A Snail Mail Analysis – By Caroline Hullman

“Pristine” by Snail Mail

Pristine (1) Untraced by the world
outside you (2) Anyways (3)

I’ll never get real (4) And you’ll never change to me
’cause I’m not looking (5) Anyways (6)

Same night Same humility for those
that love you Anyways, anyways

And if you do find someone better
(7) I’ll still see you in everything
Tomorrow and all the time (8)

And don’t you like me for me? (9) Is there any better
feeling than coming clean? (10) And I know myself
and I’ll never love anyone else (11) I won’t love
anyone else I’ll never love anyone else (12)

It just feels like The same party
every weekend (13) Doesn’t it?
Doesn’t it? (14)

And if you do find someone better I’ll
still see you in everything For always,
tomorrow and all the time

Don’t you like me for me? Is there any better
feeling than coming clean? And I know myself
and I’ll never love anyone else I won’t love
anyone else I’ll never love anyone else

If it’s not supposed to be Then
I’ll just let it be (15) And out
of everyone Be honest with
me (16) Who do you change
for? (17) Who’s top of your
world? (18) And out of
everyone
Who’s your type of girl? (19) And
we can be anything Even apart
(20) And out of everything It
doesn’t have to be this hard (21) I
could be anyone (22) But I’m so
entwined (23) And out of
everyone Who’s on your mind?
And no more changes (24) I’ll
still love you the same (25)

 

“Pristine” opens with a clear-cut, and energetic yet pensive chord that rings out self-assuredly. The strumming pattern stretches one’s mind, especially upon first listen, surprising the listener with unsuspected dominant strums. The guitar seems to be building tension, leading somewhere, but remains calm so as to set the scene for Jordan’s initial words—they are an objective description, characterized by vocal restraint.

  1. The first word of the song, “pristine”, is dramatic, especially because Jordan vocally draws it out. At the same time, however, she pours a certain energy into it, as if she is eager to expound upon its meaning in the next line. The word “pristine” essentially connotes perfection— what could possibly earn this description of extreme praise? Thus, this first word sets the tone for the melodrama that characterizes the rest of the song. This melodrama, however, is rooted in something incredibly genuine and self-aware.
  1. The second line briefly clarifies why “pristine” is an apt descriptor for the person to whom this song is addressed. The “you” retains a certain purity—not an immature innocence or lack of interaction with the external “world”, but rather a quality of being distinct from the disingenuous facades others wear and the vapid social arena that surrounds Jordan (given Jordan’s age, it’s safe to assume the social context of typical teenager-world). Jordan admires the self-assurance that the “you” possesses, or the way that the “you” is his or herself, independent of external influence. It’s not so much that the “you” is literally unflawed (although may be in Jordan’s eyes still), but instead that the “you” is a cleansing presence against the backdrop of bland, repetitive white noise—and this is beautiful to Jordan. The “you” likely offers, though, traits that are particularly beloved by Jordan in and of themselves. Demonstrated by all of the extrapolated meaning that is packed into this one line, Jordan expresses a sentiment that speaks strongly to those who have felt such an admiring devotion to one singular person—whether justified or not—in a way that’s intensified by a distaste for what seems to be otherwise omnipresent. It’s clear, then, why a person who feels like a breath of fresh air seems “untraced” by the world outside him or her and is put on a pedestal (Jordan is simultaneously dramatic and rational). Maybe this line appeals to cynics, or those who have a clear understanding of what they look for in people and what severely irritates them about their social environment.
  1. “Anyways” becomes almost humorous against the tone of exaggeration in the first two lines. “Anyways” is Jordan’s way of shrugging off her serious thoughts for a moment, accepting that she is out of control when it comes to her relationship with the “you”. Or, she may even be shrugging off her frustration with the “world” that surrounds her and this other person—a sort of verbal eye-roll. Jordan has the self-awareness to realize that her previous train of thought was humorously futile (it gets her nowhere to moon over this one person or be that frustrated with what surrounds her), albeit genuine. Alternatively, Jordan seems to use “anyways” as a pivot from her—although packed with meaning—relatively tranquil description of her subject to a burst of energy and emotion. It’s the calm before the storm, the step in the opposite direction before she turns around and realizes she has more pent up inside her, ready to spill.
  1. Is this line realistic or unrealistic? This question is the central tension of the song. Never “getting real” is literally unrealistic, but having the self-awareness to point out that she’ll never “get real” is attuned to the truth—she knows her state of mind is a choice, but for now she wants to wallow in her emotions. 
  2. She acknowledges that the subject of her affection might change, alluding to the idea that this person might become or even currently be flawed (in contrast to “pristine”), but she refuses to see it. The stubbornness might seem juvenile, but it’s actually quite a realistic picture of what many (mature) people feel when they are broken up with by someone they love or want someone they admire so deeply.
  1. Again, Jordan uses “anyways” to lighten up for just a moment—to take a step back and acknowledge her stubborn attitude and joke about it, maybe to preserve some sanity with humor and acceptance.
  1. Here, Jordan recognizes the possibility that the “you”—clearly a person she has unrequited feelings for— might find someone else other than her. In this way, Jordan is realistic. She is a bit self-deprecating, though, implying that this other person would be “better” than her objectively, when actually someone else might just be better suited for her ex-lover. However, this is how it feels to Jordan. And after all, aren’t all feelings technically a reality of sorts?
  1. Jordan swears that the subject of her affection is omnipresent in her thoughts and the way she interacts with the world around her. She’s convinced that this person lingers within her and is thus projected onto everything she sees—she is reminded of this person constantly, somehow. She doesn’t care that her feelings are unrequited. Her voice soars when she sings “all the time”, rising with frustration and passion, in no way discouraged from outpouring emotion, although doing so is evidently futile. It’s ambiguous as to whether there’s almost a part of Jordan, because she loves this person, that is somehow accepting—welcoming—of the fact that her feelings are unchanging. Rather than being unable to let go because she doesn’t want to, she can’t let go, and because she can’t, she doesn’t want to. She can’t control how her heart forces this person to the center of her vision.
  1. Jordan asks this question with genuine intent, but also acknowledges the juvenile tone—the question sounds like something a seventh grader might ask to a crush. However, with a pounding emphasis on the “don’t” (her biting consonants, the fullness of the instrumental), Jordan seems to be begging for some sort of truth to be revealed—she questions the legitimacy of the affection she used to receive. Was it real? In this song, Jordan is digging for the demarcation between reality and imagination. She hopes she is loved for who she is, rather than a perceived image.
  1. Jordan craves transparency—and makes it felt with her punchy strums and vocal melody. She practically demands it with this question. It feels as if she’s addressing this question to someone who is obviously withholding some sort of emotional truth, as it relates to their relationship. She also seems to be asking herself this question: she knows that stripping down her feelings to their core is what’s best for her. Her urgency and assertiveness is infectious to the listener.
  1. Perhaps one of the most powerful lines of the song, Jordan is relentlessly honest. She refuses for her feelings to be minimized—they’re larger than life, which Jordan knows is both ridiculous and painfully true. This idea is at the crux of Jordan’s outpouring: Jordan is emotionally mature enough to know the trajectory of her emotions. Jordan beautifully mixes irony and sincerity in this line—the line can be interpreted as ironic or sincere, or both at the same time. This fusion is what makes the line so rich with emotional truth. On the one hand, at her age, it seems unlikely that Jordan will never love anyone else, and that therefore she is simply wailing out of heartbreak. Thus, Jordan is skillfully using humor to cope with the felt scale of her pain. On the other hand, Jordan may be partly serious, as we all are when we try make light of a hurting that runs so deep—laughing it off, identifying some empty silver lining. Jordan uses humor as a vehicle for honesty—promising that she’s being ironic allows her to get the words out of her mouth that deep down, she really does feel.
  1. Jordan’s voice rises, repeating the sentiment that she’ll never love anyone else. Her devotion is thus emphasized, and allows the listener to climb right alongside her overflowing emotions. 
  2. Stemming from a very literal experience (she found herself ending up at the same Dunkin’ Donuts after lackluster parties every weekend), Jordan laments the repetitious nature of her weekends. Although this line is a divergence from the emotional core of this song, it gives further context for the state of mind that lends to Jordan’s profound affection.
  1. Jordan’s frustration builds as she sings “Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?”. The words emerge through audibly gritted teeth, and in the mind’s eye, tightly shut eyes.
  1. After the groundswell of frustration and longing released throughout the song and especially the previous line, the emotional chaos slows and collects itself. The instrumental pulse is alive and driven forward, but redesigns the landscape slightly. There is a literal stirring in the guitar’s melody, reflective of the Jordan rearranging thoughts in her mind. It is here that Jordan comes in with newfound clarity and a reinvigorated attempt to explain all that she feels and means. She expresses her resignation to the reality that her relationship might not be meant to last, or was never meant to begin at all. She throws her hands up, saying that she’ll no longer try to control what she cannot control. She’s calm and clear-headed, trying to assert maturity, but her voice rises, signaling that her resignation is not final, and not all that simple. The depth of her feeling won’t allow for that much simplicity. 
  2. Jordan expects better from the subject of her affection—the label of being “pristine” should mean that this person is honest with her, genuine, and communicative. Most of all, she wants this person to be rid any sort of self-imposed mask, so that all the admirable qualities she knows the other person possesses can be visible. She’s practically begging, desperately hoping that this person really is distinct from everyone else.
  1. Jordan knows the person she’s speaking to, but doesn’t know who that person becomes around other people. It confuses her, she wants the truth: who does she know? Does she know the person she thinks she knows, or is some fignment, some constructed, false depiction that doesn’t represent the entirety of the human before her?
  1. She wants to know—who reigns supreme in this person’s mind? Who drives the act, the facade? Who drives the lack thereof? Is it Jordan, or is it really just someone else? Who is the thing that makes life feel important, forward-moving? At this point, Jordan is meditating on this person’s intentions and relationships with others.
  1. Jordan depicts a massive sea of people in which she stands at the center, hoping the spotlight shines down on her. She acknowledges that people are all different from one another, and wants to know if she fits the other person’s “type”—it feels as if she’ll do anything to make the answer “yes”. That said, it also feels genuinely inquisitive, probing in a sarcastic way— “is she really your type?” or “does she really reflect who you are?”.
  1. This is where Jordan’s words begin to tug forcefully at the heartstrings. Jordan notes the obstacle of distance, but pleadingly offers a solution—labels aren’t necessary to define the profound connection Jordan has or once had with her love. It sounds desperate, but it’s true: as long as there’s a “we”, that “we” can naturally take shape without the bounds of descriptive terms. Jordan seems to be passing the reins to the other person, emphasizing the limitlessness of “anything”. Her voice climbs again, tumbling into the next line..
  1. Jordan collects her emotion and pours it into this idea: her relationship with the other person doesn’t have to be difficult. Mirroring the idealistic nature of the descriptor “pristine”, Jordan imagines a future with her lover that is no longer fraught with complication. She sees some sort of out for all the difficulties that plague the relationship currently.
  1. Jordan believes she can contort to fit any mold—it almost becomes a joke with herself (assuring the listener of self-awareness), as she sometimes sings “Oh, I could be anyone” when performing. “Oh, come on!” you can almost hear her saying, unapologetically throwing a mini-tantrum to achieve some level of catharsis. She very quickly, however, exterminates the overly-idealistic tone.
  1. Jordan’s voice dips into an unsuspected low, letting “so” ooze out of her rich deeper range. This melodic descent allows her to pull back and acknowledge a limiting reality to her vision of morphing into anyone “anyone” in order to win the affection of her ex-lover. Jordan is “entwined” with something she refuses to explicitly name, potentially implying that she is entwined with something difficult to articulate, or something that transcends a singular identifier. Jordan may be entwined with her inherent identity as—tragically—herself. More largely, Jordan may be referring to the tree-roots tangle of reality constraining her emotional thrashing. In this way, this line exudes passion (resistance against obstacles to her love), and a somber glimpse of Jordan’s honest introspection. Alternatively, Jordan may be entwined Arguably, the beauty of this line stems from is ambiguity; from the ambiguity comes an opportunity for the line to resonate with a multitude of listeners.
  1. Jordan alludes to a series of changes that have plagued her relationship. These changes refer to a tumultuous connection—one characterized by many intense moments of bliss and understanding and just as many moments of disillusionment and uncertainty with regard to the other. At Jordan’s age, in particular, things are unstable: friends change, conception of self changes, view of others changes, ambitions change, priorities change, and even the physical setting of one’s life—or a lover’s life—may function like tectonic plates. Jordan shuts that out, single handedly dismantling the power of said instability, to deliver one final promise: 
  2. Here, the listener believes it.

 

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