Wings – Lyrics as Literature

Literature is all around us, although students may complain and say that they don’t like poetry – they are lying. They love poetry. Everyday they plug poetry into their ears, blocking out the rest of the world. Poetry in the form of Rock, Rap, Pop, Hardcore, Folk, Hip Hop, and Electronic.

This is why, as I teacher, I need to tap into what they like. I need to know what gets through to them, because sticking to what want to teach will not work if they can’t connect with the learning. So I begun looking into the lyrics of popular songs and came across some really inspiring and thematic lyrics that students are hearing every day – they just don’t realize it.

A great example of this is Macklemore’s song Wings ft. Ryan Lewis.

I was seven years old, when I got my first pair
And I stepped outside
And I was like, momma, this air bubble right here, it’s gonna make me fly
I hit that court, and when I jumped, I jumped, I swear I got so high
I touched the net, momma I touched the net, this is the best day of my life
Air Max’s were next,
That air bubble, that mesh
The box, the smell, the stuffin’, the tread, in school
I was so cool
I knew that I couldn’t crease ’em
My friends couldn’t afford ’em
Four stripes on their Adidas
On the court I wasn’t the best, but my kicks were like the pros
Yo, I stick out my tongue so everyone could see that logo
Nike Air Flight, but bad was so dope
And then my friend Carlos’ brother got murdered for his Fours, whoa

See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted to start a cult though
Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello
You could clown for those Pro Wings, with the Velcro
Those were not tight
I was trying to fly without leaving the ground,
Cause I wanted to be like Mike, right
Wanted to be him, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to touch the rim
I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to fit in,
I wanted what he had, America, it begins

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I’ll go so high
I’ll go so high
My feet won’t touch the ground
Stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show ’em, so exclusive, this that new shit
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid
I’m an individual, yea, but I’m part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don’t crease ’em, just leave ’em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That’s my air bubble and I’m lost, if it pops
We are what we wear, we wear what we are
But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all
Will I stand for change, or stay in my box
These Nikes help me define me, but I’m trying to take mine, off

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I’ll go so high
I’ll go so high
My feet won’t touch the ground
Stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

It started out, with what I wear to school
That first day, like these are what make you cool
And this pair, this would be my parachute
So much more than just a pair of shoes
Nah, this is what I am
What I wore, this is the source of my youth
This dream that they sold to you
For a hundred dollars and some change
Consumption is in the veins
And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes

Hand out the lyrics to Wings and ask students to read it and then complete this close reading activity

1. circle any unfamiliar words and look them up, write down the definition on the page.

2. Language: circle language that catches your attention. Write on the page why you think it is interesting.

3. Have four different highlighters for verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs – note down any patterns and the effect this may have

4. What is the narrative? Write down what you think of it and the narrator

5. Make connections. Does this remind you of anything – in real life/your own experiences, other texts

6. What do you think the key theme is? Find one quote that support this.

Play students the song. While listening, ask them to think about how the song makes them feel – emotions that the poem/song evokes. Once the song is finished pause for a minute to allow students to collect their thoughts and reflect on what they have listened to.

Begin a class brainstorm by asking every student how the song made them feel or what kind of emotion does the song evoke.

Read aloud or show on the board this statement from Macklemore’s blog:

“The song “Wings” is about the pursuit of identity through the means of consumerism.  The attempt is to dissect our infatuation and attachment to logos, labels, brands and the fleeting happiness that is intrinsically linked to the almighty power of the purchase.  The subject I use in the song is shoes, but its aim is to paint a broader picture of being a consumer and tracing the lineage back to my first memory of retail infused desire.” (source)

Ask students to write a paragraph about how they have be blinded by consumerism and advertising – may it be the new iPhone, a ball dress, a car, or a pair of shoes. Ask students to consider if they were completely fulfilled once they attained that item. Will things ever give us fulfillment and happiness?

This activity can be used in a study of the novel The Great Gatsby, as it has similar themes and links the novel to media and the world today, showing that the obsession for possessions is the same now as it was in the 1920’s.

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