Love is a great theme in music. For such a universal and idyllic quality, the theme has a lot of depth. Or at least, I think so. It is the most common subject for music, and every other artistic medium. Sure, it is easy to think about countless pop songs that sing about the joy, the loss, and the pain of love and get disillusioned by the idea. It does certainly seem to be a manufactured emotion the record executives sell us, but I refuse to be cynical about the subject. I believe we can still go to new places, and even skew known territory.
Despite the theme’s saturation within every known outlet of humanity, love can still appear in surprising forms. In 2008, when I first heard “Courtship Dating,” I was immediately transfixed by the song. The production and danceable aesthetics were catchy. I initially was drawn in by the musical arrangement of the song. I’m not the biggest fan of synth-pop, but I know what I like when I hear it. “Courtship Dating” is full of dark, smoky energy that exudes mystery. The static energy of the drum machine and low synth rhythm paints the dance floor black. Over the backing track, Alice Glass’ vocals add another layer of intensity to the track. Screams are muted and words are muffled. The lyrics are nearly indiscernible and it feels that Glass is lost in a pitch black nightmarish dreamscape.
I listened to this song for years without looking up the lyrics. I could make out about half and that was enough for me. “Courtship Dating” is almost as terrifying as it is sexy and alluring. Diving deeper into the abyss of the track would make me more susceptible to the traps within.
After hearing a relatively recent Crystal Castle track, I revisited “Courtship Dating” and decided to research the song. In an interview with The Independent, Glass said the song “”is about human taxidermy, the idea of preserving the beauty of a lover the way you would an animal.” And the lyrics certainly reflect that. Reading through them adds new elements to the track and certainly shaped my perception of what I was listening to.
Glass effectively reduces the concept of love to its purest animalistic state and puts it on a perverse display. With her partner with a smile that brings disease, Glass conveys human interaction as a bestial act with strong allusions towards animal lust and the natural physicality of sex. Glass reduces human sexual interaction to its basic instincts in such a poetic and deep way. Since its release seven years ago, I had just now fully realized the environment I was immersed in and it made me appreciate the song and its inherent themes even more.
Consider what Glass said about the song. She states that the song is primarily about preservation. There are millions of songs about holding onto love and staying in the here and now. Nothing new about that, but there is a bigger picture here Glass is painting. Can you remember the last time you really looked at a taxidermy animal? I mean, actually look at it closely? They are horrifying. You are looking at a ghost; a skewed and perverted representation of a living being. Animals don’t look like that. There is something otherworldly and alien about a taxidermy. So, applied to the act of animalistic carnal relations present in the song, the concept of love is criticized.
“Courtship Dating” is a revealing and disturbing critique of love. Most songs about love take a particular moment, relationship, or feeling and imposes an everlasting, eternal quality. To them, something so beautiful should and will last forever; a love for the ages. However, that is not the case. This taxidermy love is a ghostly, synthetic representation. It has no life. There is no spirit there because it left a long time ago. Considering that, the screams layered throughout the song take on a whole new meaning representing either an orgasmic release, pain, or death.
“Courtship Dating” is an underappreciated single from an even more underappreciated band. Crystal Castles does an excellent job at masking the true meaning of the song and thus luring the listener into a false reality. The dark overtones are heavy, but eagerly welcomed in a world that worships nostalgia.