Psychopaths in Song

It’s our sixth article in the space of 24 hours – which is insane. But if you can stomach one more, here’s a musical interlude… 

Psychopaths, they’re everywhere. At work. In government. On the telly. And in music, too. There are many songs out there that were clearly written with psychopaths in mind – and many others which probably weren’t but which fit the theme nonetheless.
The following is a list of ten very well-known songs by ten very well-known artists, from a variety of genres and eras, that – as I am going to argue – are all about psychopathy. You are invited to listen to them while reading and decide for yourself whether I am right.

Blank Space – Taylor Swift (2014)

Let’s face it, Taylor Swift basically admits to being a psychopath in Blank Space – especially if the rumours are true that this is actually how her relationships proceed. Among the best lines are: “I can show you incredible things: magic, madness, heaven, sin”; “Boys only want love if it’s torture”; “I can read you like a magazine”; “Love’s a game, wanna play?”; “I’ll find out what you want, be that girl for a month, but the worst is yet to come”, “You’ll come back each time you leave, cos darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream”. Even the title says it all: a blank space in an empty soul waiting to be filled by some unsuspecting sucker.

Cry, Cry, Cry – Johnny Cash (1957)

This one’s told from the perspective of an unhappy – and irritatingly moralising – husband of a female psychopath. The song is a warning about the consequences of the psychopath’s promiscuous and dishonest behaviour – the implication being that if she carries on as she’s going, she’ll end up completely alone:

“When your fickle love gets old, no one will care for you
Then you’ll come back to me for a little love that’s true
I’ll tell you no and you’re gonna ask me why, why, why
When I remind you of all of this and you’ll cry, cry, cry”

Gee, that sounds horrible. Maybe I should listen to what Mr. Cash is saying and take heed.
I probably won’t.

Come Fly With Me – Frank Sinatra (1964)

OK, so this one isn’t actually anything to do with psychopaths – but it could be. It reflects the initial seduction phase of our relationships down to a tee. The joy of infatuation, the beauty of the exotic Other, the ‘sky’s the limit’ promises, and the whisking away of the target from everyone she knows – it’s all here. Not surprising really; as a probable psychopath himself, Sinatra knew what he was talking about.

Grenade – Bruno Mars (2010)

In short, this is about being in love with somebody who couldn’t care less about you. The narrator has been manipulated to the point where he would do absolutely anything for the psychopath in his life – even though he knows the psychopath wouldn’t lift a finger for him. From the lyrics: “If my body was on fire, you’d watch me burn down in flames.” But Bruno Mars is probably not singing from personal experience: just look at that man; would you be able to hurt those sad puppy dog eyes? Mind you, his girlfriend’s pretty hot too, so she could do even better.

I’m Still Standing – Elton John (1983)

Though this is primarily a song about survival and recovery – and shows that people can grow enormously after dealings with a psychopath – there are a few lines that suggest the sort of person John was singing about, especially the first verse:

“You could never know what it’s like
Your blood like winter freezes just like ice
And there’s a cold and lonely light that shines from you
You will wind up like the wreck you hide behind that mask you use”

Despite the song’s joyful melody, I can certainly sense a deep bitterness behind the lyrics’ bravado. Much like the spiel of our good friends over at Psychopathy Awareness. Maybe it’s time they took a leaf out of Idina Menzel’s book.

Killer Queen – Queen (1974)

According to the band, the killer queen in question is a high class escort, but there are some strong psychopathic overtones about her character too. Not only is she “well-versed in etiquette” and speaks “just like a baroness” (when she needs to), she’s also “guaranteed to blow your mind”, “playful (or faithful, depending on who you believe) as a pussy cat” and has an “insatiable appetite”. So here we have the temptation of the ‘bad girl’ (or bad boy) psychopath laid bare, even after you know what she is.
Wanna try?
You wanna try.
Special shout out to Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy as well, for showing the other end of the charm spectrum: the perfectly polished gentleman lover.

Love The Way You Lie – Eminem (ft. Rihanna) (2010)

We’re a long way from the gentleman psychopath here; instead this one’s barely keeping a lid on his rage. Luckily for him, Rihanna’s addicted and though she keeps leaving, she never stays away for long. In her refrain, there’s more “watch[ing] me burn” and we learn she loves the pain. Yeah, you take it.
In Eminem’s bit, he fakes being sorry over the number of times he’s promised to change but lied (“Sound like broken records playing over but you promised her”), he blames his girl for being just as bad as he is (“Your temper’s just as bad… you’re just the same as me”) and then finally comes clean about his true self: “I know I’m a liar. If she ever tries to fucking leave again, Imma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire”.
Girl, you’ve scored!

Master of Puppets – Metallica (1986)

A song all about control. There really are fewer things finer than exercising power over somebody else, either overtly or covertly, and here Metallica capture it perfectly. There’s the ecstasy of power, but there’s also its brutality and all-consuming addictiveness. And the song goes even further. For the more power you have over somebody, the less they cease to be an individual, more just an extension of yourself, a toy. A word of warning, for your current and future dealings with psychopaths: you’d better obey your master.

She’s Always A Woman – Billy Joel (1977)

Another female psychopath- you’re doing well here, ladies! But this one is a bit different. Here, the singer seems fully aware of what his lover is. He describes her in fine detail: she’s a liar, she’s a thief, she’s manipulative, she’s selfish, she’s cruel – but she’s also fragile, child-like, intelligent, persevering, charming and brings out the best – and worst – in you. And this is what the singer truly believes. Because, despite (or perhaps because of?) her psychopathic characteristics, he is head over heels in love. Could that stem from the realisation, with “the most she can do is throw shadows at you” (she can only hurt you if you let her), that really she’s harmless?

The Devil Went Down To Georgia – The Charlie Daniels Band (1979)

Here we are at the end, with the ultimate psychopath. It’s Old Scratch himself! There are two levels to my reasoning for this song’s inclusion – well, three, this song’s freaking awesome! But the two important levels are (i) the concept of soul-stealing, the Devil’s favourite hobby, is very similar to the topic I outlined above with Metallica’s help: total possession of somebody else. When I was a young kid, I convinced dozens of my classmates to ‘give me their souls’ à la Bart Simpson, and I treasured the power it gave me over them, both perceived (in my child’s brain) and real (the other kids bought into the fantasy too). Anyway, that’s a tangent. The other level to my reasoning is (ii) the cunningness of the devil. He ‘loses’ the game and plays a far inferior fiddle solo to the young boy Johnny. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s already played on the boy’s pride in order to trick him into gambling with his immortal soul – sacrilege, which is a carnal sin. The best part of all this? Johnny goes away thinking he’s won. He taunts the Devil, and tries to humiliate him further by replaying his winning solo. But when he dies, the Devil will get the last, cruel, delicious laugh. Because Johnny’s a sinner. And he’s going to burn.

So there you have it

What do you think, am I on the mark? Are there any I missed?
(On that subject, here’s a list, some gleaned from online, others from off the top of my head, of some other well-known songs reportedly about psychopaths. Because I’m so generous, I’ve included a link to every song…  except one. Bonus prize for finding the dud!
Oh and pretty much anything by Chris Brown. You know why.)
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