This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #84: Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The story of “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs has gone on to become one of the great musical stories since Y2K. The song, itself, is about unrequited love and how, when we are younger, we tend to measure our own self-worth by how we are reflected in the eyes of others. As songs go, “Maps” is a catchy tune and was a modest hit for Yeah Yeah Yeahs when it was first released in the early 2000s. But, what makes the story of “Maps” stand out in such a grand way has little to do with the quality of the song but, more, it has to do with the music video that accompanies the song. I will get into that in a moment but, for now, all I will say is that the live video captured a moment that was as real as real can be. It was something that touched the hearts of almost all of the twenty-somethings who watched it happen and felt as though their own experiences mirrored the lead singer, Karen O., perfectly. It was a moment that influenced fellow music stars like Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce; causing them to sample the song in their own future work. It was a moment that the New Music Express Magazine in the UK characterized as the most romantic music moment of all-time……and, it was all captured live. Here is the story of “Maps”.
In the early, heady days of this countdown, we profiled the Yeah Yeah Yeahs before. To review, they were a New York area band that came together around the year 2000 and were part of a wave of new bands along with The Strokes, The White Stripes, Interpol and so on, that came to be known as the Post Punk Revival scene by music critics. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a trio and were lead by charismatic lead singer, Karen O., guitarist, Nick Zinner and drummer, Brian Chase. The band had several hits in the Indie/Alternative music scene but, it was the song, “Maps” that has become their calling card.
If you can think back to your own life in your early twenties, you were probably finished with school and out into the world. Depending on your life choices, you were probably starting a career, seeing bit of the world, meeting new people, trying out new things and, if all went well, falling in love. For some folks, those days were the best days of their lives because of the limitless range of possibilities arrayed before them. For others, those were worrisome times, filled with decisions that can seem very weighty and life-altering. Regardless of where you fell on that spectrum of twenty-somethingness, we were able to find our way in our own good time, away from the prying eyes of the media and the glare of a public spotlight. That wasn’t the case for Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Karen is an attractive woman. As is often the case with female stars who look as good as they sing or act or dance or whatever they do, Karen O.’s love life was the subject of tabloid gossip in NYC, especially. It couldn’t have been easy to look for love under those circumstances. So, as often happens with celebrity-types, Karen O. met the lead singer of another band and the two of them began dating. The idea of celebrities dating each other is, sometimes, seen as a marketing tool used to advance their careers by making each of them seem desirable and more interesting than they may have been seen otherwise. But, at other times, it takes a fellow celebrity to understand the pressures a star operates under, the creative processes at play in producing new material and so on. Sometimes, a fellow celebrity is the only one who can truly understand and appreciate what each other is going through. And so, Karen O., of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs began dating a man named Angus Andrews of a band called, Liars. They dated for over a year before the moment their relationship became immortalized in a song called, “Maps”.
“Maps” is an acronym. It stands for “My Angus, Please Stay”. After dating for awhile and falling in love and becoming comfortable in each other’s company, Karen O. and Angus Andrews came to a fork in the road, as it were. Both were heading out on world tours with their bands; travelling to different places over a time frame that would see them separated for over a year. Knowing the business as they did and not having as much confidence in their relationship as she should have, Karen O. felt as though these tours were going to be the end of their relationship. She did not want that to happen so, she wrote Angus a song that is, in essence, a declaration of love and a plea for fidelity. That song was “Maps”.
What made “Maps” so noteworthy was how Karen O. presented the song. She wanted to present the song live, as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were recording it for a music video. It was all going to be straight-forward enough….on the day before they were to leave for their tours and go their separate ways for a year, Karen O. invited Angus Andrews to watch her make this special video. He had no idea it was to be a love song for him. On the day of the shoot, a professional crew was assembled, lighting was arranged, the sound system tuned, professional make-up people were hired, a stage crew assembled and so on. Because this was such an intensely personal moment for Karen O., she refused to sing the song until Andrews arrived. She wanted the moment he heard the song to be the first time it was sung aloud in public. So, Karen O. and the band and the crew waited for Angus Andrews to arrive. They waited and waited and waited….for hours and hours. Angus Andrews was not showing up. Finally, the director of the video had had enough. Everyone was tired and frustrated with hanging around. They just wanted the shoot done so they could go home. The director went to Karen O. and told her that it was go-time, regardless of whether her young man was in attendance or not. He reminded her that she was a star and a professional and that she needed to suck it up and get out there. He, also, told her he was sorry and hugged her, too.
When you watch the video, you will see it start with the moment the director starts calling for quiet, asking for the lights to dim and then, cuing the band to start the song. All through the performance, Karen O. sings in her typically strong voice but, in her eyes, she is searching for Angus Andrews….and he is not there. All of the emotion of the moment shines through in her eyes as she begins to accept what is happening. The tears she cries were real. The video captures a moment when someone likeable has their heart broken.
Reaction to the video was swift. The world swooned. Then, they rushed to Karen O.’s defence. Poor Angus Andrews, who had no idea she had planned this for him and, consequently, had no idea that he was breaking her heart, live, on camera, suddenly found himself as Public Enemy #1. As it turned out, he did show up about three hours later, ready to have a nice final evening together. Karen O. was compelled to issue a statement exonerating her beau in order to ensure his safety from her fans who were ready to pulverize him for what they perceived that he did. But, even though they went on their tours, ended up breaking up with each other and then, years later, both found love with other people and lived happily ever after, of a sorts, the legend of Karen O.’s breaking heart has been immortalized for all time in the form of the video for a song called, “Maps”.
As mentioned off of the top, this song and video had a massive impact; especially, on female singers, as the rest of the 2000s unfolded. There are countless numbers of women who watched what Karen O. tried to do with her song and the grace with which she pushed through with her performance, even though she was so disappointed and emotional, that she became a bit of a feminist icon as a result. The old, “You can’t count on a man to make your life worthwhile, you can only count on yourself” mantra became a rallying cry than manifested itself in the songs like, “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson (which is about gaining personal strength by being rid of a guy who was dragging her down), in which, Clarkson samples the complete guitar riff used in “Maps” for her own song. On Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album (which was inspired by the infidelity of her husband, Jay-Z), she used the entire chorus from “Maps” in her song, “Hold Up”. In fact, the chorus of “Maps”, at only nine words in total, has become a popular phrase for lovers to have tattooed. The chorus reads:
They won’t love you like I love you.”
Public declarations of love for another tread a fine line between being cringe-worthy and being breathtakingly beautiful. When it comes to Karen O. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” places her squarely on the sympathetic side. That it didn’t work out but she persevered anyway just adds to the mythic nature of who Karen O. turned out to be. And, who she turned out to be is a singer and a wife and a writer and a dancer and an all-around good person who is living her best life, out of the spotlight, except for when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs tour, which they are still doing today.
So, without further delay, here is “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It is one of the most iconic videos in the last quarter century. If this is your first time watching it, just know in your heart that what you are watching was live and you are seeing it as it actually happened. In that light, the video is quite something. So, get ready. Here is “Maps”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, can be found here.
The link to the video for the history of the song and how influential it became, can be found here.
The link to the official website for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP> for helping to inspire the writing of this post. I may not have ever come to know the story of this story, had it not been for its inclusion on your own countdown list. so, thanks. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.