Emeli Sandé is singing to herself. To her own talent, to be more exact. We watch from above as she walks into a warehouse. The man next to her — as she sings her song — drums. He keeps the beat. The paint on the floor is worn through. In a palette of blacks and greys, she wears a brick-colored trench coat.
This is a zombie apocalypse love song. The end has come. Everyone has lost their heads around us. We have spoilt the land and dried up all the sea. Flood lights snap off. A wash of red. It’s just us two and this piano and drum kit and who knows what’s outside those warehouse walls. The rising pressure makes it hard to breathe. But still, the chorus insists, this is romantic. He’s still here. Next to me. Drumming.
It’s summer anthem time. This year, it’s not a steamy, maybe-this-summer song. It’s not a let me show you the wild side like we’re gonna die young kind of song. These latter are usually what I want in a summer anthem. Something to let loose to. But it has been a big, hard-driving kind of year. Last summer seems a world away. This year’s song is not about joyful release, or not just about that. Class may be out, but Emeli Sandé and I are taking stock. What the hell just happened? Who’s still standing?
Sometimes pop songs are best when they rub against themselves, bubblegum and misery all at once. The lyrics of Next To Me describe a man’s enduring heterosexual monogamous fidelity. He doesn’t gamble or drink or cheat or leave. He’s downright square. And yet the song seems not about settling down but about busting out. Emeli and her drummer take off their jackets and throw them on the ground. Let’s do this thing. This is a song about the freedom that comes of drilling deeper.
When the money’s spent and all my friends have vanished
and I can’t seem to find no help or love for free
I know there’s no need for me to panic
cause I’ll find him, I’ll find him next to me
Emeli Sandé recently told young artists not to subject themselves to televised talent shows. Why let cruel celebrities decide your fate, for the sake of spectacle, why offer your neck up for that knife? Nothing is free. Screw Simon Cowell. Work hard. Keep faith with yourself. Persevere.
I think that’s what this song is about. You can chase the devil, gamble, cheat and drink yourself under the table. You can go where the rest go. You can try a game show. And then maybe try another cocktail. But when the chips are down and everything is crumbling and you can’t breathe, go back to that lonely warehouse where it’s just you and some flood lights and this here hard-driving beat. If you go there, and stick with it, it will still rock.