Day Eighty-Two: An Excerpt and Requiem for “Swimming Pools (Drank)”

by Tom Noonan

Because there is so much to read, listen to, and watch at any given beat of the national culture’s pulse, this distillation process becomes a something of a necessity in order to keep up.  It is needed to tell us what songs to listen to rather than what albums, even creating terms such as “Single” to do this.  We interact with Eminem through his fits of celebrity-focused rage rather than being confronted with the fact that those types of songs are just part of his deliberately fractured lyrical psyche.  More troublingly, similar losses of context can distort the meaning of a song or simply lose it all together.  There is no better example of this than rapper Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 single “Swimming Pools (Drank)”.  The ninth song on the young Compton native’s magnum opus good kid, m.A.A.d city, “Swimming Pools” presents Kendrick Lamar’s mostly autobiographical narrator reflecting on the casual alcoholism that plagued his personal narrative.  The jaded verses are distinctly offset with a gaudy, bombastic hook that is injected with the very attitudes Lamar is actively rejecting.  Despite this brilliant dichotomy, the song was sold on hook alone, and became a radio mainstay[1].  The version played on the radio, which was also the version marketed as the “Single”, cut short the final moments of Kendrick’s own narration where the hook becomes distorted and overrun by a throbbing baseline and musings on why his girlfriend is unconscious.  This is the distillation process at its most dangerous: when it robs the artist of creative intent.

[1] Not to mention its frequent appearances on the basement binge-drinking playlists of confused college students.