100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #72: “The Joke” by Brandi Carlisle

The song at #72 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the stunning “The Joke” by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlisle. Written as a comment on the sociopolitical climate following the 2016 US presidential election, the song is a deeply poignant ode to the delicate boys and striving girls who continue to struggle in our society. In an interview with NPR, Carlisle explained her inspiration for writing the song: “There are so many people feeling misrepresented. So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in…so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.”

Carlisle has a commanding voice and her stirring, passionate vocals on on this song send chills up and down my spine. Hearing her sing the defiant lyrics in her beautiful voice, backed by haunting piano keys and soaring instrumentals highlighted by gorgeous strings courtesy of the late Paul Buckmaster (a music genius who arranged Carlisle’s album By The Way, I Forgive You, as well as such legendary recordings as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and many of Elton John’s early hits), is a religious experience indeed.

“The Joke” was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award in four categories, including Record and Song of the Year, and won for Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance.

You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

3 thoughts on “100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #72: “The Joke” by Brandi Carlisle

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