song about two office workers in love with each other, neither of whom “know how to love.” The woman is working hard but is beginning to feel more lonely and withdrawn as a result. She says that “My office glows all night long/It’s a nuclear show and the stars are gone.” Her obsession with work has polluted the air around her and she can’t see her dreams anymore. The man is insecure and unable to commit to a loving, steady relationship. Working in a tall office building and probably living in a tall residential building, they ride up and down elevators every day. Their lives are so impersonal and withdrawn from meaningful relationships that the elevator becomes a friend. As if they were addressing a cab driver, they say, “Elevator, elevator, take me home.”

The poor woman in P!nk’s 2012 Walk of Shame desperately appeals to God to make the elevator come a little faster so that she can escape the fierce judgment of her peers:
“Make the elevator come a little faster
I’m pushing all the buttons but nothing’s happening
Please God don’t let anybody see me
Please God, I’ll do anything you ask of me
I promise no more walks of shame,

So walk this way!”

Angst

The anti-social nature of elevators takes an extreme in Kool Keith’s 1999 Get off My Elevator. The elevator is going up and down between his heart and mind. His lover is trying to find out the real him but he just warns her that “security will escort you out my building.”

The Band of Horses features an elevator in the opening lines of their beautiful 2010 Factory:
“The elevator, in the hotel lobby has a lazy door
The man inside is going to a hotel room
He jumped out right after seeing just the very sight of me

Decided he better hike it to the second floor.”

“The man inside” is the singer. He sees his reflection in door or wall of the car, and, feeling shame at his appearance, decides to take the stairs. He can’t even look at himself, because he is struggling in his hotel room with a broken relationship and the resulting loneliness.

Similar anxiety is beautifully portrayed in Keaton Henson’s 2014 Elevator Song. Last year, Henson told The Independent that he wrote this song “while daydreaming and thinking about a breakdown I had in an elevator in Glasgow.” This soul-stirring dramatic piece of music is brought down to earth at the open and close with an automated voice saying, “Please mind the doors. The doors are closing.”

Further Reading

Top 10 Elevator Songs,” ElevatorRater, May 26, 2013, http://elevatorrater.com/content/top-10-elevator-songs

David Owen, “The Soundtrack of Your Life,” The New Yorker, April 10, 2006, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/04/10/the-soundtrack-of-your-life

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