After Laughter Comes Tearz and Fake Smiles: A Look Into the Intertextuality of Sampling
You may not be familiar with Wendy Rene, but it’s almost certain you know pieces of her 1964 song “After Laughter (Comes Tears).” This tune has been sampled by artists for generations, with each song adding a new layer of complexity to its message.
Written by Laiken Neumann
Sampling serves as a method to reinvent tunes of the past, reintroducing them to new generations in innovative ways. Whether it be the reformulating of old folk songs or taking snippets of previously recorded songs and adding them into new ones, sampling has significantly shaped the music industry. It’s no different in the case of “After Laughter (Comes Tears),” an R&B song from the ‘60s that has been repurposed multiple times since its release to help artists more thoroughly communicate their emotions.
At 17 years old, Mary Frierson, dubbed with the stage name, Wendy Rene, released her first single with support of soul legend Otis Redding under the Tennessee record label Stax Records. The song, released in 1964, gained local popularity, but never topped the U.S. charts. However, you’ve most likely heard the song, “After Laughter (Comes Tears),” in one form or another.
The original song, written by Rene and her brother Johnnie, focuses on the inevitability of heartbreak. Perhaps its most memorable moments are the synthesizer notes that open the song and her heartfelt cries warning that the joy of love will expire. The repurposing of the song’s relatively simple concept and musical accompaniment reflects not only the timelessness of certain components of music, but also the importance of repurposing music (and ideas) to create new work.
In 1993, 29 years after the release of Rene’s song, Wu-Tang Clan sampled Rene’s ballad, establishing the synthesizer opening as the background for their verses on “Tearz.” On this track from their debut studio album, however, they pivoted away from Rene’s original focus on romantic relationships to instead reveal the individual tragedies of the Wu-Tang Clan members.
First, RZA reflects upon the loss of his little brother, who was shot picking up bread from the store. His verse ends with “Memories in the corner of my mind / flashbacks, I was laughin’ all the time / I taught him all about the bees and the birds / I wish I had a chance to say these three words.”
He refers to Rene’s song in his lyrics, mapping the main idea that good times only last so long and adding layers to the original song’s message with the painful context of losing a loved one. By revealing this experience, he emphasizes that the happiness beforehand only makes the pain of loss worse. After a sample of Rene’s melancholic chorus, Ghostface Killah warns of the risks of unprotected sex, describing his friend Moe’s contraction of HIV after he “pressed his luck” by having unsafe casual sex.
Wu-Tang Clan builds on Rene’s song by carrying forward the emotional tone, but use their verses to share more personal stories. While Rene sings of the loss of love, which is relatable to a wider audience, RZA and Ghostface Killah use their verses as diary entries to share stories that are unique to their own life experiences. However, these details and their sheer talent for storytelling are what make the song so engaging. Paired with the looped synthesizer melody from Rene’s song to form a sound that is distinct to the early ‘90s era, Wu-Tang Clan’s “Tearz” reinvigorates the old sound to suit their needs.
Jumping ahead another 26 years, Ariana Grande made use of “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” in her own song, “Fake Smile,” the fifth track off her album thank u, next, which came out earlier this year. Grande references Rene’s song in a similar fashion to Wu-Tang, by looping the synthesizer track from the original’s beginning as a basis for the beat. While Rene’s chorus is implemented in the beginning of the song, Grande takes the chorus of “Fake Smile” into her own hands. She repeats “f--- a fake smile” with chopped tracks of Rene’s vocals in the background.
Grande’s overall message is rather simple: she is no longer going to hide her true emotions or pretend that things are okay when they are not. While “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” and “Tearz” deal with unfortunate subjects in different ways, they both focus on the mourning, and the inescapable threats that they — or their friends — endured. Grande’s song is about realization: she builds on the claim that pain is inevitable made by both Wendy Rene and Wu-Tang Clan and argues for emotional transparency. Her lyrics are simple, but that only adds to the pure desperation that communicates her point. As she says herself, “after what [she’s] been through, [she] can’t lie.” Using the context of Rene’s original song to represent the pain she’s been through, Grande accepts her feelings and decides not to hide from them.
Each of these songs have different subject matter but deal with the overall issue of suffering in their own ways. The seemingly endless struggle of originality can plague the music industry, but through sampling, musicians and producers are able to take inspiration from songs of the past to create work with new depth.
Having also been sampled by Metro Boomin and Alicia Keys, this song has had a clear impact on music from a variety of artists. As one of many examples in a long history of music sampling, “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” shows that music is built upon the foundation of its own past, and, similarly to literature, this intertextuality allows artists to add more levels to the work they create.