What does "Crystals" by Of Monsters and Men mean?
"Crystals" Lyrics Meaning
Of Monsters and Men is really good at being cryptic and symbolic, leaving listeners to puzzle songs out on their own. Luckily, in their most recent single "Crystals" from their upcoming album, Beneath the Skin, they give readers a few clues that make the difficult meaning not impossible to decipher.
While bands like Mumford & Sons and Twenty One Pilots are changing their sounds dramatically with new album releases, Of Monsters and Men surprisingly sounds very similar to how they did on My Head Is an Animal. The eerie female voice backed up by chanting harmonies and the general airy and dreamlike feeling remain, making "Crystals" feel like it could have been pulled straight from their previous album.
But the meaning of the song is a bit more nuanced than some of their others and it's full of symbolism and figures of speech that make the meaning even more worthwhile to puzzle out.
Psst! Check out my podcast!
The Meaning of "Crystals"
Verse 1 is full of strong words like "lost," "caught," "tumble," and "falling," that suggest that something is not going well for the singer, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. She's "[l]ost in skies of powdered gold." Gold is useful when it's in bars and can be traded in for money or saved as an investment, but a sky of powdered gold, while beautiful, is useless. And though the ropes are silver, she's still "[c]aught in clouds" of them and "[s]howered by the empty hopes," and when she breaks free of those bonds, she begins to "tumble down, falling fast to the ground." She was stuck in a beautiful facade over a terrible world, and now she's about to feel the pain of breaking through that to the reality below.
The pre-chorus starts out bleakly: "I know I'll wither, so peel away the bark." When a tree loses its bark, it's susceptible and vulnerable. Someone is taking away Nanna's emotional protection, leaving her open to pain. And she knows that she needs this to happen. The bark needs to be peeled "[b]ecause nothing grows when it is dark." The bark is a hard covering that keeps her sheltered from others, and she'd rather be close to them; even though she's afraid, she assures her listener that she is right: she "can see it all so clear."
Nanna's friend tries to see things far more positively than they actually are; he or she has "crystal eyes." When a person looks through a crystal, he/she sees the world as a beautiful collage of shiny, reflective images, but she wants (we'll go with "him" for now) to let go of these beautiful but unreal images and to simply feel alive, to "feel the tones that tremble down your spine." These shivers may scare him, but they are real; he should come closer to reality and "let [his] colours bleed and blend with mine." A user on Genius.com reminds readers that "letting your colours show" means to be who you really are. Nanna seems to want her friend to be who he really is so that they can be closer to each other.
In verse 2, Nanna sings about "[m]aking waves in pitch black sand" and feeling "the salt dance on my hands." "Making waves" suggests doing something unique or important, so she believes that, even though their world is "pitch black sand," they can still have purpose together in spite of the darkness.
In addition, her "[r]aw and charcoal coloured thighs feel so cold / And [her] skin feels so paper-thin." If her thighs are cold, then they're exposed, which also supports the vulnerability that "paper-thin" skin suggests. She's giving up her privacy so that others can really know her. The fact that her thighs are "[r]aw and charcoal coloured" shows that she may have secrets that need to be hidden; she's taking a risk exposing them. But she's willing to do so because she wants to be real with others.
In the bridge, she reinforces her desire for closeness: "But I'm okay in see-through skin"; she forgives "what is within," and, though she may have issues, she's accepted herself and moved on. She's mostly just happy to be "in this house," which she also calls a "home"-a place where family gathers. Perhaps, by this point in the song, her friend has become vulnerable and thus strengthened their relationship so that they have become a family, or maybe she's singing to him from within the home, telling him about where her "paper-thin" skin is protected from the elements and how much she likes it. The "home," then, could be a symbol of family and community.
But for him to enter that community, she has a stipulation: the chorus, which she repeats. He must cover his "crystal eyes," blocking out light and accepting darkness; then he must "let [his] colours bleed and blend with [Nanna's]." Once he shows vulnerability and accepts reality, he will be able to gain protection and community.
The music video shows the band working on a fantasy-punk machine that seems to be designed either to bring a person back to life or to create someone new. The person who rises out of it perhaps is symbolic of someone who has become vulnerable and is now being brought to newer life by the community she has entered. Why does the woman have "crystal eyes" herself? A strong guess is that she's in the process of being brought into community and hasn't let go of her unreality yet. The band members are trying to rescue her, and it could be a long process.
Is reality really painful?
In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis's character Uncle Screwtape mentions that humans are more likely to view pain and suffering as what they call "real life." He explains that when a woman gives birth, people think the blood and pain and delivery process are what's "real," but the joy and love felt afterwards are only temporary and fleeting things.
In addition, you've probably noticed that when your parents talked about going into the "real world," they talked about the bills and costs and hard work you were going to have to do; you were going to get "a good dose of real life." No one calls the accomplishments, successes, and strong love "real life." It's almost like we believe happiness and joy don't exist or aren't the point of living.
Of Monster and Men seems to believe something similar in "Crystals." Nanna sings about how her friend wants to see everything as better than it is, when she just wants to be with him no matter how bad things get and simply wants him to be real with her, to not play pretend. Unlike the actual joys mentioned above, this person needs unrealistic dreams to stay hopeful and happy in "skies of powdered gold."
And maybe this song comes from a lack of faith in the goodness of existence and reality. People believe they need to be prepared for the worst, so that it doesn't surprise them. And the one thing that postmoderns and millennials keep latching onto again and again in the face of hopelessness and lostness is relationship.
We want so badly to be together no matter how bad things get. We don't want to be isolated or alone. We want friends and lovers and family. We tend to not care what else happens as long as we have a friend near us; in a small way, Of Monsters and Men's "Crystals" seems to touch on this as Nanna begs her friend to accept a darker reality but a deeper togetherness.
What do you think of "Crystals" by Of Monsters and Men? Is reality more pain or more joy? Is community enough in a world of sorrow?