Cranes in the Sky is a song from the third studio album of American singer Solange. The album, A Seat at the Table, was released in September 2016 and was widely acclaimed by music critics. The song Cranes in the Sky won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance, becoming Solange’s first Grammy nomination and win.
Cranes in the Sky is a neo soul, post-R&B ballad. Musically, it builds from a bass line played by Raphael Saadiq, with synth strings wailing softly in the background, creating a somewhat mellow atmosphere. An unchanging drum beat keeps the rhythm, and a piano makes some embellishments. The instrumentation is minimal, as the focus of the song is Solange’s voice intimately singing the words to us.
Lyrically, the song describes Solange’s unsuccessful attempts at avoiding painful feelings and anxiety; ”I tried to drink it away … I slept it away, I sexed it away”, are all common ways of dampening uncomfortable feelings. She uses ”cranes” as a metaphor for this behaviour of avoidance. Just like the cranes are building the city and improving it’s outward appearance without dealing with the important problems on surface level, so are we so often building facades of happiness both to others and ourselves, and we distract ourselves from problems and emotions by pursuing worldly things.
Cranes in the Sky is actually describing the psychological phenomenon called defence mechanisms. Defence mechanisms is an unconscious process with the purpose of reducing anxiety, though they can have negative consequences if used frequently. Cranes in the Sky illustrates the down side of defence mechanisms as a means of coping with anxiety. Solange mentions several different types of defence mechanisms, such as denial, avoidance, identification, undoing, and isolation, and how none of them can truly eliminate the omnipresent ”metal clouds” in her mind.
Essentially, Cranes in the Sky is an exhortation for people to stop avoiding their negative feelings, because ignoring them will only make them worse. Instead, we should recognize our anxieties, or else we can never be rid of them. We should stop putting up facades of well-being and happiness, for others but especially for ourselves. It is a plea for emotional understanding, for us to be more kind and forgiving to ourselves.