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  • Writer's pictureLJ VP LAFIURA

Keep the lights on Billy

Graphic by LJ LaFiura

The dawn of February graced many with the unexpected. After more than 30 years, pop legend and Kennedy Center honoree Billy Joel has released an original song, “Turn the Lights Back On.” The song got critical acclaim and immediate buzz throughout the music world, even seeing Joel perform his new single at this year’s Oscars. The song itself reminds the world just what is great about Joel’s work, and as he steps into this new era of the music industry, he could be set up for more success than he has bargained for.

Looking directly at “Turn the Lights Back On,” you can find all too many reminders of Joel’s past, particularly his early work. Many of his later albums, particularly after Glass Houses, had a clear emphasis on writing hits palatable for as broad an audience as possible. That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad thing, some of his best and most popular works like “Uptown Girl” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” came from this school of thought. It is evident that he’s talented in this style of writing, but his heart wasn’t in it. Joel stepped away as he no longer wanted the pressure of topping his past work, and this song shows that he took the appropriate amount of time away from the craft. It sounds very similar to his early work in that it’s so reflective and quick-witted. This is the exact type of writing that Joel and his fans expect in such a high-stakes return.

For an artist who is making a return after 30 years, Joel is in a unique position to rebound bigger than before. It is no secret that Joel and his music are a profound voice in a generation that went through great amounts of political and social turmoil. Not only did his voice stick out in its own era, but he created timeless music, music that’s been passed down from the generation of our parents straight into ours, especially within the northeast. Nobody else can walk away for three decades and come back to as many active and passionate fans who have yet to experience a new album in their lives. With this type of fan base, Joel is set for major expansion if he continues to develop more music.

Its also an important note that within the new music landscape Joel is entering, he can turn any of his work into a strength. Compared to when Joel was releasing his prior albums, the internet and streaming is making it easier for artists to market their work and gain popularity. This means that making money and gaining notoriety is easier with singles and EPs than it was in eras prior. If Joel wants to release a single, he can. If he wants to tackle a shorter concept than a full album he can as well. Length is not an issue with marketability. He can focus on making his best possible work. 

“Turn the Lights Back On” is a double metaphor. On the surface its a beautiful plea to keep his romantic relationship afloat amidst self-created turmoil. On the other hand, its a plea that the audience will respond to his return to this kind of artistry. In a month since release its clear for the second metaphor that he has indeed turned on those lights. Now, this new landscape has to empower and plea to Billy, keep those lights on.


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