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Feb

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A LitHum-Style Literary Analysis Of You Don’t Know My Name By Alicia Keys (Who (Sort Of) Went To Columbia)

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Queen Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys went to Columbia for a month so this is Columbia relevant. Here is a line-by-line analysis of You Don’t Know My Name by Alicia Keys. Song chosen by Idris O’Neill and analyzed by Youngweon Lee. Lyrics bolded for better readability. 

Baby, baby, baby

The repetition of a term of endearment, especially at the very beginning of the song, immediately creates an emphasis of the romantic feelings that the narrator has for her subject and sets the theme. The song is also directly addressed in the second person to the subject right off the bat, as we will see in the second line as well.

From the day I saw you

The enjambment here creates suspense and a natural progression from when the narrator first saw her subject to whatever happened next, coming up in the next line.

Really, really wanted to catch your eye

The repetition of “really” emphasizes the narrator’s desire to “catch [her subject’s] eye.” The idiom used here, “catch your eye,” is also significant. She doesn’t say that she wanted her subject to “fall in love with her” or anything of the sort; more so, there is a desire for him to pay attention to her and notice her.

Somethin’ special ’bout you

The elimination of the G in “somethin'” is a linguistic phenomenon in English called “g-dropping.” Here is an interesting paper on the subject. The g-dropping and the shortening of “about” to “’bout” create a colloquial, casual tone. The fact that this is an incomplete sentence with “there is” implied speeds up the song, getting rid of the unnecessary parts of the sentence and only focusing on the important bit: “somethin’ special ’bout you.”

I must really like you

The narrator doesn’t say “I really like you,” instead choosing to add a speculative air by saying “must.” She doesn’t know that she really likes him; she is assuming she does based on something. We don’t know what that something is yet, but hopefully we will find out. This is also the fourth line in a row in which Keys uses the second person pronoun. The spotlight is really on her subject here.

‘Cause not a lot of guys are worth my time, ooh

“Because” is abbreviated to “’cause,” colloqualizing the speech as the g-dropping above does. The narrator shows her confidence and pride by saying “not a lot of guys are worth [her] time.” She is too good for the majority of men, but this one guy is implied to be worth her time. Why? Will we find out? It’s suspenseful.

Oh baby, baby, baby

A repetition of the first line with an emphatic exclamatory “oh.” You can feel her emotions culminating. This direct address could be called an apostrophe. Even though it doesn’t necessarily interrupt a sentence, it does break off the song and refocuses the attention on the subject.

It’s getting kind of crazy

It’s not just getting crazy, it’s getting “kind of” crazy. This understatement actually serves to highlight the “crazy” because the listener feels like she’s just addng this qualification to tone down her excessive emotions.

‘Cause you are taking over my mind

It’s getting a little concerning. The narrator is obsessed with this man. What happened to that speculation when she said she “must” really like him? There is no ambiguity here. Her feelings for the subjects intensified in a crescendo over the last few lines.

And it feels like ooh

We think she’ll tell us what it feels like, but she doesn’t. She adds a pause for suspense with an “ooh.” This is, by definition, not really an onomatopoeia. You could call it an interjection, an exclamation, or a musical adlib.

You don’t know my name

Barring the title of the song, this is a bit surprising. Earlier, she implies that she’s too good for most guys out there, but this one doesn’t even know her name. Now, the line where she says she wants to catch this guy’s eye makes more sense. She wants him to notice her existence first before falling in love with her (because that would be the logical progression) but alas! He doesn’t even know her name.

I swear, it feels like ooh

A repetition of an earlier line with an emphatic “I swear.” The repetition itself also adds emphasis.

You don’t know my name

With this line, the repetition of the sentence “it feels like you don’t know my name” is completed. We now understand that this is her main plight.

(Round and round and round we go, will you ever know)

The parentheses here imply that this is more or less a filler line, not a main line. It supports the main idea without really making a point of its own. It has a nice rhyme scheme though (“go” with “know”); the previous lines had lazy rhymes, where Keys simply rhymed “you”s and “crazy” with “baby.” The pairing of the rhyming words also matter. “Go” is a simple, generic, but proactive action that implies some sort of productivity, which here would be that her subject “know” her name. “Round and round and round we go” shows the unproductive state in which her love interest does not find out what her name is. It gets to be a bit frustrating; why doesn’t she just introduce herself? Perhaps we’ll find out.

Oh, baby, baby, baby

Another emphatically repeated line, same as above. Her affection for her subject is delineated. This could also be seen as an apostrophe, but realistically it’s more just a transition.

I see us on our first date

Of course, this is hypothetical. She’s playing this scenario out in her head. It’s worth noting that this is only the third line to start with the first person pronoun “I.” There isn’t much of an emphasis on the narrator’s self and much more on her subject, accentuating the theme that the subject doesn’t know her, but she knows him well. Here is also another enjambment that makes us wonder what she would like to do on their first date.

Doing everything that makes me smile

In this hypothetical situation, the narrator is much more focused on her own happiness. Because it is hypothetical, this happiness obviously isn’t real. There is a sense of futility on account of this.

When we had our first kiss

She’s even imagining their first kiss. There’s an almost schoolgirlish innocence that comes with the phrase “first kiss.”

It happened on a Thursday

Why a Thursday? It’s oddly specific and seems random, but it’s not. Thursday is the day before the weekend; instead of the sense of intense liberation that the image of a Friday or even a Saturday night conjures, Thursday evokes a feeling of anticipation for that freedom that will come tomorrow. Likewise, the narrator hasn’t actually had her first kiss with this guy; she’s wishing for it in her head.

Ooh it set my soul on fire

A nice metaphor here evocative of fierce, passionate love.

Ooh baby, baby, baby

She calls him “baby” a lot. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known use of the word “baby” as a term of endearment was in 1684.

I can’t wait for the first time

First time doing what? The vagueness leaves room for imagination. It could be construed as sexual, or we can take an approach that is closer to the matter at hand and say that she is talking about when her subject first learns her name.

My imagination’s running wild

We knew this from when she was imagining their first date, but she confirms it herself. She knows this behavior is abnormal. She is driven “wild” by her passion.

It feels like ooh

Here we go with the chorus. Notable enjambment here. She makes use of enjambment a lot, but here it specifically emphasizes the fact that she is unknown to the man she fell for, or rather that she feels that way.

You don’t know my name

See above.

And I swear it baby, it feels like ooh

An altered grammatical structure. She doesn’t just “swear,” she “[swears] it.” With her having said “it feels like” this many times, we should also question whether he actually doesn’t know her name or if he’s just not paying sufficient attention to her. Maybe he’s just not interested.

You don’t know my name

See above.

(Round and round and round we go, will you ever know)

See above.

I’m sayin’, he don’t even know what he’s doin’ to me

Two instances of g-dropping. The “he don’t” here is obviously incorrect subject-verb agreement, but it can be attributed to poetic license. We ask here: so what is he doing to her? It’s notable that she refers to him in the third person here, instead of in the second person, like she has been doing so far.

Got me feelin’ all crazy inside

And we find out what he’s doing to her. The subject of the sentence (“he”) isn’t expressed, which actually emphasizes it. Another g-dropping as well. Repetition of the word “crazy” from above.

I’m feelin’ like, oh

What is she “feelin'” like? Will she say she feels like he doesn’t know her name again?

Doing nothing I’ve ever done

This man must really be special. Almost a litote here, but there isn’t a double negative. The logic of the sentence is a little tangled, drawing the listeners’ attention to it.

For anyone’s attention

Our theory from the third line that her primary goal is to catch his attention was right. She explicitly confirms it here…

Take notice of what’s in front of you

…and here. In these two lines, she tells him that he’s special to her and is treating him as such.

‘Cause did I mention (oh)

She obviously didn’t mention whatever she is about to say.

You bout’ to miss a good thing

The verb is missing from the sentence, probably metri causa. After telling him in the previous lines that he is special, Keys reiterates that she is special: “a good thing.” She is also saying to him that he should feel flattered that someone so amazing (herself) is giving him special treatment.

And you’ll never know how good it feels

This is almost a threat. If only he would know her name.

To have, all of my affection

She would give him all of  her affection, if only he would know her name!

And you’ll never get a chance to experience, my lovin’ (oh)

A parallelism with the line two lines above this one. It’s also almost a threat. The two “never”s in a row make a very absolute negative.

‘Cause my lovin’ feels like

What does it feel like?

Ooh

She doesn’t tell us, or him (whom she is addressing). He’d have to find out himself, but he won’t, because…

You don’t know my name

Voilà.

And I swear it feels like

Ooh

You don’t know my name

You don’t know my name

Baby, baby I swear

It’s like

Ooh

You don’t know my name

It feels like

Ooh

And you don’t know my name

Here, in the actual song, the lyrics get blurred and confusing, but the main gist is that she is getting ready to wrap up the song by repeating the main idea.

And I swear on my mother and father it feels like

Is that really necessary? She must feel so strongly about this.

Ooh

Ooh

And she finishes off without saying what she “[swears] on her mother and father it feels like,” but we know what she would say. It feels like he doesn’t know her name. Now that we can answer this without Keys telling us herself, she definitely got her point across. She really feels like this guy doesn’t know her name.

Will you ever know?

The song ends on an open-ended note with a question. The pessimistic answer is that if she really feels like this and can’t even introduce herself, the asnswer to this is no. The optimistic answer is that if she’s as special and amazing as she implies, the answer to this is yes.

Alicia Keys via Her Twitter

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