“Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s so fucking charged, it’s got to be one of the most fraught, desperate love songs ever written. It simultaneously tugs at your heart strings and kicks you in the guts.
It’s about that awful part in a relationship where your boyfriend wants to leave you, probably because he doesn’t love you anymore and your relationship is crap, and yet you’re convinced that it’s just because he’s failed to see how right you are for him.
That panicky, overwrought, undignified self-delusion, when he’s trying to leave and you say: wait! You’re just confused! No-one else could love you like I love you, and you just need to see that!
Oh, is there ever a more tragic, last-ditch line to intone at the end of a relationship than, “My kind’s your kind, I’ll stay the same”?
No. No, there is not.
But the song’s real killer line comes in the chorus, obviously: “Ma-a-a-a-a-aps, wait.”
Having been witness to the dance floor response to this song a number of times, I can tell you that people connect with that line with such naked emotional intensity, it looks like nothing less than en masse agony. Hands clutched to hearts, faces distorted with feeling, voices cracking, heads tossed in longing.
And yet what are we all singing? “Maps”. Seriously? Maps? One of the most affecting, belt-it-out lines in rock music and it’s a total non-sequitur.
For many years I pondered why. Something to do with distance and being apart, maybe. Perhaps the path or journey of a relationship from beginning to end, or perhaps being completely lost, and in need of a map. I seriously dedicated a considerable amount of time to analysing it, like it was a Year 12 textual study, which it probably is given our postmodern education system.
And then one day, sitting idle in front of the computer, I got around to looking it up. I was expecting to find some different interpretations to add to my collection, but no.
WHAM, just like that, I found there’s an actual “answer”. It’s an acronym. It stands for “My Angus please stay”, Angus being Angus Andrews of the band Liars, and Karen O’s boyfriend at the time.
I have never felt so gypped in my life. There isn’t supposed to be one definitive “answer” to your textual analysis! And now this song, which had previously seemed to be about universal yearning was very specifically about some guy I don’t know called Angus. Also, now the coolest song ever actually features a naff acronym.
But then I realised, well, it just goes to show that the emotion we can all hear in that song is seriously legit. She’s not singing about pleading with someone to stay, she is pleading with someone to stay. The song is it. And that’s some raw shit right there.
And in the video, she doesn’t just look like she’s crying real tears, she is crying real tears, because what she’s singing in the song is actually happening right then and there. Karen O in the NME:
“They were real tears. My boyfriend at the time (Angus) was supposed to come to the shoot – he was three hours late and I was just about to leave for tour.
“I didn’t think he was even going to come and this was the song that was written for him. He eventually showed up and I got myself in a real emotional state.”
So actually, I love the song even more now. It’s about how even one of the coolest chicks in the world can tear herself apart over some stupid, unworthy arsehole.