Breaking Down “Password”

Upon first listen, it’s easy to dismiss “Password” from Ben Folds & Nick Hornby’s Lonely Avenue. The lyrics describe a guy trying to break into his girlfriend’s email, but Folds’ music breathes life and complexity into the words.

The 6/8 jazz waltz starts out quiet — I imagine our antihero sitting in a dark room, sipping on whiskey, with the glow of the computer screen highlighting his face. As he navigates to the login screen, he reflects upon her possible passwords: her hometown, mother’s maiden name, favorite actor, and birthday. The chorus comes in as he tries each one, cautiously optimistic, highlighted by the perfect fifth sung in the background.

This first attempt fails. Yet he still believes himself to be in the right, that trying to break into her email is an act of love. The strings solemnly enter as he presses on. Next, he guesses her password to be things like her dog’s name or her favorite wine. Typing them in, doubt creeps in and the background vocal switches from a perfect fifth to a minor third.

Staunchly, he keeps trying. The snare drum echoes his determination, switching to a march. Desperately, he tries her favorite dish and then her favorite band. And then, he remembers “that asshole’s name is Anthony”. The piano twinkles as he hits the enter on the keyboard, but when it doesn’t work a smash into the lower register of the piano signals his frustration.

Before completely giving up, he makes one last attempt, but it ultimately fails. The music then slinks off as he quietly realizes that maybe he doesn’t know her. As the song ends, he dejectedly remarks that one day he’ll forget what she looks like.

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