Not sure what I was up to in 2011 when “Jar Of Hearts” hit the Top 5 in the UK, but I completely missed it when the song first came out.
But I know what I was doing yesterday…having lunch with some work colleagues …when an interesting tune I didn’t remember hearing before started playing softly in the background at the restaurant.
The song I later discovered to be “Jar Of Hearts” by Christina Perri is a slightly odd choice for a restaurant playlist on a summer lunchtime.
It’s a lovely tune, but the lyrics are somewhat darker, more emotional and rather highly-charged for lunchtime background music under normal circumstances, I’d have thought.
People who put together restaurant playlists tend not to be trying to get in the way of people eating, risk disrupting their conversation or negatively impact the mood so their diners want to get out the restaurant as quickly as possible and skip dessert.
So “Jar Of Hearts” was a risky call by someone…but I’m delighted that’s the choice they made.
I know I’m different to most people who just use music as something to make a bit of noise in the background, but when I come across an unfamiliar song I listen as closely to the lyrics as I do to the tune.
You don’t need to wait long for the lyrics with “Jar of Hearts”. There’s no intro, it’s straight in…
I know I can’t take one more step towards you
’Cause all that’s waiting is regret
Don’t you know I’m not your ghost any more
You lost the love I loved the most
“Jar of Hearts” starts out with just an occasional chord on the piano and an interesting female voice. In a world where record producers use every trick in the book to grab your attention from the very start and make you want to hang around for more, starting a record in such a restrained and reflective way is unusual.
To be honest, it’s so unusual nowadays that I thought at first “Jar of Hearts” was a song from maybe the 80s or 90s I’d completely missed at the time. Record producers weren’t quite as formulaic back then…not the good ones anyway…
The simplicity of a “straight in” song with just a melancholy piano chord or two piqued my interest straight away. But the voice made me want to hang around. It’s not a teenager-ish girl band voice, but it’s not a rasping voice from vocal chords worn away by the passage of time either.
Christina Perri has a voice that’s lived a little, but not too much or for so long that it’s become cynical.
She has a voice that’s powerful enough to stand on its own, without accompaniment. It’s interesting enough to want to listen to it a bit longer. And it’s a voice that carries emotion.
That’s the difference between a professional singer and an artist. The professional hits the notes every time, but not necessarily always with feeling. An artist makes you feel what they feel, like you lived through the same experience they had.
When I looked up “Jar Of Hearts” after I got home, it was no surprise to find Christina Perri had written the song about someone who had previously broken her heart but then wanted back into her life again.
Now, I’m not a qualified counsellor, but I’d venture to suggest Christina Perri probably hadn’t quite got over having her heart broken first time round when she wrote “Jar Of Hearts”.
Not that heartbreak is necessarily a dreadful thing if you’re in the lyric writing business.
Whilst it’s regrettable, and none of us would want to run the risk of heartbreak if we could help it, I still remember Sam Smith’s brilliant acceptance speech for one of his Brit Awards a couple of years back.
He dedicated his award to the guy who broke his heart without which, Sam Smith said, he wouldn’t have had enough songs to fill up his album and release a raft of chart-topping singles.
Sadness and heartbreak have definitely contributed to some of the best lyrics in popular music. And some of the worst. It’s a delicate balance…
And “jar of hearts” is a great metaphor too. Like having an old jam jar you save your loose change in, a jar of hearts implies a collection without emotional attachment.
Someone who is taking love but not giving it. Someone more interested in another notch on the bedpost and whose conscience doesn’t trouble them in the slightest when they use another human being for their own ends and abruptly discard them when they’ve nothing more to give.
There’s a great line in the lyrics of “Jar of Hearts” that goes “I learned to live half alive”. You know…the sort of life where outwardly things are fine and somehow you get through each day without a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of the office.
But when you close the door on the world at the end of the day, you don’t know how you managed to keep a lid on things. Your emotions are so all-encompassing you have to run on autopilot as you go through your day… getting ready, driving to work and making sure you get your job done along the way…because it takes all your energy just to stop yourself bursting into tears every ten minutes.
You’ll be glad to know that Christina Perri gets over “living half alive” pretty early on and then goes on the offensive…
And who do you think you are?
Runnin’ ‘round leaving scars
Collecting your jar of hearts
Tearing love apart
You’re gonna catch a cold
From the ice inside your soul
So don’t come back for me
Who do you think you are?
A song that starts out so reflective and poignant quickly moves from heartbreak to defiance.
By the end of the song, I imagine the guy who broke Christina Perri’s heart got the message loud and clear.
“Jar of Hearts” is a great song. But I’m less sure about the video. Not so much for what Christina Perri is up to…more for what everyone else is up to.
I think the video director had been to see a Harry Potter movie the week before as a key feature of the video is a guy “sucking the breath” out of his various love interests before casting them aside when he’d got all he could from them…until right at the end when Christina Perri does the same to him.
Can’t remember which Harry Potter film it was or who the creatures were who did that…Death Eaters, perhaps?…but it’s something similar to that concept, at least in the video director’s mind.
All I’ll say is if you’re going to use that sort of special effect on a music video, make sure you’ve got a Harry Potter-sized budget to work with or don’t do it at all.
The other reason I think the video director had been to see Harry Potter recently is that dancers behind Christina Perri also look a bit like Bellatrix Lestrange and all her friends from Slytherin halfway through a boozy night out together…for reasons that aren’t entirely obvious…
That said, the video does have some lovely contemporary ballet choreography which is delightful to watch.
And in a switch in their source of inspiration, most of the video is shot in artistic black and white…until the end when, “Wizard Of Oz” like, the video switches from artistic black and white to full colour as Christina Perri’s nemesis collapses to the ground and she’s free from his spell at last.
Listen to “Jar Of Hearts” with your eyes closed if you must, but do listen to a genuinely lovely, emotional, well-written and inspiring song of good triumphing over evil and the bad guys getting their just desserts in the end…oh, no… without realising it I’ve gone all Harry Potter myself!
Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the video director after all, it’s so easily done…
Here’s Christina Perri with “Jar Of Hearts”…https://youtu.be/8v_4O44sfjM
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/7p8wAUDFBSWPMh2KxfUDQk