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Thomas Hsu

IMP 212
“Betray My Heart” - D’Angelo
Song Analysis

I chose this song because every aspect of it stands on its own – the instrumentation, performance,
lyricism, emotional impact, social implications, production, and mixing. The track is eloquent
and full of musical nuances; every time you listen to the song, you notice something you didn’t
notice during the last listen.

Structure and Arrangement

The song structure of “Betray My Heart” is Verse – Chorus. The arrangement is as follows:
Verse One / Chorus / Verse Two / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus.

This track is in the key of A minor, 105 BPM. There are a lot of harmonies and layers of musical
information in the song, but ultimately “Betray My Heart” is all about the groove. D’Angelo
knows exactly where and when to leave space and to fill up space so that the groove stands on its
own. This starts with the interaction between Questlove’s hi-hat + “lazy” rimshot and Pino’s
walking bassline. The hi-hat is the backbeat for the bass – there is one beat for every two notes
from Pino. This creates a groove that is definitively modern taking influence from the music of
the Bebop Jazz era through the drums and the funky-ness of James Brown through the bass.

Despite all of the musical “information” that has been stuffed into this song, D’Angelo carefully
crafts his harmonies between the instruments and his vocals so that there is density without being
muddy. In the verses, vocal harmony layers happen on lines 3, 4, 7, and 8 – they happen at the
end of phrases for emphasis. On these lines, horns also appear (adding dynamics) and leads the
track into the chorus. The harmonies during the chorus are less dense than those leading into the
chorus, making it much more intimate and impactful. The chorus continues with the drums, bass,
keys, guitar, horns, and scatting from D’Angelo and builds to a climax, and patiently works its
way back to the verses (and bridge – D’Angelo actually sings “to the bridge” as they transition
into the bridge giving the song a little more raw-ness).

This is an unapologetic song about love, in the context of struggle, however whether the song is
an ode to a lover, an entire demographic, or to the self is open for interpretation. The lyrics are
precise yet vague enough so that listeners can relate to it in their own way with their own
experiences. The song title appears many times throughout he song during the chorus. The verses
are crafted in a way that compares things we cannot control (ie. “like the breeze that blows in
June”) to feelings of love and sincerity. The lines in the verses contain 7 – 9 syllables and
melisma is used to extend shorter words. The last two lines in the verses and bridge rhyme,
however there is no constant in the other lines giving a loose structure that feels more poetic.
Prosody is used in the second verse when he sings “When you’re feeling down, down, down”.

This track uses both the instrumentation and the lyricism to emphasize the theme of love; it
doesn’t need to rely heavily on one aspect of songwriting or production to make its point. All of
the individual aspects stand on their own and makes a unique contribution to the overall theme –
it feels as if D’Angelo is professing his love through words and music equally.