Turning complaints into a song

One day last year I was having one of those days – none of my clothes fit right, I was having a bad hair day, there was more traffic than usual, etc. etc.

By mid-morning, I was tired of hearing my internal complaining. What did I have to complain about anyway? Considering what so many people have to go through on a daily basis, I felt pretty ridiculous that I was getting so annoyed by minor inconveniences. So, I decided to take all that annoyance and write a song instead.

It was one of those mornings when nothing fit right
I changed my outfit at least a dozen times
As I headed out the door and into my life
The skin I’m in felt like the wrong size

These are certainly First World problems. Those who have the basic necessities covered have the luxury to complain about things like a bad hair day and having too many clothes choices that it’s hard to decide what to wear. My first chorus was:

First World problems, feeling unsatisfied
Plenty to eat and drink, good health and good life
But First World problems weigh on my mind
First World problems keep me up at night

I was trying to keep to the storytelling component of the song so I continued onto the next step of a person’s day – (and often a source of frustration for many – the commute):

Traffic on the highway, construction on the road
I seem to hit all the red lights, I should have stayed at home

Then on to work. The original lines of that second verse were:

As I walk into work, I feel a twinge in my gut
Is it a terminal illness, or am I stuck in a rut?

I was attempting to convey the idea that personal fulfillment is not a freedom that everyone has – many people in this world are simply trying to survive and are grateful for whatever job they have that allows them to put food on their family’s table. And some people are dealing with serious illnesses, but often healthy people spend their time worrying about the possibility of what they could get.

For songwriting purposes, I wasn’t fond of using the word “gut” but still kept it in when I brought the song into the songwriting workshop.

I also thought it would be fun to use my bridge to list additional First World problems:

My WiFi’s down, I can’t connect
Another new password I’m gonna forget
My battery’s low, I left my charger at home
My GPS led me down the wrong road

Songwriting journey

I brought in “First World Problems” to the December 2018 songwriting workshop and got a fairly good response. Randy liked the idea of the song, though he thought the chorus could be stronger. Someone else suggested that I add more humor to it.

After the workshop, I worked on it a little more and made the following changes to the chorus:

First World problems, feeling unsatisfied
Have everything I need for a good life
But First World problems intensify
First World problems invade my mind

I also got rid of the “gut” line and changed those last two lines to:

As I walk into work, I feel a twinge of regret
Did I follow my dream? Have I gotten there yet?

In January 2019, I performed this song at the Arizona Songwriters Association annual songwriting gathering, along with “You Never Know” and my first song of 2019, “365 Days.” I was one of the first performers and was outside so there weren’t many people there yet. (I was relieved.) My husband and kids came and four friends who were planning to spend the day there anyway but came a little early to hear my songs. I was really appreciative for their support.

I knew the songs by heart, but brought the lyrics anyway in case I forgot them. But then some wind came and blew the pages away in the middle of my performance and I was still able to play it without them (and it gave me the opportunity to joke about how it was fitting that the pages blew away during a song about First World problems.)

Before the wind blew the lyrics away. Photo by Julio Copelly

I decided afterward that it was time I learned to play guitar standing up so my husband found a guitar strap he had so I could start practicing that.

The song still didn’t feel finished so I tried again with the last two lines of the second verse:

Had a morning of meetings, ate lunch at my desk
My latte splattered, left a stain on my dress

My husband commented that it might conjure up images of the stain on the dress from the Clinton presidency so I changed that line to “had to clean up the mess.”

Then I put the song on the back burner for awhile and worked on some other songs. Nearly three months later, I decided I really wanted to finish the song so started playing it again to see if I could finding something else for those last two lines of the second verse. Here’s what I came up with:

I forgot an umbrella and wore the wrong shoes
This rainy day has left me feeling blue

At that point I felt the song was done, but then decided to go back to the chorus. I tried playing and singing the words a little differently and liked the sound of it. Until today, here’s what it was:

First World problems, they drag you down and toss you around
First World problems, they find a way to spoil your day
First World problems

I thought I was done and after recording it today, I listened to it and still felt that it was a little too complain-y, even though I was going to change the last chorus to “Find a way to save your day.”

Then I remembered a conversation in the May workshop about being clear who’s singing and I realized I was switching from the first-person voice in the verse to the second-person voice in the chorus without making it clear to who I was singing to.

So my final changes were to make the chorus also first-person and to have the chorus be more positive and empowering than the whiny verses and bridge:

First World problems
Don’t bring me down, don’t drag me around
First World problems
I’ll find a way to save my day from First World problems

Imagine this with some blues guitar and see what you think:

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