Two clowns remind me it’s okay to be vulnerable

How an obscure band helped a student claim originality in her songwriting and life.


Throughout my life, I’ve created different songs that I hope to release one day. Although I’m not currently pursuing a career as a songwriter, I’m proud of the lyric writing process I built for myself, as writing is an outlet for my self-expression. 

I began writing song lyrics in the fourth grade when I loved Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Black Uhuru. I wanted to take their music everywhere with me, so I spent hours on my home computer unintentionally teaching myself song structures by memorizing the lyrics in those artists’ songs. 

My method for songwriting was essentially plagiarism: I’d copy my favorite artists’ songs into my journals and reword them, inserting my feelings and thoughts into melodies I heard on the radio. 

I was 16 when I scrolled down to the bottom of a surf rock playlist on Spotify and discovered the song “Make a Wish” by The Garden, an experimental pop-punk duo of twins Fletcher and Wyatt Shears. I clicked on the orange album cover with one twin wearing black-and-white clown makeup, an over-the-top grin and a prosthetic witch nose. 

At first, I was weirded out because my discovery shortly followed the killer clown drama of 2016, clowns didn’t have the best reputation. After giving them a chance, I realized that listening to their music filled me with childish joy because it felt like attending a circus. I’m thankful I gave the clowns a try because the band helped me understand my individuality is simply the vulnerability that my bravery allows me to show. 

I could instantly tell The Garden harnessed their individuality by burying messages under their over-the-top clown disguise because of the distinctive sound. They make music in the same way that clowns entertain a crowd: they overperform so their audience doesn’t take them seriously. In clown makeup and clothing, they somersault and wheelbarrow around on stage, showing how individuality comes when people don’t care what others think of them. 

The Garden changed the way I approached writing lyrics by showing me that I can still write great lyrics even if they don’t make sense at first listen. With this new outlook, I let myself write down whatever comes to mind judgment-free. I usually don’t remember physically writing lyrics down, I remember getting the idea and finishing the final verse; the time between is a blur.

Their music and their style inspire me to be honest and original when I write lyrics because they release music that’s radically blunt and vulnerable in a playful and punkish way. At the first listen, it may seem like their lyrics don’t mean much, but when I analyze their lyrics, I can tell that they touch on personal topics. 

Since I began listening, I’ve taken their method and started writing lyrics that are overly abstract and vague so that I can tell the entire truth about the topics that I write verses about, but not feel overexposed. 

My new process has taught me to create an open space for lyrics to flow where I don’t have to speak, act or feel a certain way, and it’s helped me to realize what many of my beliefs, habits, regrets, rebellions and dreams are while drafting lyrics. 

I enjoy using vague wording in my verses to channel multiple ideas into a single line of lyrics. I can free myself from any limiting beliefs or judgments I place on myself in the same way that the Shears twins free themselves from expectations with their over-the-top jester imagery and the nonsensical style of their music.

Being a fan of The Garden is a constant reminder that if I find the courage to be vulnerable, the things I create will inevitably be original to me. Now, I can go in-depth about heavy feelings and weighted experiences in my lyrics because I hide them in flowery language. I just needed to find a way to feel safe from judgment, so that my songwriting would have my originality. 

I’ve had many musical inspirations throughout my life but, I thank The Garden for its clown-like behavior that taught me to create with openness and truth.

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