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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 2 (lyrics)

The lyrics of ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ celebrate the surface qualities of the song (dance, party, escape) and also critique them. The title itself embodies this duality – ”Chained To The Rhythm’. Good thing? Bad thing? Both?

It’s easy to take the song on the surface level. Plenty of the lyrics support it and, on a superficial listen, it can seem like that’s all it is.

Here’s the Chorus, the musically joyous high point of the song. I’ve put in parenthesis the lyrics most likely to be taken two ways:

Turn it up, it’s your favorite song

Dance, dance, dance to the (distortion)

Turn it up, keep it on repeat

(Stumbling around like a wasted zombie)

Yeah, (we think) we’re free

Drink, this one is on me

We’re all chained to the rhythm

To the rhythm to the rhythm

You can hear this as an adolescent celebration of partying, of being stoned and wasted and surrendering to your ‘favorite song’. At the same time it’s a critique of that same thing.

The recording’s brilliance is that it has it both ways. You feel the joy of escaping into musical oblivion. At the same time, if you’re listening, the song doesn’t let you check out.

A perfect example of this, as I pointed out in Part 1 of this post (here), is the end of the Pre-Chorus, which makes the usually happy words ‘And party on’ seem like the most downbeat thought in the world.

The Verses make things clearer (here’s the first):

Are we crazy?

Living our lives through a lens

Trapped in our white-picket fence

Like ornaments

So comfortable, we’re livin’ in a bubble, bubble

So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

Aren’t you lonely

Up there in utopia

Where nothing will ever be enough?

Happily numb

So comfortable, we’re livin’ in a bubble, bubble

So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

Along with many others, I’ve often said that it’s a good rule of thumb to sing words the way you pronounce them. But the (mis)pronunciation of the lyrics is another way this song works on two levels. It’s a great example of how an alternative approach to pronunciation can be effective and expressive, as opposed to lazy.

Note the words that are mispronounced.

dis – tor- tion
wasted zom – bie
hap – pi – ly numb
un – der the mat
bet – ter than that

They reinforce the sense of uneasiness and displacement which is really the position of the singer/narrator. Combining this with the ‘party’ element and the A-list sheen of the production is what makes the song so multi-layered, unusual, and powerful.

Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:



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6 responses to “Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 2 (lyrics)”

  • Hey Tony- thanks for turning me on to this song/video- I’ve been enjoying it a lot, and appreciate your analysis as well.

  • Tony, I really liked this cut from first hearing, so it was fun to see your analysis and learn a whole lot about how the song is put together.

  • Joyce Rogers

    Love that this was your pick to look under the hood. This was a real team work effort as is so often the case. I didn’t feel distortion in the pronunciation, just holding out of a note. Knowing the lyrics deepened the feel of the song. That was a great realization. Thanks.

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