Alright, musketeers! We promised you some activity around here after the holidays, and now that we're all surrounded in mountains of wrapping paper and we've eaten ourselves into proper food comas and are settling in to await the new year, how about a crazy meta theory on my personal favorite BTR song, Shot In The Dark?
Note: This meta, even more so than everything we do here, is a super highly collaborative effort between the three of us, so make sure to throw extra special love to madwomanpoems and technicallysane for this!
If any of Big Time Rush's songs break the standard boy band pop mold, it's certainly Shot in the Dark. While many of BTR's songs are unexpected for their extreme attention to character detail (Famous, Any Kind of Guy, This Is Our Someday) or their over-the-heads-of-tweens mature content (The City is Ours, Till I Forget About You, Big Night, Oh Yeah… should we just keep on going down the list?), Shot in the Dark is something of an enigma: it sounds like a love song but definitively isn't, it uses seemingly-cliché metaphors in complex ways, and its uptempo beat masks some surprisingly heavy lyrics. It's also somewhat of a mystery in that it premiered in full music video form within the verse of the show in Big Time Terror but is the only one of the boys' songs to not be released as an iTunes single or on their debut album either as a regular or bonus track—it's the only BTR song that, by all appearances, only exists in showverse.
While the way it ties in with Terror suggests an OT4 (whether platonic or more) spin, there's more going on in the song than just the we're better together message of the episode—it seems that, whether intentionally crafted or not, Shot in the Dark is a direct foreshadower for the events in the season one finale Big Time Concert.
Let's start at the beginning with this one.
i promised i would be there
i swear i'm on my way
i know you may not hear me
but that's the price i'll pay
and i don't know
how i would ever go all alone, walking on my own
like angels, you were floating to me
and that's how it should be
Out of all of the lyrics in the song, the line that jumps out most immediately as unusual is the last line in Kendall's opening verse, mainly because of one word: angels. If we take Shot in the Dark at assumed face value as a love song, it's standard boy band love song imagery to refer to the (female) subject as something like an angel: in addition to saving the singer in whatever way she did when he didn't know "how I would ever go all alone walking on my own," calling his girl an "angel" carries all of the standard love song connotations of the girl being delicate, beautiful, heavenly, and loftier than the singer in some way (and therefore worthy of his affection and praise).
But that's not what Kendall sings.
Even though we don't have an official lyric sheet to confirm it, there's no mistaking that Kendall sings "like angels," plural, instead of "like an angel," which throws off the entire love song idea. This means that the only way the rest of the song makes sense in context is for the subject of the song to be a plural "you" as well (for anyone who's ever studied or speaks Spanish, think the vosotros instead of the tu form). Since this is tween television we're talking about, surely he's not singing to multiple girls here, so the only logical explanation is that the song is about another group of important people in his life who have kept him from "walking on my own." While this could theoretically be anyone in (or outside of) BTR canon or an unspecified group, in the context of the episode (and the underlying theme of the entire show), it seems like the only option for this group would be the other BTR boys, making it a song not about boy-girl romance but about the relationship dynamic between the four of them.
i promise you i'm gonna be there, i wanna be there
no matter what happens, no matter how tragic
because the clock is ticking, the world is spinning
our lives are passing us by
Here's where things start to get confusing if you're looking at the song as an independent entity, though.
If Shot in the Dark is a simple tween pop song, whether it's about an angel-like girl or the relationship between the BTR boys, then what on earth is Carlos talking about when he's promising to be there "no matter how tragic" what might happen could be? Why is Logan reminding everyone that what's going on here is important because their lives are passing them by? These certainly seem like weightier topics than the usual pop song marketed to twelve-year-old girls would tackle, if we're assuming it's safe to say that the "tragic" things referenced are greater tragedies than getting dumped between third and fourth period or breaking a manicured nail right before homecoming. With how tightly constructed BTR's songs are (and with how tightly constructed it is as a show overall), it seems unlikely that the confusion is simply due to bad songwriting—which is why we start to look elsewhere for answers.
And that's where Concert gets involved.
i don't wanna waste another moment
i don't wanna pay for things unspoken
i just wanna reach with arms wide open
take a shot in the dark to be where you are
i don't wanna watch the world keep changing
when i'm not with you my heart keeps shaking
cover up my eyes and just start pacing
take a shot in the dark to be where you are
Let's take a look at what we know about Concert. The plot of Concert is that the boys' record deal is cancelled by Gustavo, which crushes their popstar dreams and sends them back to Minnesota. While the other three boys pursue their original dreams, James is lured back to LA by Gustavo's rival at Hawk Records—as a solo artist. While tensions run high when the boys find out about this, they're all clearly off and miserable without being together as a foursome, and it's not long before Hawk's butler Sebastian convinces James to follow his heart and see that back with the BTR boys is where he belongs.
What's notable about Shot in the Dark in comparison to every other BTR song is that, at least in the version that appears in the episode (which by all accounts is the only version that exists), James is the only boy without a solo verse or chorus. Typically in BTR songs, Kendall almost always sings the lead-off verse, Logan almost always sings the bridge, Carlos usually either sings a second verse or also in the bridge—and James almost always sings either the second verse or the chorus. But James is essentially nowhere to be found in the song: Kendall sings the verse, Carlos and Logan split the bridge, and everyone sings the chorus together. The logical explanation would be that there's an unheard second verse that James sings—but if the song exists nowhere else but in showverse, the unheard second verse, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist. This means that the only point in the song as we know it where James' voice can be prominently heard is on the chorus line "when I'm not with you my heart keeps shaking"—which describes the plotline in Concert from his perspective perfectly. While he tries to put on a confident and egotistical front, it's clear that James is miserable and uncomfortable being "Jamez" and being away from Kendall, Carlos, and Logan, and Sebastian finally pushes that over the edge and forces him to confront it, which results in him returning to give the band a second shot at stardom.
But that's far from the only connection to the plot of Concert in the song. Right from the start with Kendall's first two lines—"I promised I would be there, I swear I'm on my way"—there are ties not just to the episode's overall theme but to exact moments in scenes. Kendall's "promise" here echoes his statement in the 2J confrontation scene in Concert that they had all made a pact—a promise—to stick together and be there for each other back when they were playing Pee Wee hockey together. Kendall's entire verse, in addition, continues to back up everything canon has developed about his character, both textually and subtextually: he's the leader who promises to be Everything to Everyone, who promises to be there for his boys and for the people in his life—even if they may not hear him, it's the price he'll pay, at all costs—but when it comes down to it, Kendall needs the boys perhaps even more than they need him and couldn't get by on his own, hence the "angels" line.
One of the most puzzling lines from the chorus has always been "I don't wanna pay for things unspoken": aside from the fact it doesn't directly tie in with any other ideas in the song, it's highly cryptic in its own right. What are the "things unspoken," and even more interestingly, how on earth are they a concept that twelve-year-old girls would understand? But looking at it in the context of Concert makes the line a perfect fit. I know many of us in the fandom, once we heard the potential spoilers for Concert, were expecting a showdown of epic proportions between Kendall and James—their tension in Audition over Kendall not taking Gustavo's offer was enough to cut with a knife, and that wasn't even anything involving a potential betrayal by James and breakup of the band. But instead, what happened? James didn't tell the boys about his offer from Hawk and his move back to LA; the boys found out when they stopped at his house to tell him about Gustavo's idea to give the band a second chance. Kendall, Carlos, and Logan didn't tell James about their plan to replace him in the band; he found out when Hawk and Rebecca told him about the ad they'd put in the paper for auditions. The confrontation in 2J and all of the boys' actions from the time James left to record with Hawk to the moment he came back into the studio at Rocque Records were positively dripping with passive aggressiveness—or, to word it in a slightly different way, things unspoken.
In that light, all of a sudden "I don't wanna waste another moment, I don't wanna pay for things unspoken, I just wanna reach with arms wide open, take a shot in the dark to be where you are" takes on a whole new meaning. Relate it to the passive aggression throughout much of the episode. Relate it to the fear that every moment the four of them spend apart digs the wound a little deeper. Relate it to how everything is different with just the three of us. And then relate it to how James takes a "shot in the dark," so to speak, knowing that the boys are searching for his replacement and might not even welcome him back into the band after everything, and comes back to Rocque Records.
The bridge of the song, in addition to continuing the character development thread that runs through all of BTR's songs, ties in pointedly to Concert as well. Unlike Kendall's "I promised I would be there, I swear I'm on my way," which serves to uphold the existing promise from Pee Wee hockey (one that he assuredly came up with and led the execution of, because, well, he's Kendall), Carlos is promising to be there for the boys, that's he's going to be there and he wants to be there for them—"no matter what happens, no matter how tragic." Even though it's played for laughs on the surface and meant to tie in with his running plotline throughout the episode, what Carlos does at the end of Concert isn't any laughing matter. He throws himself down a stairwell while tied to a chair in order to save the day and save his boys, a move that could've easily resulted in him breaking his neck or worse. He repeatedly convinces himself I can do this and is determined to ignore the protests of the other three—he's going to save his boys and be a superhero no matter what happens, no matter how tragic of a move it might be.
Logan's "because the clock is ticking, the world is spinning, our lives are passing us by," then, continues to develop his character as the responsible and smart moral conscience of the group. The way this ties in with "I don't wanna waste another moment" in the chorus, too, only serves to further the themes of the episode. While some people have criticized the episode for its multiple 180s—the boys change the dreams they're pursuing several times throughout the episode, leaving Hollywood and going back to Minnesota, only to leave Minnesota and go back to Hollywood yet again—it's a move that fits with their characters as they've been developed in canon. From the beginning of Audition it was made clear that this is James' dream and their group goal but not Kendall, Logan, or Carlos' individual dreams—Kendall wants to be a hockey player, Logan wants to be a doctor, and Carlos, apparently, wants to be a superhero. While what this means for each of the three of them in a character development sense is another essay entirely, when it comes down to it, the boys aren't the stereotypical fame-crazed aspiring stars who have forgotten their roots entirely; they're lower-middle-class Minnesota boys who tried to make a go of things to support their best friend when a golden opportunity came their way but who were realistic enough to realize that when that dream seemed to have been crushed beyond anything they could control (especially considering the financial situation of the Knight family, which is also another essay entirely), their lives weren't over. With the exception of James, whose individual dream was seemingly crushed when Griffin cancelled the band's tour and contract, they could return to Minnesota and go back to their original game plans with nothing more than a little lingering disappointment and "hey, that was an awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience" memories, so it follows naturally that Kendall, Logan, and Carlos would be ready to turn in their microphones for hockey pucks and lab coats and superhero uniforms while James would still be doing everything he could to keep his individual dream alive.
When the boys do decide to make the move back to LA for the second time, it isn't just an impulse 180—Gustavo comes to them with not only pleas of their loyalty, but with the admission that he's had to sell his house and just about every personal belonging in order to keep his dream alive. It's easy to forget and think that BTR is James' dream and no one else's on a personal level, but there are two (or three, by extension) people in canon for whom popstar success is an individual goal: James on the performance side, and Gustavo (and Kelly) on the production side. Add the BTR boys' undying loyalty to people they love and consider close to their hearts with what queenitsy, jesterdala, and others have pointed out about the ties between Kendall's daddy issues and his relationship with Gustavo, and it's hardly surprising at all that the boys would feel no other choice but to give it a second go.
"I don't wanna waste another moment" ties in not only with this theme in a general sense, though, but in relation to the time sensitivity of their individual and collective goals. Logan's dream of becoming a doctor isn't necessarily time sensitive at all; there's no reason he couldn't go to medical school when he was thirty or forty, and if anything, pop stardom would only help him to be able to afford what it takes to achieve his long-term individual dream. Carlos' "dream" of becoming a superhero obviously signifies that he hasn't yet found or decided on a realistic long-term individual dream, so if anything, pop stardom with the boys defers him having to make that decision until he finds something that would make him happy once the height of BTR's fame is over. But James' dream, Gustavo's dream, and the boys' collective goal is extremely time sensitive. The lifespan of a boy band runs out when its members reach their late twenties at the very latest; if they don't capitalize on this dream right now, it won't happen for them at all, hence the not wanting to "waste another moment" to make their collective goal a reality. There's also the fact that, as in any fight in any type of relationship, the longer that passive aggressive tension and acts of betrayal build up and fester, the less and less likely it all can be to be resolved and have the relationships go back to normal. So "I don't wanna waste another moment," especially with the way that the very next line in the chorus is "I don't wanna pay for things unspoken," is essentially the boys' way of saying "I don't want to fight like this anymore, I don't want it to be the three of us and James, I don't want our friendships to be ruined forever—I want to take a chance on this dream, our dream, now, while we still have the opportunity."
(It's interesting to note, though, that Kendall's individual dream is extremely time sensitive as well—in order to be recruited to play professional hockey, Kendall would have to be practicing and competing regularly and most likely on a star high school or college team no later than his early twenties. But with the band's assumed trajectory—if we say that BTR's first album has been released and is successful by the time the boys are seventeen, then it's safe to give them another five years to finish out their three-record deal with Rocque Records, which puts them at twenty-two at the youngest when their careers could start to fizzle out enough for Kendall to get back not into just going to the rink from time to time to clear his head but into playing hockey regularly again—his individual dream is already most likely shot, let alone the fact he'd have a five-year span where he wouldn't be training regularly. It fits with Kendall's Everything to Everyone complex that he would be the one to give up his dream for everyone else's benefit—if it was really his dream after all, though. We know two undisputable truths about Kendall's character in relationship to his goals: one, his leader personality and Everything to Everyone complex makes him the perfect candidate for a captain role in team competitive sports; and two, his Man of the House issues make his drive for success and wealth not a selfish desire but a way to look after and provide for the people he cares about. The second point is driven home even more when Kendall says in Concert that his dream is not to play professional hockey specifically but to get a hockey scholarship—in other words, to remove the financial burden of college from his mom's shoulders and to open the doors for future financial stability for his family via his hockey career. While there's no doubt that Kendall truly loves hockey—it's not just a competitive and leadership thing for him if he's going to the rink by himself to center himself—it's pretty safe to assume that Kendall's dream of hockey stardom could have more to do with it being a dream where he can take on a leadership role and ensure financial security than with selfish dreams of fame and fortune. So Kendall giving up his hockey dreams for BTR, essentially, could be an equal tradeoff, since being the frontman for a successful boy band fills those exact requirements as well.)
And so we've come back to "I don't wanna watch the world keep changing, when I'm not with you my heart keeps shaking," with the boys' lives being continually upturned with the back-and-forth between Minnesota and LA, with James wavering in his passive aggressive confidence and missing his boys, with everything is different with just the three of us—and what happens in the episode?
As directly foreshadowed in the song, James takes his shot in the dark to be where they are, Carlos promises to be there for them no matter how tragic, they don't waste another moment in making their collective dream come true—and it all sets them on the road to pop stardom once again.