I was singing Adele’s “Hello”song lyrics in the car today and thought about my students. A variety of things cause me to think about my students — not because Adele takes poetic license in her grammar with the line, “And it’s no secret that the both of us,” a commonly used idiom instead of using the correct phrase, “the two of us.” Adele continues by using the vernacular, “But it don’t matter” instead of “it doesn’t matter.” I’m fairly confident Adele wasn’t concerned with citing the rules for perfectly conjugating verbs when writing her songs. She also uses the common informal word choice “ain’t,” which seems to occur frequently in song lyrics and can be singled out for criticism. When she belts out, “But I ain’t done much healing,” she makes it sound so good. Songwriters often draw on genre conventions and their own dialects to express themselves. Most genres have a set of very particular elements that audiences expect, and artists often try to make sure they include enough of these to keep the audience happy. Genre conventions tend to evolve over time as artists work to break out of the typical mold and create fresh new content.
Adele achieves her desired effect, telling her heartbreaking story through song and breaking records with her latest single. As an English teacher, I’d like to believe she carefully chooses her words, but rules are malleable, right? It’s difficult to listen to this popular ballad and criticize the lyrics for grammatical mistakes. So I embrace Adele’s words and enjoy listening to her iTunes chart topping song.
The flip side of this metaphorical record is that many of my students listen to Adele too. Often their language choice is inspired by music and the words and sentence structure inevitably seep into their form of expression in a variety of assignments. We all listen to music that contains a lot of informal word choice and poor grammar. And we like it! But depending on the purpose and scope of the writing, I believe you should learn the rules first before you consider breaking them.