U2101 – Babyface

It shouldn’t be any secret to those who read my articles regularly that I am a fan of pop music. I’m a fan of good music, in general, regardless of the genre, and I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with a good pop tune, with a strong melody and a good hook, that gets me tapping my toes or nodding my head. It doesn’t have to have a deep message, although I do like music that has some weight to it–it isn’t necessary for me to enjoy a particular song. A lot of U2 fans seem to have a problem when U2 goes the pop route…when the band records songs like “Miami,” “Stand Up Comedy,” or “New York,” that aren’t world-changers, songs that don’t really serve any purpose other than to entertain, I see a lot of negativity online about it. Another song that I think that we could add to that list is “Babyface.”

At the time of its recording and release, “Babyface” was probably the poppiest, most accessible thing that U2 had ever recorded. That’s not to say that there isn’t a deeper layer to the song, but that layer is almost obscured by the easy-going pace of the song, the almost hypnotic loop of chimes and the catchy chorus. In fact, if one wasn’t listening closely, they couldn’t be blamed for believing that “Babyface” was imply a radio-friendly ode to a lover. The truth is, I don’t think that there’s any other song that more perfectly captures the ethos of the Zoo era than “Babyface.”

The lyrics let us in on the fact “Babyface” is actually about someone that the singer has never met. Maybe it’s a video model that the singer has developed an infatuation for. It could be a movie star or a pop-singer that the singer has a thing for. The song isn’t really clear about the details of the relationship, other than the fact that it is one sided and synthetic. Nothing feels more “Zoo-riffic” to me than a modern human being forming a relationship with an artificial lover via video. The fact that the relationship has sexual overtones makes it feel even more germane to ZooTV.

“Babyface” actually has a handful of live performances, all in the summer of 1993, while the band was in the UK. Considering that Zooropa, the album that “Babyface” is from didn’t have a dedicated tour to call its own, I think that’s pretty good, but I totally get why the song has only been performed five times. For starters, the pace of the song is problematic. It’s not fast enough to get a crowd of people pumped up, but it isn’t slow enough to induce them to lift their hands in the air with lighters ablaze, either. Honestly, I think that “Babyface” would be beyond most casual concert-goers. They wouldn’t “get” the song. That’s a strange thing to find myself saying about one of the poppier songs that U2 has ever recorded, but there it is. “Babyface” is forever stuck in limbo, neither fast nor slow, neither deep nor vapid. I expect that’s the reason that “Babyface” isn’t the fan-favorite that I sometimes feel it ought to be.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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