Sarah Jaffe’s “Clementine” Songwriting and Musical Analysis

If you know Sarah Jaffe, you’ve probably heard her hit song “Clementine.” In this article, we dissect the song into its lyrical and musical components to discover why it is so catchy. Sarah Jaffe’s songwriter and musician style is defined by her experimentation, versatility, and sheer spontaneity. Her writing career in acoustic folk, hip hop, and indie rock demonstrates her experimental ambitions.

Sarah Jaffes

Sarah Jaffe’s ‘Clementine,’ which appears on her 2008 EP ‘Ever Born Again.’ ‘Clementine’ is a song that is beautifully written, composed, and arranged. When Jaffe and her band were playing at Arkansas and didn’t have enough songs to finish the set, they wrote this song as a filler. The singer revealed that the song was written in a friend’s dorm room and performed in front of a live audience on the same day.

So, what makes “Clementine” a great song? Here, we dissect the complexities of “Clementine’s” songwriting process.

The Lyrical aspect

[Lyrics for “Clementine”]

If one only reads the lyrics of “Clementine,” it appears to be a poem that creates an atmosphere of sadness and general apathy towards one’s lover. This is established right away in the song, as we are greeted with the lines:

“50 states, 50 lines, 50 boys, 50 crying all the time, 50 ”

I’m going to change my mind,

“I changed my mind, I changed my mind, and now I’m apathetic.”

…along with Jaffe’s crystalline vocals.
The narrator describes her childhood experiences in the first verse. She tells the audience that she has seen and heard it all when it comes to romantic relationships, and that she has grown disinterested in them.

The second verse is a self-reflection of the narrator’s carefree youth. Unlike the first verse, in which she expresses her annoyance with someone else, this verse is more about how self-aware she is of her own vulnerabilities.

“I wish I was a little more delicate….. I wish my name was Clementine,” she says in the chorus, supporting this implied emotion. Clementine is an English word that means “gentle.” The song’s regretful theme alludes to the feeling that she has become too callous over the years.

The musical element

Despite the overall sadness of the lyrics, the music relies on a more upbeat chord progression that creates a sense of longing and detachment. The bass’s role in this song is stunning. The descending bass line that outlines the chord gives the song a nice folksy feel. While the bass remains in the background for the majority of the verses, it takes the lead in the gaps with a beautiful melody. This stands out so much that it immediately grabs the audience’s attention.
Sarah Jaffe’s  “Clementine” is an unusual song from the standpoint of songwriting because it questions how a traditional song works. Jaffe accomplishes this by playing a muted rhythm on one of the guitars, creating a percussive effect that adds to the song’s depth. The cello then follows suit, followed by the guitar, before taking on the role of bass. The cello allows the bass to venture out by playing chord tones.

The chord progression, while simple, employs the plagal cadence, also known as the “church cadence,” in which the IV chord resolves to the I chord. When compared to the perfect cadence, this does not create a strong sense of resolve (V to I). This choice of cadence heightens the sense of melancholy.

The Outcome

“Clementine’s” folk’soul is reminiscent of the song “500 Miles.” Bobby Bare first sang the song, which became popular during the 1960s folk revival movement in Europe and the United States.

“500 Miles” revolves around the central theme of the recurring lyrics “[…a hundred miles…”], while the guitar in the background plays a simple chord progression. Similarly, this is the case in Jaffe’s song “Clementine,” which revolves around the lyrical theme “[… I wish…]” and has a lullaby-like vibe.

The overall arrangement of ‘Clementine’ completed in such a way that it reflects the emotions expressed in the lyrics. The song builds in intensity as the lyrics depict the singer’s frustration, then decreases in intensity as the singer begins to self-reflect in the chorus. It’s as if the song embodies the clementine’s gentle and merciful meaning.