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Hey.

Welcome to the Pop Song Professor! My name's Clifford, and I explain song lyrics so that you can know what your artists are saying and can enjoy your music more. 

What does "Birds" by Coldplay mean?

What does "Birds" by Coldplay mean?

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A Head Full of Dreams, album cover
A Head Full of Dreams, album cover

SONG MEANING: Coldplay's "Birds" is about transcending the moment in joy and beauty to reach something higher, to see more than we could usually see, and to be free. To find out more, keep scrolling.

"Birds" is a soaring song about hope and overcoming circumstances; the melody and other aspects of the music mirror that same upbeat, positive perspective. It's a fun song and definitely worth the listen.

Honestly, it's hard for me to introduce a Coldplay song because I haven't listened to them much. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed "Viva La Vida," but I didn't listen to much Coldplay otherwise. I thought they were too slow and boring or even melodramatic. Then I married April, and she's got to be their biggest fan.

(Coldplay, if you're reading this, coming to visit my wife for her birthday on May 8th? It'll be the best. We have a very tiny apartment, but you can still play a ten-person concert there if we all pack in.)

April loves their music, and so when I saw Coldplay's album was coming out, I realized I HAD to explain it, so that's what I'm doing. And I'm really enjoying it. I usually only buy singles, but A Head Full of Dreams may be one of the best albums I've ever purchased. The musical transitions from song-to-song are smooth and make the album feel like a comprehensive story.

Enough about the album--there'll be more time for that on subsequent explanation posts. On to the explaining!

Coldplay, credit Julia Kennedy
Coldplay, credit Julia Kennedy

The Meaning of "Birds" by Coldplay

To be honest, the most confusing thing about this song is that there's very little repetition, which means it's hard to discern types of stanzas. I'm not sure which is the chorus or which are the verses. I have my guesses, but since it's so confusing, I'm going to leave the freeform of the song and refer to stanzas by numbers.

In Stanza 1, Martin sings, "Been standing in the corner / Studying the lights." He's been watching good things happen from afar, but hasn't joined in the celebration yet. Instead of partying, he's been "[d]reaming of escaping" which "[w]ill keep you up at night" or keep you longing for something more.

In Stanza 2, he explains that when he gets sucked into the party, he decides to stay. He sings, "But someone had put the flares up / Got me in the rays." Flares are usually meant to show distress or to keep people away from dangerous situations, but in this case they make everyone aware of a good time--of an event or party (that may be dangerously awesome!)--that Martin can't keep away from as he decides, "I guess I better stay."

In Stanza 3, he reveals an alter-ego or other character who urges him to party on. (We’ll refer to her as a separate and female person.) Martin, who has reluctantly decided to stay, is now being pushed to actively join the party. The other person says, “Uh-uh, no, come on!” But Martin worries that “[i]t’s a fool’s gold thunder / It’s just a warring rain.” He’s worried that while they may enjoy the moment, it won’t last, and he’ll be left dreaming again.

She urges him to not “let the fears just start” and asks, “What if / I wanna see you again?” suggesting that the party can be revisited. Martin has to join the party or (as the title suggests) needs to fly with the birds because “[a]round here you never want to / Sleep all night.” He’s being swept along. Everyone around him is enjoying life, and he needs to do so as well. The woman even urges him “start falling in love / Start the riot, and come on rage with me.” The party is only beginning.

In Stanza 4, the song takes on a new metaphor. Martin sings, “We don’t need words / We’ll be birds / Got to make our own key.” I think this refers to a precedence of feeling over logic. The people experiencing this life-altering event won’t rely on explaining it or talking about it–they want to experience it as they make their own way, soaring higher and higher on the emotion of the moment. The “key” could be a reference to a door-unlocking key or a musical key. I think the latter makes sense here; it suggests that Martin will transcend the present world as he and this woman fly away. Boundaries will mean nothing.

Stanza 5 points back to the idea that a party or event like this only lasts a little while. Martin sings, “Only got this moment / You and me / Guilty of nothing / But geography.” Obviously, they feel the need to take advantage of the moment and are carefree, but I’m a little confused by the reference to “geography.” (Perhaps you can help in the comments?) It could be a reference to their actual inability to fly or to get off the ground; they’ll feel like birds; being on the ground will be the only thing that keeps them from actually flying. It could also refer to how spread out the celebrators that Coldplay is summoning are from each other.

In Stanza 6, Martin sings, “Come on and raise it” as a way to bolster the “party” that’s happening in this song. He wants people to “raise this noise / For the million people / Who got not one voice.” The partiers and listeners of the song need to party enough that this party will be worthy of many more people. Everyone needs to let go.

Martin continues, “Come on, it’s not over! / If you mean it, say it loud.” He wants people to do this “all for love” and to come “[o]ut from the underground.” He urges them to come “away with me” and emphasizes that “[w]e don’t need words”; the feelings and excitement will be all the explanation they need.

Birds Artwork - ColdplayStanza 7 mirrors Stanza 4 in that Martin sings, “Close your eyes and see / We’ll be birds / Flying free.” He wants people to let go and enjoy the moment, not knowing the “mystery”–just “[h]olding on” inside of it. They are the mystery, and they feel it, even if they don’t know what it is.

The Final Stanza is addressed to the woman he’s met. He sings, “Fearless through this / You said we’ll go / Through this together.” He’s depending on her to help him: “So when you fly won’t you / Won’t you take me too?” He wants her to help him break free especially because “this world” is “so cruel.” While “Birds” has been full of fancy imagery and elevated metaphor, Martin brings things back to earth for the last moment of the song by saying to the woman that in this cruel world, “I think you’re so cool.”

What is the party?

To be fully honest, I’m not sure what the party is, but I do have a guess. I think it’s a metaphor for enjoying life in the moment and using that energy to live on more strongly into the future. Sometimes we have experiences like this. These experiences can be meeting someone we like, doing something we enjoy, or going to an actual party. I think Martin is enjoying a moment so much–whatever that moment may be–that his mind is opened to higher (“transcendent” may be a good way of putting it) possibilities that give him hope and energy for living a beautiful and joyful life.

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