As an experimental post-punk reggae-rock band, The Police were like the U.S. basic cable adaptation of a sophisticated European police procedural (in this forced analogy: Simple Minds or Adam and the Ants), in that they possessed all the glamor and gravitas without any of that complicated subtext or layers. "Roxanne" is just about a guy wanting a sex worker to stop sex working. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is just about a boy being in love with a mysterious girl -- the reason his love is "tragic" isn't subtext but because Sting couldn't find another word that rhymed with "magic:"
So how could it be, then, that Sting and The Police, a band not even its most ardent fans (most of whom are also appropriately called Karen) would credit with being master lyricists, were responsible for writing one of the most coded, diversely interpreted and often-debated song lyrics in the history of music? I'm talking, of course, about "Every Breath You Take," the song an entire generation either lost their virginity to or their innocence.
Written, according to Sting, in half an hour in the middle of the night, "Every Breath You Take" became a hit because of its simplicity. On the surface, it's a very straightforward broken heart song about a man who just can't bear to be apart from his love, obsessed with "every move you make" and "every smile you fake" when they're not together. Between the softness of Sting's voice and the easy cadence of the chord progression, it has become one of the most popular love songs of all time; exactly the kind of slow dance mainstay you'll find on every wedding DJ playlist. But the truth behind the song might be more awkward. And I mean '"ting having to listen to Jose Feliciano cover 'Every Breath You Take'" levels of awkwardness.
Ask any contrarian music hipster, and they'll point out that those lovey-dovey couples are actually grinding their groins to the creepiest stalker song of all time. (Quite an achievement in a world where Lionel Ritchie's "Hello" is in the mix). Countless music articles have been written about how the song with lyrics like "Every step you take/I'll be watching you" and "Oh baby can't you see/You belong to me" might as well be the theme tune to dysfunctional relationships, its warm tune and vocals undercutting incel-laden lyrics that would fit better 4chan green text being read out on CNN Breaking News than a married's couple's first dance routine.
So which of the two is it: slightly intense love song or the overture in an opera about Facebook stalking? According to Sting, it's … both? Neither? The singer-songwriter (who claims sole writing credit for the $20-million-in-royalties-flushed-song) has changed his sex-pest story more times than his wife has to change towels during their twenty-hour tantric sex sessions. Sometimes Sting claims it was all an accident, sometimes that it was intentionally unsettling, and other times that it's an even more clever allegory about the Cold War-era surveillance state. (GTFOH)
But the closest to the truth are the following facts: Sting wrote "Every Breath You Take" in its entirety as a love song right after waking up in the middle of the night. It was only after having written it that he realized how the lyrics sounded. He also wrote the song while having a "mental breakdown" because of the disintegration of his first marriage. If he didn't intend to write a stalker song, he sure was thinking very stalkerish thoughts when he was writing it.
And is there anything more thematically appropriate than accidentally letting your own romantic obsessions seep into your innocent romantic intentions? Like the border between love and obsession, it's sometimes impossible to see where the line is until you crossed. "Every Breath You Take" is both a love song and a stalker song, both intentional and unintentional -- an even more genius allegory about romantic feelings in a way I doubt the guy who couldn't think to near-rhyme "magic" with "manic" or "classic" could've done on purpose.
Cedric has been called the Sting of social media in that it takes him forever to post anything. You can follow him on Twitter.
Top Image: A&M