‘Blinding Lights’ and English Grammar

12 March 2020

Blinding Lights, by Canadian performer The Weeknd, is one of the most popular songs in the world.

As of early March, Blinding Lights is at the top of music service Shazam's Global Top 200 list of popular songs. It is also on the Top Hits 2020 list of Spotify, another music service.

Today on Everyday Grammar, we will explain the grammar behind the name of the song and some of its lyrics.

The title

Let us begin by examining the song's title: Blinding Lights. The most important word is lights. It is the plural form of the noun light.

In English, only certain kinds of words come before nouns. Often, the word that comes before a noun is an adjective.

The word blinding is an adjective. It helps modify, or change the meaning, of the noun lights.

The grammatical pattern we find in the song's title would be the same if the adjective changed. In other words, the pattern would still be adjective + noun.

The title could have been flashing lights, blinking lights or bright lights. But those titles are not nearly as strong as blinding lights.

This term suggests that the lights overpower a person. Blinding means so bright or strong that a person cannot see.

This idea is important in a song that talks about strong feelings of loneliness and sadness.

It is also an important idea for a song set in Las Vegas, Nevada – a city known for strong lights and all kinds of nightlife.

We know the song takes place in Las Vegas because the singer uses another name for the city: Sin City. The term appears in the song:

I look around and Sin City's cold and empty

Different kinds of English

Now let's listen to more of the song.

I been tryna call

The words "I been tryna call" are a kind of informal speech.

The statement might become clearer with a few more words:

I have been trying to call.

This is an example of what English teachers call the present perfect progressive. The singer suggests that an event – a telephone call – took place in the past. The Weeknd suggests he has tried calling many other times up until just recently.

Often, when English speakers use the present perfect progressive, they also say an amount of time that they have been doing that activity.

For example, you might hear someone say:

Tom has been dancing for two hours.

This suggests that Tom began dancing two hours ago – and continues dancing in the present.

Note that in Blinding Lights, the singer did not give a specific amount of time. He suggests that he has been trying to call a person. He does not say for how long – perhaps hours, days or even weeks.

Now, let's compare the two lines:

I been tryna call.

I have been trying to call.

In the song, the word have is missing. The Weeknd also combines the words trying to.

So, I have been becomes I been and trying to becomes tryna.

You will hear this manner of speaking in all kinds of popular culture – songs, films and so on. You might also occasionally see it in nonfiction writing that has reported speech.

Closing thoughts

But a word of warning. You should not use some of the ideas that we discussed today on an English exam. For example, teachers and test graders want to see the words trying to instead of tryna.

However, if you like listening to music or watching films in English, you should learn to understand how some speakers use different kinds of English.

We will end with a few words from the song:

I been tryna call

I been on my own for long enough

Maybe you can show me how to love, maybe...

I'm John Russell.

John Russell wrote this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

grammar – n. the system and structure of a language

lyric – n. usually plural the words of a song

title – n. the name of book, play or work of art

pluraladj. involving more than one

certain adj. fixed; known for sure

pattern – n. the regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done

sin – n. wrongdoing; criminal behavior

informal adj. of or related to something unstructured or unofficial

manner – n. a way in which things are done

nonfictionadj. writing that is based on facts, real people and events

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