Settle a trivial question, New York New York, or New York New York?
April 4, 2014 11:36 PM   Subscribe

There may be no way to resolve this question (and it's not one of the great mysteries, I'll admit), but I'll take a majority consensus if that can be achieved. In the song, "New York, New York", is Sinatra effectively singing, "New York (City), "New York (State)", or is he singing, "New York (City), New York (City)"? My belief is that if the song were about, for example, Chicago, Sinatra would sing, "...I want to be a part of it, Chicago, Illinois", however I've encountered more than once the opinion that it would be equivalent to "...I want to be a part of it, Chicago, Chicago". What says the Hivemind?
posted by planetthoughtful to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The rhythm of the musical phrase has always suggested to me the first interpretation, although I can see how someone might have the idea that "Chicago" and "New York, New York" must somehow be a matched pair in this regard. That is to say, "New York, New York" is noticeably different from the "Chicago, Chicago" of "Chicago", if you will.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:48 PM on April 4, 2014

Its full name is "Theme from New York, New York," so I would think that the first interpetation is correct.
posted by Knappster at 11:53 PM on April 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think the ambiguity is important to the song, and there is no right answer.

If you read it as "Chicago, Illinois", it emphasizes the uniqueness of NY (city), that it is the main city in a state with the same name. To emphasize the uniqueness, you'd say the city name twice, "Chicago, Chicago."
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:57 PM on April 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have no answer to your question, but I'm from New York (though not New York, New York) and I've known that song my whole life, and somehow this question has literally never occurred to me.

I always heard it as (City, City) but y'all are blowing my mind, here.
posted by jameaterblues at 12:11 AM on April 5, 2014 [21 favorites]

I always took it as him giving the address, i.e. City, State. To say what I think batter_my_heart is saying in a slightly different way, if he only said the words "New York" once, it would be unclear whether he was referring to the city or the state (although the lyrics in the verses make it pretty obvious what he means, i.e. "city that never sleeps") - but saying it twice clarifies that he is referring to the city.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:11 AM on April 5, 2014

I always thought it was a repetition. Like the way you would sing a girls name in a song - Susie, Susie.
posted by gt2 at 12:21 AM on April 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Actually, I think the song contains both interpretations (at least how Sinatra and Liza sing it). At the start, to my ear, they both give the same emphasis to each "New York" without a noticeable pause between the nouns. So I think that's a pedestrian version, a simple address, "(City), (State)." They're just saying, "I'm going there."

But by the end of the song, the idea of "New York" has become more prominent. More glamorous. Larger. More gravitas. The last couple of times I hear more of a pause between the two "New Yorks", with a larger emphasis on the second "New York". So I think you could say by the end it's "(City), (CITY)!"

Of course, this type of interpretation only works with New York, NY. It's a more subtle play on words and connotations than is possible with Chicago, IL :)
posted by sbutler at 12:29 AM on April 5, 2014 [29 favorites]

I agree the song contains both. It's also worth remembering this device occurs in the song "New York,New York" from On The Town, where it seems to me to be less ambiguous and more obviously City/State, and in New York,New York (So Good They Named It Twice), where they're clearly referring to City/State.

Basically I think playing with the idea of the normal repetition of lyrics you regularly see in pop songs combined with New York,NY being one of the actual names is just about irresistible for New York song writers. Even Empire State of Mind slips in a triple New York, New York, New York...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:13 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, if the movie was entitled "New York, New York," I'd guess it's city/state, and the song would be the same. It's a better title than just "New York City." And they probably wouldn't have made a movie called "Boston, Boston."

"Chicago" does have the refrain "Chicago, Chicago," but the actual title is just "Chicago."

And I haven't seen the movie, but since "The Theme from 'New York, New York'" is called "New York, New York" in the movie itself... I guess one could argue whether the movie is named after the song or the city.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:15 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've always heard it as city, state, but had never really thought about it. I'm willing to accept the both/play-on-words theory.

The comparison to Chicago, Chicago is intriguing. Then there's Gary, Indiana.
posted by Xalf at 4:06 AM on April 5, 2014

It's (City, City), because if it were (City, State) it would refer only to Manhattan, which I don't think it does. The address of the Bronx is Bronx, NY, not New York, NY.
posted by escabeche at 5:51 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I first saw this question I thought city, state, but let's change the lyrics and see where that gets us.

The problem with singing about Chicago is that the syllables are different, so let's pick another two-syllable city, state combination. What about Salt Lake City, Utah? This has the advantage over, say, Provo, because we'll be dropping the City just as in New York.

"I want to be a part of it/Salt Lake, Salt Lake."
"I want to be a part of it/Salt Lake, Utah."

To my ear the first version flows more naturally and sounds better. However, while in New York the second syllable has the emphasis, with Utah the first syllable has a very slight emphasis. Perhaps Vermont would work better? Let's sing about Newport, Vermont.

"I want to be a part of it/Newport, Newport."
"I want to be a part of it/Newport, Vermont."

Again, the first version sounds better to me. YMMV. But Newport sounds very similar to New York, so let's try one more. How about Shelburne, Vermont?

"I want to be a part of it/Shelburne, Shelburne."
"I want to be a part of it/Shelburne, Vermont."

The first version still sounds better to me. We could continue to sing our way through Vermont (or even go international: "I want to be a part of it/Beijing, China."), but I'm going to stop here and cast my vote that the lyric is city, city, but it's a close call.

tldr; It's close, but my vote is for city, city.
posted by lharmon at 5:55 AM on April 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have always heard it as city, city. New York does not need a state for people to know where it is.
posted by SyraCarol at 6:00 AM on April 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

sbutler above has it - it's both! And yes, it is meant to highlight the uniqueness of the name and place itself.

This question occurring again and again as you listen is an integral part of the song, and it is a main reason why the song is so compelling/evocative.
posted by jbenben at 6:15 AM on April 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

I agree that the song is taking advantage of the fact that the usual terminology "New York, mew York" can be recontextualized for city/city emphasis. Good question.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 6:21 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

City, City.

Kind of like My girl, my girl...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:30 AM on April 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I always heard it as, "...I want to be a part of it, New York. New York!"
So, City. City!
posted by SLC Mom at 6:33 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The inflection and timing to me always indicated city, city. Listen to yourself say city, state as an address. Then listen to yourself say city, city as an affection such as repeating a lover's name. Notice a subtle difference?
posted by BenevolentActor at 7:00 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I always heard it as city, state.
posted by slateyness at 7:34 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always assumed it was city, state, because I figured he was alluding to the fact that it's the "city so nice, they named it twice." However, I just learned that my wife always assumed it was city, city.

This is causing quite the marital rift.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:00 AM on April 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

He's telling others to "start spreading the news". These others likely also have his "little town blues" and the idea of the city is so beyond what they've known that he takes it all in by repeating the name of the city.

I also like to think of it as "New York...(holy crap it's) New York"
posted by ovenmitt at 8:21 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another City/City here. (I live here, non-native)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:43 AM on April 5, 2014

As Knappster noted near the start of this thread, it was originally a movie theme song, performed by Liza Minnelli in the 1977 Martin Scorcese film "New York, New York". It wasn't much of a hit until Sinatra recorded it a few years later. As a movie title, "New York, New York" feels more like "city, state" than "city, city." But the film is probably so named because of the song, so that doesn't really settle it.

(But, for what it is worth, the songwriting team that wrote the song, John Kander and Fred Ebb, also wrote the songs for the musical Chicago. Not Chicago, Chicago or Chicago, Illinois.)
posted by beagle at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2014

Yeah, these two songs were written by two different people, more than fifty years apart: one of them referring to city/city vs. city/state has zero to do with the other.

That said, I personally have always taken it to be city/city for New York New York.
posted by easily confused at 9:13 AM on April 5, 2014

The movie was named New York, New York (and significant work was done on the movie) before the song was written. Fred Ebb wrote the lyrics specifically to be used in the movie. He was also from New York, NY so that combination (city, state) would have been very natural to him.

There can certainly be different takes on a song (and I like sbutler's comment about a shift within the song) and part of the reason the song works is that it works both ways. But if I had to pick one as the definitive it would be city, state.
posted by mountmccabe at 9:30 AM on April 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I suspect that the songwriter did intentionally make this ambiguous.

The question is more of a Zen-like conundrum, similar to the question of whether the nouns "cap" as used for the topmost part of a structure like a chimney and "cap" as used to describe headgear are the same word or different words.
posted by yclipse at 11:32 AM on April 5, 2014

I've always interpreted it as City, State because when I was a child (before the movie came out, ugh) I recall hearing people refer to the the city as New York, New York (state). As in "you have won an all-expense paid trip to New York, New York!"
posted by kimberussell at 11:34 AM on April 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I could be wrong, but I'm under the impression that people would more often say "New York, New York" in the past, whereas now it's more "New York City" or "NYC."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:39 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Before state postal codes, that's how you addressed envelopes to NYC - either New York City, New York, or New York, New York. So I've always heard it City, State because it was commonly used that way when I was growing up there. Not as far back as the song, mind you, but back in the day.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I always assumed it was city, state, because I figured he was alluding to the fact that it's the "city so nice, they named it twice."

Orthogonal to the question of the OP, casually searching for the phrase "named it twice" in Google Books furnished fewer early-twentieth-century results than I expected and the handful I clicked on referred to a WWI-era marketing campaign for Walla Walla, Washington with the slogan "The Valley They Liked So Well They Named It Twice."
posted by XMLicious at 1:32 PM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's New York (city), New York (state). The "city" that never sleeps is Manhattan. The smell from the dump alone used to put Staten Islanders in a semi-catatonic state through most of the day. No one from the NYC would refer to Queens, Brooklyn, SI or the Bronx as the "city". Oh, one other thing, I doubt very much if Liza ever stepped foot in an outer borough.
posted by any major dude at 1:58 PM on April 5, 2014

I've always thought of it as city, city.
posted by Dansaman at 4:04 PM on April 5, 2014

Great question. Lifelong New York, New Yorker here, and I've never quite thought about it. I do lean a bit more toward "City, City," because if you've heard of New York City, it's not like you need the state for anything other than mailing an envelope. But I do think sbutler probably has it, though. Plus, the whole "New York, NY" construction is a very familiar one, even if there's no ambiguity about city we're talking about.

One thing I will point out is that, at the very end of the song, Sinatra sings:
It's up to you
New York
New York
New York
Yes, that's "New York" three times in a row. That doesn't necessarily point in either direction, since of course it could be "City, State, City." But it sounds to me a bit more like he's singing "City, City, City."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:01 PM on April 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

My dad was a broadway lyricist so I've got a feel for this.

It's actually both. It's stating the full name of New York City including state, but it's only including the state because that has a double effect of underlining the city name in a nicely emphatic way.
posted by w0mbat at 5:08 PM on April 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I might have unintentionally thrown a spanner into the conversation by alluding to Chicago in my question. I could equally have picked any City / State combination to underline my question. "...I want to be a part of it, Los Angeles, California." Or, "...I want to be a part of it, Des Moine, Iowa." I wasn't attempting to compare the lyrics of two different songs, but rather to explain the concept of repetition of City on the one hand, versus the postcard address of City and State on the other. Apologies for any confusion.

I'm tending to agree with those who feel the song contains both concepts, since this elegantly sidesteps an argument that can't reasonably be resolved. I don't think I'm in any position to mark any answer as the best, since this is ultimately a matter of opinion, but I do thank all of you for lending me your thoughts!
posted by planetthoughtful at 5:48 AM on April 6, 2014

Response by poster: By the by, I did a quick tally, and accounting for the fact that some people weren't entirely clear (to me) about their preference, City/State won by a single vote over City/City. If you were to include the fact that I started out as City/State, that would make it 2 votes ahead.

My results:

City/City: 12 votes
City/State: 13 votes
Both or ambiguous: 10 votes

I deny all accusations that the results were miscounted. :)
posted by planetthoughtful at 6:06 AM on April 6, 2014

Yes, that's "New York" three times in a row. That doesn't necessarily point in either direction, since of course it could be "City, State, City." But it sounds to me a bit more like he's singing "City, City, City."

No, he's saying "New York, NY" for most of the song (city, state). He punctuates it at the end with one last "New York!" (city). The fact that he almost always doubles it suggests that he's saying the phrase "New York, NY," not just repeating the name of the city.
posted by John Cohen at 10:32 PM on April 6, 2014

I'm from NYC, and my entire family on both sides going back several generatians are all from NYC. It's definitely City, City. Because the whole world knows where NYC is - after all, as any New Yorker can tell you, it's the center of the universe - so to think that you needed to include the state would be like thinking you needed to specify that Paris is in France.

When, in 1983 and '84, we used to punch the song up on the jukebox in a bar called Bogie's (on 26th Street between 7th and 8th) and all form a kick line like the Rockettes and drunkenly sing along with Frank, we were singing about City! City! Because it's freakin' New York, it's not Dimebox, Texas, or Millington, Tennessee.

Chicago! Chicago! That toddling' town...
It's up to you, New York! New York!
Galveston, oh Galveston!
Point me in the direction of Albuquerque...
Viva Las Vegas...

(You just don't need the state when everyone knows where you're talking about.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:57 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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