Billboard Banter, Week 4

Every few weeks, Jake Kring-Schreifels and Eric Mollo will exchange emails and examine a current Top 40 song in depth. At its best, the conversation will scrupulously examine the dearth of good lyrics over the radio that people so casually sing and memorize. At its worst, our analysis will needlessly scrutinize songs people will likely forget in a few months. 

Song 4: “Sugar” by Maroon 5

Jake Kring-Schreifels: A lot of people have strong feelings about Adam Levine. They’re usually not good. He’s pretentious or he’s arrogant or he’s sold-out. He’s really Adam Ledouche. His saturation has been at an all-time high recently. He’s been spinning in chairs, bleaching his hair and starring in summer movies opposite Keira Knightley — later performing a song from the soundtrack at the Oscars. Oh, and he’s got another reality show in the works, too. Eric, I’m sure you have thoughts on this guy, but you can’t deny he knows what he’s doing. His voice, hovering in different registers of falsetto, is also pretty good. It can get lost in all of his cocky charm.

“Sugar” is Maroon 5’s third single off their latest album and it’s taking your FASIP stat to school (It’s No. 1 on the charts right now). It’s a fun song because it packs a lot of positive energy into its four chords. It has a melody where you can sway your head back and forth, side to side, like you might do at a campfire circle to prove you’re really into the guitarist that’s stealing all the ladies with his suddenly existential strumming. I feel like Levine was that guy.

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He’s giving off sexiness in this song before he even starts singing. Though not in the lyrics themselves, Levine starts with a few pants (as in dog breathing), before he admits, “I’m hurting baby, I’m broken down, I need your loving, loving I need it now.” Clearly the guy is hung up on some girl. Which, let’s be real, is just about every Maroon 5 song. She Will Be Loved because This Love makes me want to Love Somebody One More Night over a Payphone otherwise I’ll be in Misery on Sunday Morning.

But this might be a new low. As we get deeper into this song, all this guy really wants is some sugar, a more naughty version of the kind your grandma gives out when she beckons to “give your bubby some sugar.” He’s not even worried about love anymore. He just wants that sweet high.

“When I’m without you, I’m something weak,” he says next. The dependency is really kicking in. This guy needs some friends, doesn’t he?

Eric Mollo: Jake, Adam Levine knows what he’s doing. Arrogant, pretentious, sold out? Honestly, I don’t really think he’s any of those things. I think he’s a little misperceived. Remember, we are talking about People Magazine’s Sexiest Man alive here. The dude has confidence. He’s successful. He’s got swag. He’s got it all! I think Hollywood gives him this one-dimensional image but he’s so much more, and I respect and admire his success. I also think he has a soft side, similar to how we saw Kim Jong Un’s sensitive side in “The Interview.”

Speaking of sensitive, let’s get to this song. I like this song. I feel like I should be discoing to the Bee Gees when I hear it. It makes me envious of the 70s.

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But looking at the main picture, we see in this song Adam Levine does have a sensitive side, too. He’s vulnerable. He’s weak. And you hit the nail on the head Jake, he’s dependent on this girl, he’s hung up on her, and now he’s trying way too hard. Now, I must say, I refrain from judgment. As a person who’s tried too hard, well, hmmm… let’s see…. my whole life, I can assure you the only sugar Adam will be tasting is a Pixy stick if he keeps up this attitude.

Trust me, I’ve had too many of those things and my physician is concerned… Anyways… he’s got to cut the self-loathing fast. And I don’t want to bring the Dr. Laura tough love hammer down here, but I’m going to. The grunting, the “have a little sympathy,” the “need a little sweetness in my life” is going to push whatever girl he’s chasing further away. Jake, what I think, really, is Adam needs a vacation. He’s soaked up the spotlight for the past decade and counting. And now his mind is stuck in one place and one place only. He needs to stop thinking about this girl and start thinking about Jason Segel. Yes, that Jason Segel. This has “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” written all over it.

You realize there’s a lot more sugar out there when you take your mind off things. Am I right here, Jake, or is his dependency a deeper-rooted problem?

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JKS: I don’t even remember the last time I had a Pixy stick. The concept is incredible: straight sugar in a straw. At least with a candy bar you have peanuts or nuget or something distracting you from what you’re actually eating. For your own good, lay off them. But maybe you can’t…

And by that I mean, maybe Levine can’t. I’m still tempted to say that this is simply another tale of dependency that needs to get cut. The first few days are difficult. You’re “begging” and “on your knees.” You keep telling your friends you’re ok if you “get one little taste.” But any good friend knows that’s a lie perpetrated to restart a deadly habit. Eventually the brain stops the cravings.

But Eric, this seems like a pathological problem throughout music history. Def Leopard was practically commanding a girl to pour sugar on them (they were, after all, hot, sticky and sweet from their head to their feet). I fear Levine requires some real rehabilitation. Notice the word choice. He uses “need” a lot. He needs “a little love, a little sympathy.” Yet when he “wants” something, he says, “I just wanna be deep in your love” or “I want that red velvet, I want that sugar sweet.” What?! We learn as kids the difference between desire and need is distinct. “Do you NEED that dessert or do you just WANT it?” Sometimes, you cut somebody off cold turkey and things go horribly wrong. Yet Levine is an enigma here. He just wants one little taste? I thought he was starving to be wherever this sacharrine seductress was.

The problem is that if this is the “one woman [he’s] living for,” then he’s become a profound paradox. You don’t live for dessert. You can’t survive on red velvet cake alone. It seems like a great idea at first. Remember that Elmo Christmas special, when Elmo wishes everyday was Christmas? By the second week of snow and caroling, he(she?) got tired of the red and green monotony. Enough “Deck The Halls” it’s time for Spring! Levine has got to figure out that sugar isn’t sustainable. It’s a quick high. A devastating crash.

Talk to me.

EM: Is there any candy worse for you than Pixy Stix? Maybe Fun Dip? Nerds Rope? I’m a sugar nut, but even these go over the line…

Anywho, diving back into this song… let me see if I can apply a real life example here. At work sometimes, I take a stop at the vending machine. I tell myself I’m going to get a granola bar and an orange juice, but sometimes… I cave. I get the Swedish Fish. I love Swedish Fish. And every time I approach the vending machine, those sweet little red candies swim through my mind, pun intended…

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Now, I’m always thinking about the fish, so the the best way for me to stay away from them is, to, well, stay away from them! I just have to force myself, or buy granola bars at the Amish Market down the road.

Bringing it back to this song…I think you hit it right, Jake. Adam feels like he needs this woman, in the same way I feel like I need the Swedish Fish. Call it an addiction? I wouldn’t go so far, but certainly some sort of obsessiveness that needs some taming. My two cents? Adam needs to stay away from this person. I’m sure she’s wonderful. In the same way I know Swedish Fish are wonderful. But just like I need to stay away, Adam needs to stay away too.

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Sometimes in life, you just need to let go and say goodbye.

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